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Equity report suggests WAG needs more employees of colour

CEO agrees ‘there’s a lot that needs to change and improve’

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White employees are moving through Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq towards permanent positions at a higher rate than Indigenous or racialized staff, who are also disproportionately younger, newer and feel less strongly that they belong at the institution, a new equity assessment report has found.

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White employees are moving through Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq towards permanent positions at a higher rate than Indigenous or racialized staff, who are also disproportionately younger, newer and feel less strongly that they belong at the institution, a new equity assessment report has found.

Over the past year, a team from Equitable Solutions Consulting conducted an organizational assessment of the downtown art museum, with the goal of identifying systemic oppression and barriers that exist within the institution and provide recommendations. Data was compiled via anonymous staff surveys, interviews with past and present staff and management, reviews of gallery policies and procedures, as well as planned and unplanned site visits.

Often, conversations around decolonization, anti-racism and equity in the context of an art gallery or museum focus on the public-facing galleries and whose art is being represented (or not) in those spaces. WAG-Qaumajuq CEO and director Stephen Borys says that addressing the structures, assumptions and barriers in place at the organizational level isn’t just a natural extension of WAG-Qaumajuq’s ongoing commitment to equity, decolonization and reconciliation as a colonial institution, but a critical one.

The WAG-Quamajuq team discusses the new equity report prepared by Equitable Solutions Consulting.. (Stephen Borys photo)

“I don’t believe there’s any institution in Canada, be it culture, education, research, where there isn’t a colonial framework,” Borys says. “You can either choose to do this when it’s too late, or when you’re faced with huge issues and challenges and crises, or you can do it proactively, to not just help the organization but to help other organizations.”

The report also found that women are over-represented within the organization, with parity at the leadership level, and members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities are also well-represented, but there are still systemic barriers when it comes to race. As well, most Indigenous and racialized respondents have been employed with the gallery for less than five years; everyone who has been with the organization for more than 20 years identified as white.

The report made recommendations targeting several operational areas of the organization, from structure and hierarchy to bias-reduction practices. Borys says WAG-Qaumajuq plans to commit to this work long term, which may include the establishment of a leadership role or department focused specifically on implementing recommendations from the equity report.

Borys acknowledges, too, that structural changes will not happen overnight.

“It’s not something that’s going to be finished next year,” he says. “It’s become part of organization and kind of a living document.”

The commission of the report is part of a larger constellation of decolonization and anti-racism efforts that are being undertaken by the WAG-Qaumajuq, including the creation of an anti-racism employee resource group, a researchers-in-residence program focused on equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as the hosting of ceremony in the vaults and exhibition, at the direction of Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers, to honour and care for the spirits of the artworks as well as those of the artists.

Likewise, the Artworks Renaming Initiative — which addresses the racist titles that can appear in historical collections of artworks — and the Repatriation Policy, which will seek to repatriate art that has been found to have been acquired in an unethical manner, are also part of this work.

As the organization identifies next steps, Borys says that accountability is paramount.

“I think the best way we can be accountable is by being open, being transparent and honest with what we’re doing, and showing that, whether it’s on a website listing or whether it’s in public programs, ongoing discussions and workshops, but we want to be in dialogue,” he says, adding that the report has given the organization new momentum.

“We didn’t do this report to be patted on the back. And we didn’t do it to hear good things. We did it to hear where we’re at right now and what needs to change. And there’s a lot that needs to change and improve at the WAG. But I’m happy we’re doing it now and not in a moment of crisis.”

More information can be found at wag.ca/ equity

jen.zoratti@winnipegfreepress.com

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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