A shared public response from concerned members of the Halifax arts community:
Artistic and creative spaces have the power to reimagine systems and structures that are not serving us or our communities. As leaders in our local artistic community, employers of artists, members of nonprofit arts organizations and as artists, we have developed the following statement in the wake of recent accusations of sexual assault against a staff member at the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP), as detailed in this Coast article. We have come together in this letter to express to the public our shared stance on sexual violence and organizational responsibility, as well as to acknowledge that each of our organizations has specific mandates and expectations for serving our communities responsibly, and protecting members of those communities against sexual violence:
We believe, support and value survivors.
We respect survivor autonomy, including the decision to remain anonymous as an act of self-protection and preservation. We believe in building safer, anti-oppressive spaces that uphold and centre care, equity and transparency. We want our spaces, events and programs to prioritize and ensure the safety of our volunteers, staff, artists and the communities that we serve. We will not tolerate abusers in our spaces.
As much as we would like to believe the spaces we hold sacred cannot reenact lateral violence, we know that institutional silence is a vehicle that allows sexual assault to remain endemic in our communities. We choose not to participate in this violent erasure as it perpetuates rape culture.
Sexual abuse is rooted in the exploitation of unequal power dynamics. As institutions, we have the ability to shift that power away from those who have violated it; through zero-tolerance sexual abuse policies, codes of conduct and continued education and vigilance, we can protect survivors and our communities.
Recognizing the unique working conditions faced by those employed in the arts, we believe that the following actions should be taken by any organization that finds themselves responding to a sexual assault complaint, actions which we call upon AFCOOP now to take:
The organization must centre, respect and care for survivors first and foremost. In this case, we believe that AFCOOP should issue an apology to the survivor who reached out to them in 2016 for their mishandling of the survivor’s complaint by neglecting to respond to the survivor in a timely, transparent and respectful way.
The organization must remain accountable to the public. We, as colleagues, supporters, members and friends, have the right to feel safer in our spaces. We champion clear, actionable statements outlining meaningful steps taken by the organization towards healing.
The organization’s current board and staff must engage in training and education with South House, Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and/or another survivor-centric community organization as soon as feasibly possible following a complaint of sexual assault.
The organization should establish a thorough and enforceable code of conduct and zero-tolerance sexual assault and harassment policy. If a policy is already in place, it should be reviewed and made public. At this time we encourage all organizations in our community to make their policies publicly accessible online.
The organization should attempt to engage a pro-survivor organization to conduct an independent third-party investigation into the complaint, rather than primarily seeking legal counsel, and that any legal actions must be carried out with community accountability in mind. In doing so, the organization acknowledges that obligations within the legal system are only one subset of their larger community responsibilities.
The organization must encourage appropriate steps taken by accused persons, based on the results of a fair and thorough investigation. This would include, but is not limited to the accused person stepping down from their position, as self-exclusion is a deeply important part of accountability.
The organization must acknowledge that incidents of sexual violence do not have to happen on the organization’s premises or be directly linked to core programming to be taken seriously by the organization - and acknowledge that staff, contractors and board members represent the organization, and through their relationship to the organization, hold a position of power within the community.
Our hearts are with those who feel hurt by the heaviness of these recently revealed allegations, particularly the survivor who has come forward with their experience, as well as those who continue to fight to be heard.
We look forward to working together to ensure that all organizations in our community can and will act responsibly.
Centre for Art Tapes (CFAT)
Tom Elliott, Production Director, Tori Fleming, Programming Director, Sally Raab-Wolchyn, Operations Director, Jesse Mitchell, Electronics Lab Coordinator contract staff, Grace Stratton, Electronics Club Host contract staff
Annie Onyi Cheung, Chairperson, Board of Directors, Francella Fiallos, Vice-Chairperson, Board of Directors, James MacSwain, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Kate Walchuk, Secretary, Board of Directors, Becka Barker, Member at large, Board of Directors, Andrew Coll, Member at large, Board of Directors
Julia McMillan, Artistic Director, Ruth Marsh, Co-Chairperson, Board of Directors, Lou Sheppard, Co-Chairperson, Board of Directors, Camila Salcedo, Programming Assistant, Joanna Close, Board of Directors/Finance Committee, Angela Henderson, Board of Directors/Programming Committee, Julie Hollenbach, Board of Directors/Engagement Committee/HR Committee, Eyelevel Programming Committee
Nocturne: Art at Night Board of Directors and Staff
South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre
Carmella Farahbakhsh, Volunteer and Education Coordinator
Rebecca Stuckey, Outreach and Education Coordinator
Jennifer Allott, Board Chair
South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre Board of Directors
The Khyber Centre for the Arts
Hannah Guinan, Artistic Director
Khyber Centre for the Arts Board of Directors