thinking collaboratively – acting collectively

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Thinking Collaboratively – Acting Collectively: Creating and Operating a Collaborative Learning Community for Indigenous and Ethno-Racial Artists in Ontario.Over the past six months Jane Marsland examined the available literature on the concept of shared platforms in their broadest context – from simply sharing office space to the ideas of charitable venture organizations. A particular emphasis of her research was to investigate new collaboration systems in both the for-profit sector as well as the arts.



    Creating a Collaborative Learning Community for Indigenous and Ethno-Racial Artists in Ontario.

  • Contents:

    1. CPAMO: The Story so Far ... 12. Background Research ... 63. Current Environment & Policy Context ... 94. Moving to a Collaborative Approach:

    Why a Shared Learning Platform? ... 16

    5. Models for Collaborative Support Structures ... 20

    6. Preferred Collaborative Model for CPAMO ... 24

    7. Conclusion/Recommendations ... 35

    8. Acknowledgements ... 389. References/resources ... 39

    Paper prepared by: Jane Marsland

    In consultation with: charles c. smith, CPAMO Board & Advisory Committee

    We would like to thank our funders, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council, for their support.

    Graphic design by Victoria Glizer

  • Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO) began officially in 2009 as a movement of Indigenous and ethno-racial artists seeking opportunities to engage with presenters across Ontario and to enable presenters to develop constructive relationships with Indigenous and ethno-racial artists.

    However, there was much that happened before then to get to this point. In 2002, the now Executive Director of CPAMO, charles c. smith, began meeting with artists and presenters to get a sense of the issues, challenges and concerns in the arts communities and to understand what might need to be done to promote more diverse performances on stages across Ontario. At first he met with representatives of the SONY Centre, Community Arts Ontario (no longer in existence), the Hispanic Development Council, CAHOOTS Theatre, Modern Times Theatre, Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Community Cultural Impresarios (CCI and now Ontario Presents), Creative Trust, Centre for Indigenous Theatre and others.

    He then met with representatives of funding agencies, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.

    In this process, it was clear that all consulted felt there was an urgent need for some focus to increase the access of Indigenous and ethno-racial artists to presenting venues. Artists had worked for years to both create work and present it themselves and many found that the latter was taking away from what their main interest was, i.e., creation and performing. Some of these artists did not have strong, or any, capacities to market and promote their work and often worked in venues that were not the best sites for their performances, e.g., in community centres, religious institutions and other non-arts spaces.



  • While the process to build CPAMO into what it now is started in 2002, it wasnt until a partnership developed between Ontario Presents that CPAMO received its first grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts. Following this, CPAMO was successful in receiving grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation (as it was then). These funds, mostly administered by Ontario Presents, were for projects to support building a relationship between Indigenous, ethno-racial artists and presenters a process that started in January 2010.

    Presenters were seeing the dramatic demographic changes in their communities and were not very familiar with whom these new and rapidlygrowing communities were, how to communicate with them and the kinds of cultural productions they were interested in seeing. Funders were concerned about the equally rapid growth in grant applications and how best to address these in terms of available funds, criteria for assessment, jurors who could assess the work and how successful funded artists might be in an environment of rapid demographic change.

    Pluralism, collaboration, and new methodologies for cultural production are central tenets of CPAMOs mandate. What better way to manifest these principles than a shared platform? Combining energy and resources will assist Aboriginal and ethno-racial organizations, allowing them to share expenses, exchange skills and knowledge, co-mentor, combine marketing campaigns, collaborate on audience engagement strategies, and so much more. Coming to-gether in this manner will help create an energetic engagement with diversity and relationships based on understanding across lines of artistic and cultural difference, and that can only help to bolster artistic innovation and the vitality of Canadas cultural sector.

    - Rebecca Burton, Membership and Professional Contracts Manager, Equity in Theatre Co-Organizer, Playwrights Guild of Canada


  • At the centre of CPAMOs work is the belief in pluralism as a way to move beyond simply acknowledging culturally diverse arts organizations which can still leave cultural groups isolated with little interaction among them and those responsible for more established arts venues that represent European cultural productions. CPAMO seeks to achieve an energetic engagement with diversity and actively seeks to build relationships based on under-standing across lines of artistic and cultural difference as well as engaging the Eurocentric culture, so we get to know and more fully understand each other. CPAMO works to establish a new paradigm of pluralism where we do not leave our identities and beliefs behind, instead we hold our genuine differences not in isolation, but in relationship to each other. This level of understanding is achieved through dialogue, a process of talking and listening to each other to reveal our common understandings and authentic differences.

    An example of this is evident in CPAMOs work in the dance community. The Canadian Dance Assembly/LAssemblecanadienne de la danse has developed a short piece on pluralism which is appended to this report. A very helpful element of this piece is the differences between diversity and pluralism which is extracted below.


    DIVERSITY VS. PLURALISMPluralism is a positive response to diversity.

    Diversity (in the absence of pluralism)

    Tolerates differences

    Creates exclusion

    Elicits division

    Creates passive observance

    Risks conformity

    Exists in isolation

    Is a reality

    Pluralism (in response to diversity)

    Values differences

    Promotes inclusion

    Encourages cooperation

    Nurtures active engagement

    Encourages mutual exchange

    Requires compromise

    Is a choice

  • In this context, CPAMO has functioned as a network of Indigenous and ethno-racial artists involved in theatre, music, dance, visual and literary arts. They are members of CPAMOs Roundtable and include representatives of Sampradaya Dance, Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Little Pear Garden Theatre Collective, Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Kaha:wi Dance, b-current, urban arts and backforward collective, TeyyaPeya Productions, Culture Days, Lua Shayenne and Company, Obsidian Theatre, the Collective of Black Artists, CanAsian Dance and others.

    CPAMO has been very effective in developing relationships and partnerships to achieve many of its goals. CPAMO has worked very closely with Ontario Presents, Canadian Dance Assembly, the IMPACT Festival in Kitchener-Waterloo, cultur-al organizations in Ottawa and their members to build their capacities, cultural competencies and understanding of pluralism in the arts so that these members engage artists from these communities and, thereby, enable audiences across Ontario to access artistic expressions from diverse communities on a regular basis.

    CPAMOs overarching goal is to help foster the creation of high quality art from diverse backgrounds and support its presentation on all stages in Ontario. To move this work into spaces where it can be seen and enjoyed by everyone who is interested in the performing arts and the stories of all the people of Ontario.

    To achieve this, CPAMO is committed to a grassroots approach, always shaping its programs and activities from the members needs.

    Over the past five years CPAMO has engaged a significant number of arts organizations, artists, facilitators to provide very successful workshops.


    CPAMO workshop at Flato Markham Theatre in 2011. Photo by Pam Lau.

  • CPAMO has been involved in six principle activities: 1) coordinating public forums/Town Halls on pluralism in the arts; 2) providing showcases of Indigenous and ethno-racial artists; 3) coordinating professional development opportunities; 4) engaging in networking activities within the arts; 5) conducting research and promoting member activities; 6) delivering presentations at conferences and other forums. (For more detailed information on this and the CPAMO history, see

    CPAMO has recently incorporated as a non-profit organization. CPAMO felt this was a necessary step to more effectively respond to the changes in the arts ecosystem. CPAMO believes it must be a catalytic entity to support change for Indigenous and ethno-racial artists and arts organization, in the arts sector and in the broader community as well.

    It is at this point that CPAMO commissioned this report to research possible shared platform models and provide recommendations for moving forward.


    CPAMO Worskhop at CSI Spadina, Toronto, 2011. Photo by Kevin A. Ormsby



    Over the past six months I examined the available literature on the concept of shared platforms in their broadest context from simply sharing office space to the ideas of charitable venture organizations. A particular emphasis of my research was to investigate new collaboration systems in both the for-profit sector as well as the arts.

    Over the same period there


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