Feature Article: Building a bridge of understanding

I had the opportunity to write a feature article about the Edmonton Arts Council’s Equity Committee for my writing class. I learned a lot about what they do and how big of a role the committee plays in Edmonton’s arts community.
The article was featured in the April 19 edition of the EAC Weekly newsletter.

Building a bridge of understanding

How the Edmonton Arts Council is taking proactive steps towards equity

Ahmed Ali, better known as Ahmed Knowmadic, is a passionate award-winning poet, comedian and motivational speaker. He is also the chair of the Equity Committee with the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC), which was formed in August 2013 as part of the EAC’s current strategic plan.

According to the “Utilization of an Equity Lens and an equity impact statement”, equity refers to equitable outcomes for all and requires the removal of systemic barriers and accommodation of differences whereby individuals and groups can benefit equally. Different treatment, rather than treating everyone the same is necessary to obtain equal results.

This committee helps to advise and make recommendations to the EAC on policies, programs and practices to advance equity, cultural diversity, access, and inclusion for artists and arts organizations. With the EAC’s 10-year cultural plan, The Art of Living, ending in 2018, it is expected that equity and inclusion will play a big part in the next cultural plan which the EAC will begin writing this year.

It’s about community

Ahmed describes what drew him to become involved with the Equity Committee with the EAC. “You have to understand who’s in your community and what they are doing. Diversity is really a key component of that regardless of what arts practice they’re doing or regardless of what their sexual preference is or sexual identity or their religion.” He adds, “Coming from a Muslim background, it’s important for me to take all this in, considering that I am an immigrant much like everybody else, unless you’re First Nations. It was good just to get an understanding.”

A change in perspective

Since Ahmed started his involvement with the Equity Committee two years ago, his understanding of the audiences he performs for has given him a new perspective.

“The Equity Committee has given me a diverse understanding of what equity means. It’s affected how I curate art.”

Ahmed describes how he has changed the way he addresses his audiences when he first steps onto the stage. Instead of addressing the audience with ‘hey ladies and gentlemen’, Ahmed says he has learned that he could be disregarding members of the audience that do not identify with either of those terms. He rounds out his thought with, “You shouldn’t just cater to the people that traditionally we’ve always thought about as being artists.”

Ahmed’s experience has also helped shift his understanding from being a professional artist who makes art for money to someone who is in the community, building bridges and establishing long-term connections.

Support from the EAC

The Equity Committee meets on a quarterly basis to celebrate and recognize artists who are doing excellent work in the community. They also have conversations with artists asking them for feedback.

“It’s not always about trying to change the world,” Ahmed says. He comments on how it’s fantastic to hang out and talk with representatives of the Equity Committee and other artists and come up with ways how to collectively grow the community.

When asked about his relationship with the EAC and its staff, Ahmed is quick to compliment everyone who is involved.

“I really commend the Edmonton Arts Council on being proactive,” he states. Ahmed explains how the EAC is looking at the diverse arts community in Edmonton and ensuring individuals have equal opportunity and recognition. “The Equity Committee’s responsibility is trying to make our community shine collectively and the Edmonton Arts Council is doing a great job at supporting us in doing our task.”

EAC Executive Director Sanjay Shahani also has good things to say about Ahmed’s work with the Equity Committee.

“Since the Equity Committee was formed in 2013, they have been crucial in advising the EAC on improving equity and inclusion within EAC programs and policies.” Shahani adds, “Ahmed has chaired the committee for two years and under his leadership, the EAC has worked on examining our programs and offerings, addressing barriers to EAC programs, and building relationships with artists from diverse communities. This work will only increase in importance as we move ahead with consultations for our next plan for arts and culture in the city of Edmonton.”

Appearing humble about being on the board of the EAC, as well as chair of the Equity Committee, Ahmed explains, “As an artist, it’s good news when the leaders of arts funding and leaders of arts programming in your community are thinking about equity. Most organizations are unaware of their inequalities but are prepared to make a change. Because of the complexities of inequality, I focus less on barriers and exert all of my efforts into establishing relationships while raising awareness.” He pauses to reflect on his own personal experiences and adds, “If a barrier exists, there is an opportunity to build a bridge of understanding to get across.”

To learn more about the Equity Committee, visit edmontonarts.ca/about_eac/equity_committee/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s