British Columbia

Mentorship program creates space for diversity in Vancouver's arts scene

From a Facebook rant to a full-blown mentorship program: how two members of Vancouver's arts community are cracking open the city's arts scene to encourage diverse voices.

Indigenous, women-of-colour artists under-represented in arts world

Megan Lau, left, and Kristin Cheung, right, took the initiative to create a space for young female artists of colour after seeing the lack of diversity in the Canadian arts scene. (Submitted by Megan Lau)

This Vancouver-based arts mentorship program for young Indigenous women and women of colour began with a Facebook rant. 

Kristen Cheung, an arts fundraiser, had been sitting on jury panels for arts organizations and was frustrated by the lack of diversity in the projects being pitched.

In fact, according to a recent report by Canadian Art, women of colour and Indigenous artists are greatly under-represented in Canada's galleries. Only three per cent of solo exhibitions in Canada were by women of colour.

"This is broken," Cheung thought and took to Facebook looking for collaborators to make a difference.

I just felt really unseen and didn't see what a future for me would look like.- Megan Lau, co-founder of The Future

Her post spoke to Megan Lau, who has worked in publishing and now works in Vancouver's film and television industry.

"I just felt really unseen and didn't see what a future for me would look like," Lau said.

The two of them decided to change that, by taking what they had learned in their own careers in the arts and helping other young women of colour through mentorship.

"We thought ... it would make such a great impact if someone were to teach us some of those things and give us a space to figure out the things that we felt anxious and concerned about," Lau said. 

"As soon as we put it out there, people were so excited. That just kind of made us have to do it."

The latest cohort of artists who participate in the Future mentorship program. (Submitted by Megan Lau)

And Cheung and Lau did it.

Their mentorship program, which is called The Future is You and Me, is now in its second year.

The program is free and open to diverse female artists aged 19 to 25 in any arts discipline. Participants learn about things like grant-writing, budgeting and networking from a series of established members of the Vancouver arts community. 

This year is special for the duo, because they have received funding from the Canada Council For the Arts and City of Vancouver Cultural Services to focus on projects by artists of colour, something Lau says represents a shift in the city's cultural scene.

"We are seeing that a community of artists of colour is gaining new opportunities around us, which is an exciting context for our participants in our program — who are emerging artists and creatives — to enter," Lau said.

A crucial space

Simranpreet Anand, 25, a visual artist who participated in the 2017 cohort of the program and now works as its program co-ordinator, says the Future is You and Me has given her a sense of community in the B.C. arts scene.

"It's great to be able to have a group of people we can go back to and ask questions of and connect with that are also in similar or the same fields," Anand says.

Anand says having a space specifically for diverse young women is important.

"I thought about it critically ...  [like] are we now creating exclusionary spaces, because there's only a certain group of people that can be in this space," she said. "But a lot of art spaces are predominantly white. [It's a space] that has historically lacked marginalized voices ... I feel that is a good indicator that programs like this are important still."

The program is still accepting applications for its winter 2019 cohort. The deadline is Thursday, Nov. 22. 

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