C/O Safer Spaces

The Safer Spaces Project, a joint initiative by Industry and Hamilton Fringe, seeks to create safer theatre and art spaces

Theatres and other art spaces are often perceived as safe spaces — spaces upheld by mutual respect, trust and kindness where folks can comfortably express themselves and feel supported.

However, this view fails to completely capture the real definition of a safe space: an environment free from harassment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, oppression and emotional or physical harm. In reality, the view that artistic spaces are fundamentally designed to be a safe space could not be further from the truth.  

The Safer Spaces Project is a research project led by two arts organizations at the forefront of change in performance and art spaces, Industry and the Hamilton Fringe. The aim of the project is to collect data on harm that exist in theatre and art culture through a survey and use the information obtained to develop an internal cultural guide on mitigating harm and setting expectations of behaviour and accountability at Industry and Hamilton Fringe. 

The survey launched in July 2021 and the hope is to collect 250 responses from all folks who engage with theatre and art spaces — performers, musicians, directors, producers and patrons just to name a few. A select number of survey participants will be interviewed to expand on their lived experiences. It is open to folks from any location; participants don’t need to be from Hamilton nor have an experience in an art space in Hamilton. 

Robin Lacambra, also the Founder of GOODBODYFEEL, a pilates, yoga and mindfulness studio in Hamilton, is the director of the Safer Spaces Project. She was brought onto the project because of her previous work in creating safer spaces and collective liberation. Her online courses such as Sharing Privilege focus on how folks can implement more inclusive and anti-oppressive daily practices and be more aware of their individual privilege. 

Laura Welch, the project coordinator, joined the Safer Spaces team to address and open the conversation on toxic norms of creative spaces that are too often swept under the rug. As an actress, she witnessed first-hand the abuses of power and discrimination in theatre. Outside of this project, she is the Safe Spaces Coordinator for Industry and Artistic Director of Light Echo Theatre.

“This project is really near and dear to my heart because throughout my experiences of working in the professional-level theatre, there’s just been so many abuses of power, harms and a lack of care in many of the spaces and it has deeply affected the quality of my artistry and my ability to seek employment in a field I have wanted to do my whole life. This project is a way to start addressing that,” explained Welch.

Everyone on the Safer Spaces Project team contributes unique perspectives and diverse, lived experiences to the conversation about issues in theatre and art spaces. 

Researchers on the team include Maddie Krusto, an artist, educator and community outreach coordinator at the Hamilton Fringe, and Kitoko Mai, a Black, non-binary, multidisciplinary performance, media and community artist. 

The project’s steering committee is composed of Karen Ancheta, a Filipina theatre storyteller and theatre performer; Adrienne Crossman, queer and non-binary curator and artist; Juan Jaramillo, a Latinx, deaf performance artist; Josh Taylor, Black dancer and owner of Defining Movement Dance studio; Talli Osborne, a performance artist born missing her arms; and Cher Obediah, an Indigenous storyteller, writer and artist.

“It’s a very colourful steering committee and that’s very rare. It’s really rare to have steering committees that aren’t predominately White . . . Even though all the experiences are individual, because we have such an intersectional team, we are getting way more data from our steering committee meetings than just a boardroom of White men talking about what they think will be best,” explained Lacambra. 

So far, the response to the project has been affirming. Many people have shared their appreciation about the conversations the team is promoting online, through the survey and at panels. On Nov. 25, Safer Spaces Project will have a booth at the Garden Project Party for folks to complete the survey at the event and ask questions.

Once 250 survey responses have been collected, the team is planning on hosting a public panel to share the findings. When the internal culture guide is complete, it will be available on the Industry and Hamilton Fringe websites for feedback and re-evaluated annually. On a broader scale, the team hopes the guide can serve as a blueprint for other arts organizations and places to cultivate a safe space in their own practices. 

“The hope is to create this takeaway: we did all this research, we spoke to a lot of people, we have such a diverse steering committee, so many experiences are being considered in this document we are presenting, [so] take it and run with it and make your space safer for more folks,” said Lacambra.

In addition to the development of the internal cultural guide, the Safer Spaces Project facilitates discussions about oppressive and harmful practices in the entertainment and art industries through its interview series called Midday Musings. The series is conducted by the core team of Lacambra, Welch, Krusto and Mai featuring guest speakers to share their experiences and the changes they would like to see. 

The series re-emphasizes the importance of the Safer Spaces Project and amplifies voices of those that have gone through challenges and are surviving and thriving. In doing so, the team also hopes it will increase engagement and encourage others to take part in the survey. 

“[Collecting enough survey responses] has been a little tricky so far. I think partially because to actually name there’s an issue in an industry where you are so replaceable can feel really scary. We are trying to continue a conversation that has been happening underground for a while and spark something in artists to do the survey so we can get data and make change,” said Welch.

In an industry in which success is heavily reliant on fame, power and influence, it can be difficult to speak up. Silence is demanded. Complaints are shut down. And the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the role. However, it is more the reason why the project requires support and action.

“It’s important for all folks to recognize we are all required to intentionally contribute to creating equitable futures and just futures and liberated futures. If we aren’t intentionally contributing to such a cause, then we are unintentionally holding that reality back from manifesting. We are all required in the revolution of collective liberation,” said Lacambra.

By participating in the survey, folks can enact their leadership and power to drive tangible change in fostering safer, braver theatre and art spaces. 

“And wouldn’t that be an amazing thing to do?” said Lacambra.

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