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  • Kim Senklip Harvey

Dignity and Safety Denied in the Arts.

I read an article this morning about Angela Gladue a dancer for A Tribe Called Red who was in Winnipeg 4 days ago and was being chased by a man and then refused by a taxi and then had to beg a second taxi before being given safe passage to her residence. 

This is no joke, the lives of our artists are in danger. Yes, you reading this, the lives of people in our community that we create, the sector we work in are in danger.

All across Canada I’ve been refused cabs and thrown out of cabs (because I wanted to pay with debit and not cash), I was stalked and intimidated by a skinhead in Winnipeg and had to run into the mall bookstore and hide, I've been physically assaulted in the streets of Toronto walking home from work. 

I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me walking home from PTE while on tour for Where the Blood Mixes. When I first told Ben Cardinal about the attack he looked me in the eyes and said “when that night comes you are not allowed out by yourself for any reason.” He walked me home every night after that.

I know Angela and myself are not alone in these experiences, particularly Indigenous women. Are we proud yet Canadian Theatre and Arts Community? This is our community the one we sustain on the daily.

One of the reasons I connected so strongly with Hannah Gadsby’s 'Nanette', is because of the concise way she spoke about the humiliation she had to go through to be seen and heard. How unsafe her life was and how the society we create and sustain makes marginalized people, like BIPOC's and non-binary identifying peoples have to endure humiliating environments just to participate. 

This brings me to address a deep concern I have for our sector, specifically for arts organizations about the responsibility to provide and protect the safe passage of your artists from inception of the artistic engagement to their return home when working for you.

Artistic leaders and community members you know we end our work at night, so do you have a budget line that accounts for cab vouchers or a ride share program to ensure all your artists are getting home safely? Especially in rural or dangerous cities. And if you have that program are you ensuring that it is not provided in a humiliating way, like publicly asking everyone at once and never again?

Are you paying your artists enough or are you adding a transportation stipend to ensure they aren’t paying out of their own pockets to get home safely? 

What are the measures of due diligence your organization is doing to ensure that the accommodations and billeting accommodations are being rigorously checked often to ensure they are safe for all peoples to inhabit? Cause accommodation option A with Johnny on the spot that works for Joe Black is usually never safe for someone like myself.

Are you an organization that provides parking? Is it close, lit and safely accessible for everyone to get to at night? Cause during tech you've got a lot of vulnerable artists walking into wooded like areas or empty parking garages at 1am. Do you have a safety policy for walking in pairs at night preferably with a company provided flashlight and whistle?

Do the hotels you contract give you reports of their annual safety measures for window and door break ins? Is that accommodation usually filled with members of society who hate people like me? 

Board of Directors - do you check into any of this? Do. You. Check? Or do you just sign the annual budget no questions asked? Are you paying everyone your organization contracts a wage that ensures their safety? Are you ensuring that your organization has appropriate safety polices in place? Our safety is ultimately yours and that of the Artistic managements responsibility.

If you sit on a jury and you're approving a stipend of less than $3000/month - that's unsafe because in urban and rural cities that means the pressure of meeting the basic living requirements are not being met and we're forcing artists to compromise their own safety. 

"Nah I'll just walk home this time, I can't budget in a cab each night."

If you're a company that is still using Equity bottom lines for your first offers,

1. That's opportunistic and


They are bottom lines and not best practices. If you cannot afford to pay everyone safely and equitably then your budgets are failing us and they are putting artists lives in danger. Cancel a show or an event and release a statement that explains you've had to do that to ensure the safe passage of all your contracted artists for the season and wait for the nation wide standing ovation you'll get for being the benchmark and not the bottomline. 

Granting bodies - we need to be giving our jury members more detailed budgets that explicitly show what organizations are paying their artists to ensure our safety is being provided. I'm not even asking about making asks for artists to be living large life styles- I'm talking about the basic fiscal expenditure that ensures our SAFETY.

If I was on that jury I would take one look at that budget and be like noooooooope, they get a zero in feasibility because that amount they paid their artists violates their own strategic plan, their own mission and mandate and the pillars of the granting bodies. We cannot ethically support this organization because it does not meet basic human rights. Also there is no excellence in not being able to provide artists with living wages and this certainly doesn't nourish the community. Zero, Zero, Zero.

Theatre companies and arts organizations don't wait for the granting bodies to do it. Let's hold ourselves to a higher standard and willingly provide those numbers. Cause my Mamma taught me that if you've got something to hide, it probably ain't something you proud of.

Safety and dignity is a basic human right that needs to be afforded to all of us. If you are on a payroll or contract that ensures your safety ask yourself this, why is your safety more important than mine?

In rage, humiliation and still seeking justice,


"All our silences in the face of racist assaults are acts of complicity."

                                                                              -Bell Hooks

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