Why Did Salmon Arm Arts Centre Create the Pride Project?

 

Blog post contributed by Tracey Kutschker, Director/Curator @SalmonArmArtsCentre

I’m a mom. Before anything else in my life, I strive to ensure the safety, health and happiness of my two kids. When they came out to me, as with most parents of LGBTQ2S+ youth, my first thoughts were fuelled by fear - that my child would be subject to discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes, online bullying, and a general intolerance by white cis-het society for the rest of their lives. So I asked myself:

How can I make Salmon Arm a community where my kids feel loved and protected?

They were both born here, grew up here, have friends and family here. It is their home. I will not tolerate them feeling like outsiders in their own home. And what can I do to accomplish this? I can educate through the arts. It’s what I do best.

 

With the support of the Arts Council board of directors, I set up a meeting of representatives from different Pride groups in Salmon Arm, as well as a few interested allies, with the goal of a mini arts-fest inspired by Vancouver Queer Arts Festival.

That initial meeting sprouted big time engagement, as the members were equally enthusiastic about changing the world, or at the very least, Salmon Arm

The Pride Project was born, and the Arts Council made a 3-year commitment to an annual series of interdisciplinary arts-based engagement activities in order to further the visibility, awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ2S+ community.


In my 18 years with the Arts Council, I have spearheaded a great many new ideas; from fundraising galas to 40 foot mosaics, and I have always felt that Salmon Arm was a community that would come together when the need arose and create something amazing. My role was to lay a good foundation for that to happen, shake the bushes for the resources we needed, and to ensure the authenticity of the project. However, not being a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, I was very aware that my qualifications for establishing an arts-based Pride event was on shaky ground. The mama bear role would get me so far, but it was clear that I needed to proceed only with consultation and collaboration, and to be okay with being led by the committee. We were fortunate to have made a connection with Kelowna Pride early on. With guidance from Davina Kula, we were careful to ensure proper training and engagement techniques that were respectful, inclusive, and used correct language. It informed our mission as a committee, to which we adhere with great strength.


 

Planning the 2020 Pride Project was like running a circus for the first time

With dozens of balls in the air, we managed to put together a colourful hybrid festival with in-person and digital events that created many opportunities for learning, challenging and understanding. I was grateful to have the energy and enthusiasm of Kate Fagervik, who executed many of the pivoting ideas that came from the committee. Being responsive to the pandemic kept a number of those balls in the air up until the last minute, but it’s due to the thoughtful planning and experience in event management that made the whole thing come together.

 

During the Pride! exhibition, I was witness to, and part of, a number of emotional interactions. I heard young adults coming out to their friends. I watched young families read out loud the LGBTQ2S+ terminology works and talk about what it all meant. I heard grandmas talking with their grandchildren, learning from them. I also heard stories of trauma in Salmon Arm’s high schools, and young adults who swore they’d never return to Salmon Arm. They did, just to see what the Pride Project was all about.

Some told me that they never thought it was possible for Salmon Arm to show any inclusion

It was heartbreaking to fully understand how lost these young people feel, set adrift by their own community, told they were too different to stay here, or worse. What sank in most, though, was the common thread of safety. Or, lack of it. They all felt unsafe in their home town. How is it that this was acceptable for so long? As I pledge to double-down on my efforts to create safe space, I also recognize it will take years and many Pride festivals, education and events to make Salmon Arm a safe community.

 

The 2020 Pride Project was a blockbuster, a game-changer, and a conversation-starter. It has already branched off into networks and support groups. It has inspired LGBTQ2S+ artists to address their own experiences in their art forms. Pride public art projects are in the works, and we have enthusiastic government and organizational support as we plan for the next two years. New ideas have recharged our batteries, and we’re so excited to present the 2021 version. Let’s get started.

Want to learn more? Contact Tracey curator@salmonarmartscentre.ca

Photos generously provided by Kristal Burgess Photography