IBPOC representation in Swallow-a-Bicycle’s staff & board

The recent wave of state-sanctioned violence against Black and Indigenous people, and the incredible social movement that has arisen in response, has prompted the Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre team to sit in grief, anger and discomfort; to examine the ways that we have benefitted from and furthered white supremacy and racism; and to explore the role we can play in lasting change.

The following is an initial, incomplete and imperfect list of the actions we’re taking:

  • Re-structuring. We have an incredible and diverse team, but we’re still holding onto an outdated hierarchy that sees our racialized staff all reporting to the only white man in the organization. Over the next several months, the staff and board will work together to find new configurations to more equitably distribute decision-making and agency within Swallow-a-Bicycle.
  • Learning. The non-Black members of our team are engaged in “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad, a 28-day challenge to “Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor”, and we are actively seeking out ongoing training in anti-racism and equity/diversity/inclusion/access.
  • Developing policies and procedures (around hiring and working practices, disclosure and reporting, etc.) to help ensure that Swallow-a-Bicycle is a safe, welcoming and supportive place for IBPOC artists to work.
  • An organizational audit; see below.
  • Donations to local Black-led and -centred groups and initiatives, like the Calgary Black Empowerment Fund (https://www.gofundme.com/f/calgary-black-empowerment-fund) and Ellipsis Tree Collective (https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-ellipsis-tree-collective-in-calgary)

… and more, because none of that is nearly enough. This is the work of lifetimes, and we share all of this to help us hold ourselves accountable, now and in the future.

One of the actions we’ve set in motion an organizational audit, going back to our founding in 2006, to document the demographics of staff, artists and board members that we’ve engaged over the years. The audit is ongoing – digging through the archives to find all the artists we’ve worked with is taking some time – but see below for a year-by-year breakdown of IBPOC representation (or lack thereof) in our staff and board.

These numbers expose ugly stories: an organization with overwhelmingly white leadership, times when white team members were paid and POC weren’t. These numbers don’t, however, capture experiences. What it feels like to be the only IBPOC team member, or the only IBPOC board member. The unconscious violence enacted on IBPOC folx by their white colleagues. The deep hurt inflicted by our unacknowledged participation in white supremacy and anti-Black racism. The labour undertaken by racialized and otherwise marginalized team members, entering into a work environment that lacked policies and procedures to support them.

The numbers, and the people behind the numbers, have started to shift in the past couple of years, and that’s the result of conscious and deliberate work, including the adoption and ongoing implementation of our Art Manifesto (https://swallowabicycle.com/who-we-are). The Manifesto is aspirational, and – to this day – we fall short of its promise. Just giving space to equity-seeking workers isn’t enough; we still need much more training, resources, supports and structures to accommodate different needs, prevent burnout and build trust. But we’re going to keep trying. This audit, this accounting of our organizational foundations, is one baby step on a long and unending path.

This excavation process is painful. It unearths feelings of shame and complicity, of hurt and trauma from past wrongs, of inadequacy and hopelessness around recent change efforts. But it’s important. In this moment, there’s a sense of urgency, a rush to action and future planning, but it’s hard to responsibly and carefully move into the future if we don’t understand where we’ve come from.

We call on other arts organizations – and other organizations, period – to join us in this difficult self-reflection. Don’t rely on Chromatic Theatre to pay attention for us via YYC Theatre Stats (https://chromatictheatre.ca/yyc-theatre-stats), or funding agencies to push us. Let’s do the work. Transparency is uncomfortable, but it’s hard to build trust and foster change without it.

For us, there’s a lot more work to do. We need more training, more robust policies and procedures, more healing, trust-building and unlearning. We’re committed to change and, in the months to come, we’ll share more of our journey.

Thanks.

The Swallow-a-Bicycle team

IBPOC representation in Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre’s organizational history

Contextual notes:

When we say “Core Volunteers”, it means people who played significant roles in helping to operate Swallow-a-Bicycle either for free, or for meagre honoraria. For the first nine years, that described everyone on our team; after we started paying salaries to the Co-Artistic Directors in 2015-16, we still maintained the practice of un- or underpaid volunteer labour for some team members for another three years.

“Staff” refers to team members paid at or close to a living wage standard.

The time periods are approximate; Swallow-a-Bicycle’s operating year runs August to July, but people didn’t join or leave the organization neatly at year-end.

We didn’t break down this information beyond generalized IBPOC representation – but in Swallow-a-Bicycle’s history, our staff and board have never included any Indigenous people, and only one Black person.

This data is based on perceived and indicated race. If you have any corrections, please contact us at info@swallowabicycle.com.

Finally, these cold numbers represent dozens of people whose hard work has sustained our organization for more than a decade. We appreciate all of you, but also realize that we’re complicit as an organization in benefitting from and furthering harmful systems. This reflection on our history is one step toward a more equitable, decolonized and anti-racist future.

2006-07:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/2 = 0%

2007-08:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/2 = 0%

2008-09:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/3 = 0%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/6 = 0%

2009-10:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/3 = 0%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/6 = 0%

2010-11:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/3 = 0%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/7 = 0%

2011-12:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/4 = 25%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/7 = 0%

2012-13:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/4 = 25%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/7 = 0%

2013-14:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 0/2 = 0%
IBPOC Board Members – 1/6 = 17%

2014-15:

IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/6 = 17%
IBPOC Board Members – 3/10 = 30%

2015-16:

IBPOC Staff – 0/2 = 0%
IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/3 = 33%
IBPOC Board Members – 1/9 = 11%

2016-17:

IBPOC Staff – 0/2 – 0%
IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/5 = 20%
IBPOC Board Members – 1/7 = 14%

2017-18:

IBPOC Staff – 0/2 = 0%
IBPOC Core Volunteers – 1/2 = 50%
IBPOC Board Members – 0/5 = 0%

2018-19:

IBPOC Staff – 2/4 = 50%
IBPOC Board Members – 1/7 = 14%

2019-20:

IBPOC Staff – 3/4 = 75%
IBPOC Board Members – 4/6 = 67%

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