Letter to the City Council of Vancouver

Below is a speech that I gave to the City Council of Vancouver during the council meeting of Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities on April 3, 2019, specifically for the 2019 Cultural Grants Allocations (Operating/Annual/Projects/Capacity)

live audio recording:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/smhv0frnq2bfhzm/20190402%20sammy%20city%20council%20speech-trimmed.mp3?dl=0

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My name is Sammy Chien, I am a Vancouver based interdisciplinary artist. I am also the artistic director of Chimerik 似不像 collective. I was one of the assessment committee member for the City of Vancouver’s Project Grant in the performing arts section. I am here to share my positive feedback from the grant assessment process and the change that i’ve been seeing in the past year.

About 1 year ago, I was invited in the focus group that is specifically for ethnocultural & racialized groups of artists. It was one of the first time I’ve attended any event held officially by the city that is a safe space for POC (people of colour) to discuss about issues in our arts and culture community.  

Since then, I had been following the Creative City Strategy grant, the public info session and Q&A, which had lots of burning questions coming from the community. I saw the through-line of what the city is trying to do, to make a change. At the same time, I recognized some of the difficulties, hardships and the gaps in the communities in transition towards this change. However, I feel hopeful.

I am very honoured that I got to sit on both the Creative City Strategy Grant and the Project Grant’s assessment process. I am very impressed by how knowledgable, professional and how much heart the city staffs invest into doing their work—the jurying processes were so humane, authentic and not just going by the books. I’m also impressed by the balance of gender, race and age groups who’s on the table. I really see the city heading towards a direction that can foster creativity while supporting the marginalized and invisible voices in need. This is why I am here, to really encourage the city to continue the positive change that is happening. A chang

As a queer, immigrant and artist of colour who’s been actively working in the arts scene in Vancouver for the last decade, who spent half of their lifetime facing systemic discrimination, racism and toxic masculinity, who also had to assimilate to the dominant Western colonial structure and Euro-centric values. 

I am just one amongst many other invisible and hidden voices especially from the QTBIPOC communities, growing up being told by the society that we’re not good enough, and we never had the power to change this narrative. I really believe in the power that lies within the arts and culture, it is what shapes our thinking and value. I had been complaining about the system being unfair and wanted to make a change.

Finally, I got to be part of the change. Rather than seeing a bunch of bureaucrats who doesn’t truly understand the arts and culture (like the impression we may had in the old days), I actually witnessed a table full of people who are highly knowledgeable, professional and passionate about the arts and culture in our city, and who seems to be socially and politically aware, with progressive mandates, who are also doing the hard ground work so selflessly. 

I am very happy, and proud that our city is heading towards this direction, and I cannot wait for the day when our funding and resources will eventually help built the kinds of arts and culture that accurately reflects on the demography of our city.

additional notes:

I am aware that when there’s a change it will stir up controversies. It is usually safer to remain the same status quo. I can already see some people are not happy with the change that’s happening, as they may not be used to new models and updating their politics, value and culture to stay more current. A lot of these work frankly speaking should of been done decades ago, we’re just slowly catching up. And it will be uncomfortable for some people to realize that they are losing the power and resource that they are used to have. They may feel uncomfortable or strange to be asked with many critical questions that may not lie within their values and mandates. But these are much smaller work compare to lots of groups that never even got a chance to be asked. I don’t see the city punishing success nor the city leaving anyone behind. There’s a mandate that they want to make sure not to destabilize any organizations. It’s important to just take a moment, and see, what’s really been taking away from you, what is being gained around you? Are you or should you be the one taking this resource and occupying the space at this time? How might these resource being delivered to others who may be underrepresented and/or never had a chance or the infrastructure or the culture/value to support them? Which is why I thought it’s important that I speak up.

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