Letter from the Executive Director

Posted on May 13, 2019

RE: Collective Critiques on the 2019 Images Festival


The 32nd Images Festival (April 11-18) hosted Research Forum, an educational initiative that invited 10 participants to attend seminars, meetings with curators, artists, and researchers, gallery tours, screenings, performances and other events. Read more about the program here, and this year’s participants here.

On April 17, the festival’s programming included a public presentation by the Research Forum. During the event, QTBIPOC participants delivered the document Collective Critiques on the 2019 Images Festival, and requested that the video documentation of the event be publicly released. See here.

On Closing Night, in her remarks, our Artistic Director Steffanie Ling addressed the critiques, and reiterated her commitment to the work ahead. As Executive Director, I have been reflecting on my position in response to the criticisms and my responsibility to secure, disseminate, and implement the resources required to support our programming.

The Research Forum is an initiative that started in 2016 and was driven by Images’ desire to create a context for participants with a range of critical perspectives to have more in-depth engagement with programming. The critiques delivered by the 2019 Research Forum participants further brought to my attention our structural limitations and responsibilities as an organization. In developing and growing the Research Forum this year, we intended to host a platform that incorporated our learnings from the previous years with regards to logistics, communications and programming. In this process, we faced challenges and made missteps, many of which were echoed in the critiques, including issues of accessibility, the need for more considerate viewership practices, and the need to secure more support for the program.

These issues are ongoing points of discussion that we have at Images. They encompass both our responsibility as well as our organizational reality in terms of limited resources, paucity of time, and staff capacity. Within this context, we are taking immediate steps and developing our ongoing long-term strategic planning to build a festival that is more caring, empathetic, critical, communal and accessible, particularly for racialized audiences, participants, and staff members. Drawing from our history as a space to negotiate and foster critique and exhibit thought-provoking work, we strive to learn from this experience in a way that is thoughtful and continual.

In the process of holding ourselves accountable as an organization, we are beginning by taking the following steps:

For Staff:
To undertake anti-oppression facilitation and meaningful inclusion training and workshops with leadership, staff, and board by a professional consultant
To evaluate accessibility gaps/needs and undertake accessibility consultation
To support staff professional development in attending workshops and events geared towards furthering accessibility, anti-oppression, and responsible presentation in the arts

For Research Forum:
To investigate possibilities of additional compensation and support for travel for Research Forum participants from outside Toronto
To welcome additional feedback and comments from Research Forum participants through an anonymous survey via an impartial board member who is a person of colour

For Community/Attendees/Audiences:
To actively seek qualitative feedback from all of the artists, curators, presenters, community partners, and audiences about their experiences with and at the festival
To work with staff, distributors, curators, artists and partners to provide adequate warnings for the presentation of content
To work with staff, distributors, curators, artists and partners to responsibly frame and contextualize the work we present, including providing a safe context for critique of presented works and opportunities for extended dialogue between artists and the public

For Leadership:
The Artistic Director will reevaluate outreach strategies for Call for Submissions to be more accessible to QTBIPOC and marginalized artists locally and internationally
The Artistic Director will prioritize identifying, contextualizing, and addressing works that are problematic, as well as works that are challenging to experience, especially ones grappling with contentious depictions of racial dynamics, sexual assault, violence and suicide, in advance of their public presentation
The Executive Director will prioritize organizational and staff capacity to ensure all roles are properly supported in order to feasibly conduct these steps with lasting impact.

Images is a small and dedicated team and we are all working to address our audiences’ and participants’ concerns and critiques. I am deeply grateful for the generosity of the critiques, the insights, and the conversations as we continue the work of building and growing as an organisation.

Please get in touch if you have further questions.

Sincerely,

Heather Keung
Executive Director
heather@imagesfestival.com
(416) 971-8405
309-401 Richmond St W.Toronto, ON M5V 3A8 CANADA