«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
This chapter proposes what I refer to as “sacrificial entrepreneurship” as a way to understand how the formation of social relations based on racialized, gendered and sexualized difference works to queer mechanisms of neoliberal governance. The profit maximizing, selfsufficient entrepreneur is often taken as the foundational figure in neoliberal calculations that emphasize the reduction of state involvement in the domain of the economy. By focusing on Unapologetic Burlesque, a queer anti-racist, consensual performance program in Toronto, I show how the practice of entrepreneurship on the basis of collective as opposed to individual gain works to complicate the relationship between entrepreneurship and the unfolding of neoliberalism. In the context of social environments fundamentally premised on racism, transphobia, sexism and homophobia, queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) community organizations like Unapologetic struggle to create spaces for themselves with limited financial resources due to their systemic exclusion from the labor market. Given the lack of alternative sources for money, they turn to public institutions whose policies emphasize the importance of addressing the social exclusion of vulnerable populations through the provision of entrepreneurship-based arts funding programs.
This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section ethnographically elaborates how Unapologetic Burlesque’s financial challenges come to be addressed through the evolution of public arts funding initiatives in Toronto. I then situate these initiatives in a broader political economic context of neoliberal governance whereby public arts funding is disbursed in ways that foster individual entrepreneurship as part of the City of Toronto’s attempt to contain the violence associated with youth of color living in poor neighborhoods. Returning to Unapologetic Burlesque, I show how this program and other QTPOC community groups engage in sacrificial entrepreneurship as a means of pursuing community development in the context of limited financial resources, labor market exclusion and the provision of entrepreneurship-based public arts funding. While proponents of neoliberalism assume that individuals are the best arbiters of their own wellbeing, sacrificial entrepreneurship lays bare the kind of “self” that neoliberalism presupposes by calling into question the extent to which individuals operate solely in their own interests. Ultimately, this chapter asks us to consider the value of collective, creative work under political economic conditions that foster individual capital accumulation.
Tracing the money: Unapologetic Burlesque, ArtReach and the City of Toronto In her hot pink winter jacket, Shaunga trudges through the winter snow beside me. We make our way along Queen Street West to wait for the bus that will take us far enough along Dufferin Street so that we can walk to our neighboring apartments. It is close to midnight on a Saturday in December and we have just come from a dress rehearsal for the Unapologetic Burlesque show that will take place on Monday. Thankfully, one of the show’s performers lives in an apartment building with a large common area which meant that Unapologetic did not have to go to the expense of renting rehearsal space. The room's harsh florescent lights and white linoleum floors are a far cry from the darkened theatre environment where the show will be mounted in 3 days. After kumari has distributed the set list indicating the order of the performances and Shaunga has plugged her phone (with the performance audio tracks) into a small portable speaker, the dress rehearsal begins. The performers move through their pieces with kumari and the stage manager asking clarifying questions around stage management: Are you starting your performance on or off stage? Are you using props? If so, where do you want them to be placed? We clap and cheer enthusiastically for each performer at the end of their piece. Unfortunately, the snow storm that day has kept some of the performers from attending, but the size of the room is more than sufficient to fit the dozen or so people who have shown up.
After doing a run of the show, the main organizers, kumari and Shaunga who co-founded Unapologetic, the stage manager and I, the accessibility coordinator remain behind to tie up loose ends.
Describing itself as an anti-racist, consensual, queer burlesque showcase series, Unapologetic came into existence at a burlesque workshop as part of a larger arts initiative focusing on South Asian queer youth that kumari helped to coordinate. In the midst of other participants sharing their negative experiences in mainstream burlesque, Shaunga asked what it would be like to create their own show and kumari quickly agreed that they would be interested in organizing to make that happen. In meeting to talk about the kind of initiative they wanted to build, they envisioned a show where performers could tell their own stories versus those dictated by what audiences or larger society want to hear. They broadly defined burlesque as a means of storytelling, where performers could play with gender and incorporate multiple means of expression. They also strongly emphasized principles of consent such that, for instance, performers decide whether or not they want to be photographed/videotaped and how these images or videos are circulated.
I had first heard of Unapologetic through facebook where I was invited by one of my friends to attend the first show themed around anti-racism and Halloween that was held at the Gladstone Hotel in the west end of downtown Toronto. I did not end up going to the event, but all of my friends in attendance conveyed how impressed they were by the show and the quality of the performances. After seeing the call out for volunteers on facebook for the next show around Valentine's Day called "queer from the heart", I responded that I would be interested in supporting the show by selling raffle tickets. By the time Unapologetic hosted its third show, "Lost and found" at Pride, Shaunga and kumari had asked me to be part of the organizing team as the accessibility coordinator and I had my own performance spot on the set list that night. The scene above that I describe was in preparation for the fourth show, themed a "Superqueero Holiday Potluck" The weather that night was bitterly cold at -15C and Shaunga and I gratefully made our way onto the warm bus when it finally arrived. As it was quite late, the bus was mostly empty.
After several hours of hectic dress rehearsal, it was nice to be able to sit by ourselves in quiet for a few minutes. As we began to approach Dundas Street however, Shaunga started to share with me her worries about Unapologetic’s finances. The first show seemed to come together so effortlessly because once they shared their hopes for the event on facebook, people were generous with their advice, volunteer labor and monetary donations. The second event, "Queer from the heart" did not prove to be as expensive because arrangements to secure American Sign Language interpretation (ASL), one of Unapologetic's biggest costs, fell through. The financial pressure for the third show, "Lost and found" was also relieved because, as a consequence of being part of the Gladstone Hotel's Pride festivities, Unapologetic did not have to pay for the costs associated with the venue and they were able to use the left over money that they had fundraised for ASL from “Queer from the heart” and apply it to ASL costs for "Lost and found".
For Shaunga, it was this fourth show that was the most worrisome. Unlike the first three shows, they would have to fundraise the costs of ASL interpretation as well as the costs for the venue all at the same time.
A few weeks later, Shaunga and I were leaving a drop in dance class hosted by ILL NANA DiverseCity Dance Company (the queer multiracial dance company discussed in chapter one) at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Walking through Toronto's "gay" village as we made our way to the subway, Shaunga and I were talking about the class we had just taken when she suddenly asked if I knew that Unapologetic had applied for a grant from ArtReach Toronto, a youth arts funding organization. She said that Unapologetic hoped to obtain one of its $10,000 grants so that they would be able not only to cover the cost of the show but also to offer programming around burlesque. She and kumari wanted to host workshops on performance, costuming and makeup as well as to initiate conversations around accessibility in order to critically examine who gets to perform as well as to brainstorm the kind of work needed to expand opportunities for those who are typically not on stages. I was so excited to hear that they had applied and assured Shaunga that I thought they were sure to get it. Shaunga shared my enthusiasm and said that she felt like they had a pretty good chance, especially because a similar initiative, Colour Me Dragg11, had been successful in its application two years before.
Colour Me Dragg describes itself as a group that “brings together a collective of QT2SBIPOC [Queer Trans 2Spirit Black Indigenous People of Colour] performance artists for social change, performing in Toronto as a talent showcase since 2006 for audiences of hundreds” ArtReach describes itself as "a program designed to support arts initiatives that engage youth who have experienced exclusion in under-served areas of Toronto" (ArtReach Toronto, n.d.). Over email, I scheduled an interview with Shahina Sayini, Executive Director of the organization and biked over to her office near Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. After getting me a glass of water from the nearby kitchen area, she led me back to her office and offered me a radiant smile before we began the interview. She explained that ArtReach is quite different from similar initiatives because it operates on two separate levels: it is not only a funding body, but it also serves as a kind of non-profit in attempting to build the skills of youth through workshops around grant writing, budgeting, creating programming, managing social media etc. Having been with the program since its inception, Shahina was well positioned to tell me how ArtReach came into existence. After an extensive assessment study, the organization was created on the premise that the existing architecture of arts funding in the city was not making it into the hands of youth.
Though it currently has charitable organization status, the agency was initially formed as a coalition of organizations from different levels of federal, provincial and municipal government.
Shahina confessed that while the capacity building aspect of the organization is relatively easy to maintain ("it is easy to write grants to sustain that work"), finding ways to continue the funding of youth initiatives was proving to be particularly difficult. The members of the funders collaborative that initially formed ArtReach have steadily withdrawn the funds that were used to support the granting system and Shahina explained that it is challenging to obtain grants from funders so that ArtReach can then use this money for its own grants because most funders want to grant their own money (as opposed to giving it to other funders). Having exhausted multiple avenues in trying to fund its granting system, Shahina conceded that if ArtReach is not able to benefit from the proposal to increase arts funding currently in front of Toronto City Council it is most likely that the granting aspect of ArtReach will come to an end.
By the time that I had spoken with Shahina in May, I was familiar with the proposal that she had mentioned. Having joined a queer and trans youth list-serve several years earlier, I received an email announcement of an Art Jam to be held at City Hall earlier that year in January. I didn't look at the announcement very closely and thought that it was simply an opportunity for people in the city to get together and make art. When I arrived at the large lobby
at City Hall, I was surprised to see that the event was well attended by a wide variety of people:
youth, city council members in suit jackets, social service workers with their organizational affiliations blazoned on their name tags, and artists carrying their musical instruments, cameras and paintbrushes. Once the event got underway, I realized that it was much more than an art jam, it was also a town hall that served as a means through which to advocate for greater funding for the arts at the City of Toronto.