To the members and wider public of La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse,
Last week, a public post was made denouncing La Centrale for racism, especially anti-black racism, as well as oppression towards other marginalized people. Here is the link to the post (TW: the post contains discussions of racism, sexual violence, transphobia and slut shaming). Below is our response to that post.
First of all, the Board of La Centrale recognizes the courage and labour that went into this gesture. We thank BIPOC artists, members, and board members for their ongoing labours to educate and change the organization and artist-run culture more broadly; we don’t believe you should have to do this work.
We believe what was outlined in that document, and other stories that have been shared with us prior to its release. We acknowledge that the dominance of whiteness in the organization is a problem that dates back many years, has caused significant harm, and that La Centrale has not protected those we are mandated to serve. We are unified in a sincere apology to the people who have been failed, who have suffered at the hands of that failure. We also know that an apology is meaningless without concrete actions and radical shifts in the knowledge, values, and perspectives that shape the organizational culture. We strongly hope and believe that La Centrale can be a site where those important and radical transformations can take place. We want to host public discussions on these issues. We want to listen, act, and change, and hope that this response and other actions will facilitate ongoing dialogue and the slow building of trust.
Since the post was released, we have received many questions about why this happened, what we have done about it, and what we will do now and in the future to dismantle racism at La Centrale. We do our best to start answering these questions in the pages that follow. We are always open to hearing your responses, thoughts, or testimonies in the manner that makes sense to you.
The Board of La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse
WHY THIS HAPPENED
An external equity audit conducted in Spring-Summer 2018 confirmed concerns previously expressed by board members, a member-driven working group, other members, and staff preoccupied by questions of representation, exclusion, and violence towards racialized people. The following are some reflections based on that equity audit, the post published last week, other stories shared with us, and the results of many difficult conversations on the Board:
● La Centrale’s unstructured non-hierarchy allows for the exercising of power and privilege. Systemic racism can thrive in this environment by reinforcing
the dominant white culture and causing further harm to those who are marginalised.
● La Centrale’s volunteer structure does not have the adequate tools, resources, professional skills or policy to swiftly deal with complaints of violence. Combined with a non-hierarchy, this has resulted in decision making processes and actions that are far too slow, which has both sent the message that violence and oppression are tolerated and has also meant that more people have been hurt.
● Many of the responses in the organization to these conversations were marked by fear and defensiveness.
● La Centrale acknowledges claims that in the current context close professional and personal relationships protect and prioritize those people already in place, who are predominantly white/cis-gendered.
● The intersectional feminism promoted in our mandate is well-intentioned but at this point not attainable given that the majority of our members, workers, and board members are white, able-bodied and cis-gendered;
● La Centrale lacks mechanisms in place to prevent and support workers, board members, and members when burn-out happens;
● We had difficulty implementing a zero tolerance policy in practice in a small community;
● We have struggled to manage issues of confidentiality and transparency.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
The equity audit provided us with a critical analysis of the organization’s structure that demonstrated that La Centrale has much work to do in order to become a safe and equitable organization. It also offered a comprehensive list of short, medium, and long term actions to take to address inequity, exclusion, oppression, and violence against equity-seeking groups. We are grateful for and accept these recommendations, which will be presented by the auditor at the upcoming AGM, and are hiring an equity and anti-oppression officer to ensure their implementation.
Among the short-term actions to be taken:
● We will revise and create policies that facilitate swift and concrete responses to testimonies of violence of any kind. Specifically, we will write a clear procedure for dealing with discrimination, harassment, and microagressions.
● We will prioritize ongoing anti-oppression training and self-education for white staff and board members on non-violent communication, white privilege and
fragility, tokenization, unconscious prejudice, microaggressions, intention vs. impact, and power dynamics in non-hierarchical structures.
● All board, committee, and staff recruitment efforts going forward will work towards achieving and maintaining a majority representation of equity-seeking groups. We will proactively seek changes in leadership to facilitate a radical shift in organizational culture that is required to embody intersectional
feminisms and structural change.
● All members will sign a code of conduct outlining that no violent, racist, transphobic, ableist, body shaming, slut shaming, or classist comments or
actions will be tolerated and that La Centrale has zero tolerance against harassment and intimidation.
● We will maintain an online, publically accessible, transparent, and continually updated equity plan where members and non-members alike can track our activities and progress.
● We will create a committee solely composed of equity-seeking members that will among other things oversee the implementation of the recommendations made in the audit.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR
In conjunction with this equity audit, a training on the relationship between inequity and microaggressions took place in May as a first step in ongoing anti-oppression workplace learning. La Centrale recognizes the efforts of the member-driven working group, which has addressed among other issues questions of representation, inclusivity, and listening, as an important driving force for these activities.
We have created a contract position for an equity and anti-oppression officer. This person will be mandated to address issues as they arise, support the implementation of the audit recommendations, and ensure that actions taken reflect the needs of those most directly affected. This post was finalized in July and will be advertised in the coming weeks.
We recently began meeting with the Centre for Community Organizations (COCo), for a mediation process, as well as other potential work around Board roles and responsibilities, and coaching around implementing the equity report. We have secured funding for this work to move forward.
As a result, we are working on creating a coaching style process around anti-oppression involving the workers and the board members with COCo, which is
beginning late September, and will continue to take place over the coming months.
La Centrale wants to build and maintain relationships and governance models that empower those people we are mandated to support. As long as the organization remains predominantly white and an unsafe space for any BIPOC members and artists, we will never achieve our mandate. La Centrale will dedicate resources to do the work. We will put in the time required.
THE NEXT BOARD
We are expecting significant Board turnover at the AGM in October as members are reaching the end of their terms. On the one hand this is hard, as there remains much work to be done. However, we also hope this is an opportunity for people who are invested in creating significant cultural change at La Centrale to become involved in the governance of the organization, and for the composition of the leadership to change. If you wish to help transform La Centrale into what it can and should be, you are very much encouraged to put your name forward and come to the Annual General Meeting that will take place on October 12. Current board members will help with this transition as needed, and are available to answer questions you might have about this commitment before deciding.