«by Matthew D. Chin A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work and ...»
It is important to note that the work of subverting neoliberal expectations from the inside is not necessarily unique to QTPOC community arts organizers. For instance, in their appraisal of the strategic maneuvers of Te Oranga, the Family Health and Education Division of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa (TRoTR), the tribal authority of Te Rawara in New Zealand, Lewis et al. argue, “in particular conditions or conjunctures of political projects, neoliberal state apparatus has facilitated the emergence of progressive space” (2009, p. 167). Taking advantage of how the state contracted out social services, Te Oranga engaged in a form of community centered entrepreneurialism in order to gain these contracts so that, over time, it came to take control over Te Rarawa’s welfare according to local values. This state of affairs came to pass in a context where the process of taking on (and transforming) the social services downloaded by the state also took place in relation to broader Maori political projects around land reclamation and local economic development. In making clear the most significant aspect of this work, Lewis et al.
state, “genuine community identities are able to subvert neoliberalism’s underlying governmentality of individual self-interest. The contracts were won by a collective organisation, the rationale of which was neither profit nor acquisitive individualism… This reflection on the subversion of self-interest is perhaps our most universally hopeful reflection on the progressive spaces of neoliberalism” (2009, p. 182).
The cases of Te Oranga and Toronto-based QTPOC community arts organizers are similar in that both used the opportunities provided by neoliberal mechanisms of governance in order to subvert the expectation of individual gain in the support of collective well-being. However, while Te Organa was able to accomplish this task as an institution, the more grassroots nature of QTPOC community arts meant that the (financial) costs of this subversion was borne more heavily by individual organizers. Sacrificial entrepreneurship thus allows collective work to unfold only through the forbearance of personal economic hardship. This continual challenge of being able to make ends meet will be taken up again in chapter three in a discussion of “burn out” and the ephemeral temporality of QTPOC community arts organizing initiatives.
CHAPTER THREE: RECONFIGURING LOVE, MONEY AND TIME: ADJUSTING CHRONOTOPIC
Sitting in a large office area in downtown Toronto, I was leafing through an outdated fashion magazine while waiting for Twysted. Earlier that week we had scheduled to meet up for an interview over facebook. While I had not met him in person before, I had seen him perform at community events in Toronto over the years as part of the House of Monroe, the first ballroom house formed in Toronto in 2006. I had learned that the ballroom scene had transformed from hosting balls much like those featured in Livingston's film Paris is Burning to also providing programming for newcomers to the ball scene. As part of the leadership of the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance, Twysted was trying to create a venue where youth could learn to take part in the scene without being intimidated by the sometimes harsh and competitive environment of the balls themselves. His response to my question, "if this was your research project, what would you be interested in learning?" provides the starting point for this chapter, which attempts to think through the temporal nature of queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) community arts in Toronto. He asks, "What creates longevity? What actually lasts in Toronto? And what makes it last as far as the queer scene goes?... That's a problem I'm having, finding a way to extend [the Alliance] to create a legacy". Twysted is not alone in his desire for sustainability as many other QTPOC arts organizers are also grappling with the question of how to keep their initiatives going over time.
In trying to think through the challenges facing these social actors, this chapter focuses on time. More specifically, it explores how QTPOC community arts initiatives come to exist as a particular temporal phenomenon and argues that the affective and political economic conditions in which they take place are crucial for understanding their temporal manifestation. As organizers struggle to create social forms of a particular temporal nature, they negotiate the precarity of the arts funding systems on which the financial viability of their initiatives depend as well as volatile affective orientations to both their community organizing work and to each other.
Ultimately, I argue that one method by which QTPOC organizers may transform their initiatives along temporal lines involves the reconfiguration of the affective and political economic contexts in which these initiatives occur.
Navigating love, money and time: Chronotopic realities Queer and trans of color organizers like Twysted are concerned about the longevity of their initiatives because they frequently come to an end after several months (though some are able to hold out for a few years). Hearing Twysted articulate his desire to secure the sustainability of the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance, I could not help but think of Aqza zine, Lez blues, Colour Me Dragg and other Toronto-based queer and trans of color arts groups that were active in my early twenties but that are no longer in existence. I also noticed that in speaking with QTPOC artists and community organizers who were older than thirty years old, they would invariably reminisce about the creative collective initiatives that were personally meaningful to them but that had also ceased to exist. Speaking to people who were in their later 30s, 40s and 50s, I had often never even heard of some the groups that they so cherished in their younger days, despite my involvement in the queer and trans of color community arts scene for several years. From my conversation with Margo Charlton, Research Manager at the Toronto Arts Foundation, I learned that the ephemeral nature of community arts programs was not confined to queer and trans people of color specifically, but rather was a characteristic of informal grassroots arts groups in general. Speaking about the results of a study on community arts in Toronto in which she was the principal investigator (Charlton, Barndt, Dennis, & Donegan, 2013) she shared with me that the research team was able to map out an impressive 180 resources for community arts in three Toronto neighborhoods. However, she confessed that within six months, this list of resources was likely to be out of date because of the rapidly changing nature of the community arts scene.
In this section, I attempt to clarify how we might understand the temporal nature of queer and trans of color community arts initiatives in Toronto. This investigation of the temporal characteristics of these initiatives takes into account not only their limited duration but also how the nature of this duration is linked to the life cycle consideration of their participants such that community arts is produced as a generational phenomenon associated with young people. The way in which time is manifest in QTPOC community arts is intimately connected to both the mechanisms of public funding on which these initiatives depend as well as the love (or lack thereof) that queer and trans of color organizers have for their work and for each other.
The workings of Asian Arts Freedom School clearly demonstrate these complex relationships between love, time and money. Inspired by the freedom schools established by African American communities in the United States, this group was formed in 2005 as an artsbased radical history and activism program where Asian youth in Toronto could find support, contribute to their communities and develop their artistry (the organization has since broadened its mandate to include youth of color and indigenous youth more generally). While issues of gender and sexuality are not specifically addressed in its mandate, it has always been a program whose staff and participants have been primarily, if not exclusively, queer and trans. It was in the spring 2013 cycle of Asian Freedom School that I first became aware of the challenges that the group faced in terms of securing its long term viability and how these challenges were linked questions of financial support and matters of love.
On a blustery Sunday afternoon in May, Jeff hosted the third session of this cycle in his apartment in the west end of downtown Toronto. Jeff and Shaunga, who co-coordinate Freedom School programming, had planned the day’s session to encourage participants to talk about their visions for community. They asked Rose to facilitate the discussion given her long time involvement with the initiative since its inception in 2005 and her extensive experience as an artist, community organizer and activist. After a visual art exercise in which the 8 participants were asked to creatively convey their ideal notion of community, Rose led a discussion that touched on the issue of money and the longevity of Freedom School. She said: “It’s great to do art and talk about what we’re going through but at the end of the day you need to make a living, you’re going to have to survive…that doesn’t mean we have to make a lot of money but we have to be aware, because everyone just stops doing this work and gets other jobs. [They say], ‘I’m gonna get a corporate job, I’m done’. [But] It doesn’t have to look like that.” Later, she asked about the future direction of Freedom School’s Drag Musical program and when Patrick, the coordinator, said that he still was not sure what was going to happen, she asked, “So, you haven’t plotted out how far in advance… you don’t know if that’s happening yet?” Patrick replied, “Funding, we’re waiting on funding.” She responded, “Okay, is there a five year plan for Freedom School? Is there a one year plan, a two year plan? Is that part of what needs to happen or no? What’s the contingency plan for Freedom School if the money runs out and you don’t get funding?...I think grants are a good thing but I think we also have to take a step back and ask, ‘how do we create sustainable models that aren’t grant funded?’” In facilitating this discussion, Rose draws attention to the political economic dimensions of temporality within community arts programs. As discussed in chapter two, the issues of funding that she mentions are particularly significant within Toronto which is home to a set of political economic arrangements that have facilitated an increase in government funding to community arts (Ford-Smith, 2001). Largely targeting ‘marginalized groups’ community art programs are said to address a host of social issues including urban economic development, crime, unemployment and social alienation (City of Toronto, 2011). Informal queer and trans of color community groups like Freedom School constitute a considerable proportion of the initiatives that receive this funding and many have built programming in response to the racism that they face in mainstream gay settings and the homophobia and transphobia that they experience in communities of color.
It is important to note that community art groups are funded almost exclusively through public sources as avenues of private funding for community arts in the city are practically nonexistent. Yet, as Rose mentions, the way in which public arts funding is administered is intimately related to the temporality of community arts initiatives. The short-term project-based nature of these public grants means that community organizers are not able to engage in long term planning. For instance, in the conversation between Rose and Patrick that I presented earlier, the Drag Musical had applied for one-time project funding from the Toronto Arts Council even though it is, in fact, a yearly program. Additionally, the limited funding amounts provided by public grants are not able to adequately remunerate organizers for the often full time commitment that they invest in their initiatives. The arduous and time intensive nature of this work is partly explained by organizer’s inability to fall back on infrastructural resources present in more institutionalized environments. For instance, Freedom School does not have a designated space and coordinators often scramble to find spaces where they can hold their sessions at minimal to no cost. Ultimately, the longevity of informal queer and trans of color community arts programs like Freedom School is constantly threatened by the nature of the public arts funding system on which they depend.
The situation that Asian Arts Freedom School faces is unique neither to queer and trans of color organizers nor to Toronto in particular but rather to a specific set of political economic arrangements that can be evinced among community groups across Canada. While the broad strokes of these arrangements were laid out in chapter two, this chapter examines their relationship to the temporal nature of community initiatives. Through their study of three community organizations in three provinces across Canada, Gibson, O'Donnell and Rideout (2007) outline what they refer to as "the project funding regime" and describe the struggles that community organizations face in continuing their work as a consequence of how this 'regime' operates. They describe project funding as a particular kind of government financial support that differs from "core funding". Core funding is a sustained form of financing that allows organizations to cover basic administrative and organizational costs and permits flexibility and autonomy in how organizations operate. In contrast, project-based funding is short-term, only covers the cost of a specific project and grants greater control over project operations to the funder. Gibson et al. (2007) argue that because project funding is unsustainable, "community organizations and their administrative staff (when they can afford to have any) find themselves perpetually applying for more funds in order to finance programs…having to apply for funds and not knowing whether proposals will be approved is quite stressful and destabilizing.
Organizations and their workers are required to maintain services knowing that, in this project funding regime, there is no guarantee of what will happen once funds run out" (2007, p. 421). In their study Gibson and colleagues demonstrate the challenges that community organizations in Canada like Asian Arts Freedom School face in their attempt to continue their work over time.