Alter Arts Society made a serious mistake recently, and we would like to take this opportunity to apologize publicly, take responsibility for the harm caused, and commit to ensuring that we improve our practices to prevent anything like this from happening again.
In June, I applied for a booth for Alter Arts Society at Victoria’s 2022 Canada Day celebration. In subsequent communications with the organizers, I wrote that our project would be in collaboration with an Indigenous artist. The project description, which included their traditional name and identity as an “Indigenous artist” was published in the Canada Day Schedule of Events on the City of Victoria website. I posted a request related to this event on Facebook as well. When the individual, who had been volunteering for our organization, became aware of the post, they immediately contacted me to let me know they were not comfortable with the event and the use of their name and identity without permission. I explained that I felt it would be a good opportunity to reframe the conversation around Canada Day and asked how they would feel about having their name (and identity) associated with the installation if they weren’t there. They explained why they felt the announcement was inappropriate, culturally insensitive and did not have their support or consent and asked to have their name removed.
Immediately following this conversation, I withdrew Alter Arts Society from the event. Three days after we withdrew, the company organizing the event published a press release including the project description that I had provided with the name of the person who had not consented to participating, which resulted in further publicity.
I recognize that using this person’s name without their consent was wrong. In doing so, I have tokenized them and appropriated their identity as an Indigenous person. I am deeply sorry for the harm that I caused. I have learned that I must move more slowly in future, and ensure that I have explicit, fully informed, and enthusiastic consent from anyone that Alter Arts works with before including them in the description of any of our projects.
Alter Arts Society will continue to work to rectify the situation until it is resolved, including by taking responsibility for our wrongdoing and providing cultural sensitivity training to our board and staff.
Jenn Neilson, Executive Director
Alter Arts Society