Going hand-in-hand with inclusion and accessibility, social justice solidarity is about using your platform appropriately to meaningfully and respectfully support causes aimed at promoting equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. Being an artist naturally lends itself to this work. However, the way forward isn't always clear, especially when funds are limited.
The list below outlines a number of suggestions for various engagement levels that an individual, collective and organization can incorporate into their productions and operations. Remember, there is no checklist you can complete to accomplish 'solidarity'. The best practice is to make educated, informed and respectful decisions that will be sustainable in the long run. This involves due research, consultation and collaboration with the leaders of the cause that you are seeking to support. As a reminder, the community that you are seeking to support must accept your work as an appropriate act of solidarity — it isn't for the individual to decide on their own. Take an active stance against the White-Savior Industrial Complex (coined by writer Teju Cole) and research the Ally Industrial Complex. Understand the relationship between Allyship and Accomplice to investigate what your role is while supporting a specific cause.
The engagement levels below are listed in order of least engaged/involved to most engaged/involved. Please approach each example below as a jump-start to your own creative producing practice. Consider ways for you to integrate these social justice solidarity activities into your production to become part of the experience. We encourage you to take them and make your own.
This is exactly as it sounds: activities that raise awareness and share information about social justice activities. This is the least participatory, and least costly level of engagement. That being said, you know your audience demographic best. If you are only just beginning to encorporate social justice into your company's programs, awareness and information-sharing is a way for you to start exposing those causes to the communities that engage with you.
Always consult leaders within the advocacy cause that you're supporting to draft and coordinate the information that is being shared (this includes who is talking, why they are the people selected to talk, what information is being shared and why) with the public. Know who to forward people on to if they're interested in learning more, and also where the line is for what your team can respond to or take on.
Be conscious of how awareness-raising activities and the information shared might inform your production, and vice versa. These activities must be considered part of the production experience in your planning, because they will be.
- Imagery of solidarity: Promotes general awareness to audience and community (e.g. BLM logo in the lobby or on your company website)
- Pre-performance speech of solidarity/awareness raising: Provides audience with fundamentals of the cause. Note that this is different from a land acknowledgement, but you could turn your land acknowledgement into an expression of solidarity and awareness raising for social justice actions in the community.
- Program leaf/brochure with information: provides more in-depth information about the cause.
- Showcase materials at entry/exit points for audience members to engage with: For example, if your production is donating proceeds or raising funds for an organization, you could showcase their outreach materials in the lobby.
- Strategically placed QR codes: Links audience members to an organization's website, social media, newsletter sign-up sheet or information resources.
- Reserve advertising space for social justice resources/organizations: Build ongoing relationships with organizations leading an initiative your company/collective cares about, and offer an ongoing advertising space in your program,website, etc. This could be negotiated as a compensation alternative for their time and/or resources (if appropriate).
- Referring your audience to other organizations: Collect a list of organizations doing work that your team supports to share with your audience members. This is a key opportunity to build community partnerships, but it also collaborates resources so that appropriate support goes to the best organizations that can manage and facilitate results. You can share this list at end end of performances (in person), in your program/playbill, newsletter, confirmation emails (when audience members purchase tickets), or your company website.
If raising money for an organization or on behalf of a social cause, leaders within those spaces should be consulted at the beginning of design conversations. They can guide you on how to support the initiative and may have specific materials or information you can use.
Any action involving money must be calculated and well thought out. Predetermine a specific trustworthy person (and a witness) to care for the money after it is collected and identify security actions to ensure its safe keeping outside of the collection period. Be mindful of political action that may affect nonprofit or charitable status, or tax returns (see: Regulated Activity for Nonprofits and Charities and New Advocacy Rules for Charities: Limits on (Non-Partisan) Political Activities Lifted).
- Donation box: Have a locked donation box at entry/exit points of performance space, or passed around the audience, if appropriate.
- Promote pre-organized campaigns (e.g. GoFundMe): This option allows individuals to donate directly to a cause. Consider ease-of-access for audience members to complete the sale. Do you provide time for folks to donate in your post-show? Where are the QR codes/links to the online campaign located?
- Split sales (and let audience know where the money is going from each sale): Where a percentage of concession sales go toward a cause (e.g. $1 from every water sold goes to a campaign for clear water accessibility). If you can, tell the audience how much money was raised (e.g. by follow up email or after performance). You may also consider posting the total sum raised on your social media at the end of the run.
- Box Office Percentages: Dedicate a percentage or dollar amount from your ticket sales towards a cause. This option involves building the fee into your box office system. Information for ticket-buyers on this initative can be listed in the ticket description, or as an addition line item alongside GST/PST.
- Donation Matching: For example, for every $1 donated by an audience member, an additional $1 would be donated by someone else (the company, or a sponsor, etc.)
Collective action refers to action taken together by a group of people whose goal is to enhance their condition and achieve a common objective. This level of engagement means that your collective, company or production is participating in the organizing and promotion of collective actions of a specific cause.
- Disseminate petitions: Include petitions to be signed at door and by using emails provided at online ticket purchase (include option to opt in/out at time of purchase)
- Invitations to attend social justice events: For example, providing information cards as audience members are leaving or orally mentioning upcoming actions in a post-show speech ("X company members are attending Y rally, you should join us at this meeting spot and on this day")
- Lobby the Government: Disseminate letter templates for people to read, sign and/or email to their local/regional/federal representatives. Be very careful with this and explore personal liability and CRA requirements if your organization is hosting this campaign.
Making an organizational commitment to combat economic, political, and social inequity means creating a structure and culture that actively works against systems that perpetuate such inequities. There is no perfect way to do this - indeed, even our granting system exists within a colonial structure. Below are some ways for you to start building new systems and approaches that re-indigenize and decolonize your artistic practice, company values, and relationships.
Organizational commitment requires open conversation and buy-in between all community members. It also takes time and energy. Be prepared to work collectively to discover what your collective needs are, and what capacity you have as a collective to make change together. As an artistic producer or organizational leader, it is especially important that you create the space and time for change to happen. Organizational commitments can't be added to someone's workload - space must be created for meaningful change to happen. This must be a scheduling and budgeting consideration that you plan for.
- Accessible Employee Learning: Invest in resources for employees to learn about oppressive systems so that they can be a part of the solution in addressing them within the organization. Encourage employees to use paid hours to take workshops, do webinars, and read Anti-Racist learning tools. (Head to our page Inclusion for a fulsome list of educational resources on this subject).
- Organizational Values and Follow Up: Prioritize equity and social justice in your organizational values and create systems that support this work in your organization. Create space for concerns to be shared in a safe way, and follow up with individuals and the organization at large to identify problematic areas and rectifying actions. One method might be creating a collective agreement at the beginning of a process (more on Collective Agreements here).
- Operational Expectations: Artistic work is collaborative work. Standards for workplace behaviour are helpful to ensure that everyone in the room feels safe. Though everyone is responsible for their own behaviour, having consistent and open conversations with employees at all levels ensures that everyone is respectful and keeps this at top of mind during day-to-day operations. Identifying acceptable and unacceptable behaviours through the lens of safety, security and workplace wellbeing helps to set the precedence for communal responsibility of building a healthy workplace. It also increases the team mentality, and is a small action from management to support employee wellbeing. This could be formally outlined in a code of conduct, harassment/workplace safety policy, or list of organizational values on your website.
- Feedback Mechanisms and Pathways: Develop safe, reliable and anonymous feedback mechanisms to help concerns to be heard without singling out an individual. Within hierarchical structures, there are many reasons an individual may not feel comfortable talking to the person in charge. Work has higher stakes for some than others, and contributing to the betterment of a workplace shouldn't cost anyone their livelihood. These processes should be outlined in your harassment/workplace safety policy.
- Evaluation Strategies: Combat data bias by ensuring equal representation in your evaluation teams. Use a third party service that prioritizes equitable evaluation methods. Be transparent about what is being evaluated, why it is being evaluated and how it is being evaluated. Equity is integral to evaluation because it puts a magnifying glass on what data is being captured, by whom and for which means.
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion teams: Investing in a team to lead this work is an important step. It's also important to provide the power to go along with the responsibility involved with this work, so that the conversations result in action. It's tough and emotionally intensive labour, so remember that you're working toward the same goal of ensuring a healthy, equitable and safe workplace for everyone. The responsibility of this work shouldn't fall only on this team (as it should be more than one person), it should be integrated into all aspects of the organization, not simply within HR or Communications.
- Paid Labour: Acknowledge the emotional and mental labour required by members of equity-seeking communities in teaching/educating organizational members through fair and appropriate compensation.
- Diversity in Management: The executive staff should be representative of the people they serve. By prioritizing equitable hiring and management practices, organizations are stronger because they encompass a broader range of experiences, learning, and qualifications.
- Self-Care Infrastructure: Prioritize worker wellbeing through self-care infrastructure in the workplace. This could mean adjusting schedules to include days off during busy periods, it could be an organizational policy to offer paid self-care days, it could be developing a self-care space (like a wellness room) for anyone needing some extra care while at work. Best practice would be developing this infrastructure with employees to ensure their needs are getting met. (See our page on Self-Care for Artists for some ideas).
- Public Commitment: Organizations have a platform to support movements for social justice. Use this platform to support social justice movements with the acknolwedgement that 'not being political' is impossible. The intersectionality of lived experience makes everything political, and when working with people, choosing not to act is supporting the systems of oppression. Open communication means it happens both ways, be prepared for feedback (in all forms and from all directions), and be transparent about the trial and error process to do better.
- Commitment to Learning and Action: Social justice is always evolving and changing as social structures change. Everyone is in different places within this process, so being open about learning is important. The key point here is that learning isn't enough. Using platforms to amplify lessons learned is a tremendous step, but so is taking a critical look within your own organization and taking steps to unlearn and decolonize your spaces.
Know how much your organization/collective/team can take on and how much is appropriate to ask of your audience. The key is long-lasting, sustainable relationships and long-term action. This work is emotionally charged because it's personal and resulting from hundreds of years of systemic oppression used to strategically promote trauma and violence. There is no way to reduce or remove the resulting harm from within communities or individuals. It is a long and continuous process. Be mindful that being called out means that you are being trusted to learn and fix your mistakes. Ring Theory is a key strategy to use when performing self-care using the "care in, dump out" method. This method ensures that comfort is directed to people experiencing the most need and emotionally processing is focused outward to people who have the capacity to support those in the inner circles.
In the words of Audre Lourde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. Self-care isn't about improving yourself, it's about surviving adversity, which is intrinsically linked to the workplace.
Community-Centric Fundraising has put together an excellent list of resources to spark important conversations, especially regarding the intersection of race/social justice and fundraising/philanthropy, including articles, reports, blogs, books, videos and websites.
Mixed Company Theatre produces innovative, socially relevant drama as a tool for positive change. Founded as an artist-run collective in 1983, Mixed Company today uses Forum Theatre and interactive arts to educate, engage and empower audiences in schools, communities and workplaces.
The Centre for Social Justice is an advocacy organization that seeks to strengthen the struggle for social justice. They are committed to working for change in partnership with various social movements and recognize that effective change requires the active participation of all community sectors. Although the Centre is based in Ontario, their work increasingly takes them across Canada and into the international arena.
Ally or co-conspirator?: What it means to act #InSolidarity is a 5-part blog series on how to show up in social justice movements. Check out the first video in the series below:
(Black Lives Matter co-founder and Special Projects Director for National Domestic Workers Alliance Alicia Garza provides insight into what she believes creates powerful and inclusive social movements. Content warning: descriptions of racial violence, murder)