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Canadian Arts Summit 2016: Big Discussions on the Future of Canadian Arts & Culture

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by Rachel Berdan

Banff: home of the amazing Banff Centre, my heart ;), and the 19th Canadian Arts Summit—where a broad spectrum of leaders spent a few days challenging, motivating and inspiring each other.

The Summit was full of conversations that cross over into other sectors (including tech), so while I was concerned about being a newbie to this gathering, I found myself in familiar territory soon enough.

The tone and energy within these conversations was refreshing and we dove deeper into some sensitive topics than I’m used to in a typical professional setting.

Two Themes
We were encouraged to bring cross-industry perspectives to the table, and while the overall topic was leadership in its varying degrees, I walked away with two major themes I’d like to talk more about here: disruption and inclusion.

1 – Disruption
There is an ongoing tension between preservation and innovation, and that’s not a bad thing.

It showed up as our Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, spoke of an unprecedented investment in our culture, including a sizeable funding program to help communities celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, alongside a massive question asking how we ensure that Canadian content is effectively promoted and distributed in a more connected digital economy.

It was at the core of Anita Gaffney’s talk about digitizing Shakespeare, which not only ensures that educators can share Canadian productions here in Canada, but also allows the Stratford Festival to reach an additional 200,000 people (and build an artefact of these historical performances for future generations).

And with tension, we create a space for disruption and innovation: Ravi Jain outlined the Riser Project’s innovative model of shared risk and support for diverse stories; Tammy Lee shared a truly game changing vision with Culture Creates, a socially innovative tech startup that would elevate the performing arts space beyond the challenges and limitations of the 21st century; Christina Loewen and Ameet Mehta shared how they’re bringing startup thinking to the arts; a step further on the startup path, Kobo Founder Michael Serbinis encouraged us all to just do something.

Those are just a few ideas of what’s coming in the sector (artengine’s Ryan Stec has even more), and they’re only a sampling of what we covered—and that’s not to mention the remarkable panel of young leaders who discussed a broad scale reconsidering of institutions, organizations and leadership.

2 – Inclusion
Our opening keynote by Susan Hoyle was about leadership, but it set the tone for a look at inclusion.

It can be difficult to separate cultural leadership from the institution, and Hoyle pointed out that institutions themselves can just as easily be a part (or extension) of a community as they can create barriers.

Throughout various elements of her talk, Hoyle encouraged us all to open up by creating inclusive spaces and building leadership practices that are both inclusive and participatory.

There was considerable discussion about cross-generational leadership, and a key piece of that theme was that embracing both the wisdom of long-term leaders and the fresh perspectives of emerging leaders allows for a much richer ecosystem of thought. But age is just a number, and the generational context was just a warm-up to what was a very provocative and engaging analysis of diversity and inclusion.

Our excellent panel was made up of brilliant minds that, in various ways, reminded us of how language influences action and experience, and that dialogue carried through to our group discussion sessions where we dug deeper into some challenging questions.

Diversity (in language and in practice) is just scratching the surface, whereas to truly represent the full spectrum of experiences and stories that make up our nation, inclusion is key… and it’s a practice that never ends. It requires the invitation of different perspectives, certainly, but it also requires a deeper self-reflection and an ongoing evaluation of how we are doing and how we can do better. It certainly got me thinking about how we can continue to do a better job of seeking out and inviting different perspectives as a business, and how that can only make us better.

Big Ideas, Next Steps
I could truly only scratch the surface here; the Summit had so much excellent content that raised many thought-provoking questions. If there’s anything I am walking away with, it is an even deeper belief in the value of investing in arts and culture at as many levels as possible.

The stories we tell and the work we show on stage, in our institutions and in our communities can effect change in a huge way, and considering which stories are told and who gets to tell them is a big part of the equation.

Further, even beyond arts and culture, we all have an opportunity to consider the organizations we build and work within, and look for ways to both disrupt and include within our spaces. I came home both reflective and inspired, and with a question I keep coming back to: What can you do?

About Rachel
Rachel Berdan is CMO and VP of Sales at Ellipsis Digital.

Her education includes a somewhat unorthodox combination of communications and social justice. She has spent her career balancing along the line between sales and marketing, and enjoys figuring out what motivates and what matters to people. A writer at heart, Rachel loves to uncover and tell stories. She is a firm believer in the power of community, and the magic that can happen when a group of ordinary people with a shared passion try to accomplish something together.

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