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Important findings: Impacts of the Pandemic on Indigenous Artists
Summarizing and amplifying significant arts research
To date, I have not yet had the chance to summarize other important arts research projects in my new-format Statistical insights on the arts posts – similar to what I had done in the Arts Research Monitor. Today, I am pleased to direct attention to a recently published report on Indigenous artists during the pandemic.
As always, the full report contains many more insights than my summary. Here are the report details, for those of you who want to dig deeper:
Impacts of the Pandemic on Indigenous Artists
2021 Research Report by Indigenuity for the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance
The report offers useful graphics to describe some of its key findings (not reproduced here – see the full report for those visuals).
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Indigenous-led and Indigenous-produced research
As the subtitle indicates, this is an Indigenous-led and Indigenous-written report on artists. It provides insights that could not be achieved in any other way (including non-Indigenous studies and statistics on artists and the impacts of the pandemic).
The authors note that their “work was focused on amplifying the voices of Indigenous artists to tell their unique stories. The information and experiences shared throughout this report are those of Indigenous artists who have trusted us to ensure their input is carried forward and used in a good way. We take this responsibility seriously and have offered each of the interview participants an opportunity to review this document and provide feedback prior to publication.”
139 Indigenous artists completed the online survey (at least in part), and 23 artists were interviewed for the project. The interviews (and some open-ended survey questions) allowed for a storytelling approach: the authors “looked to storytelling as the means of learning individual Indigenous artists’ unique experiences before and during the pandemic”.
Survey respondents work in a variety of disciplines, including music (n=52), dance (37), fine art (32), writing (25), and theatre (21). Many respondents (27) identified other artistic work, such as “beadwork, film, textiles, storytelling, candle making, circus arts, photography, culinary arts, [and] wood carving”.
While there are many statistical observations in the report, some of the most interesting findings (to me, an arts researcher from a white, settler background) are the qualitative insights.
Many interesting findings
The report notes that respondents identified some positive creative impacts during the pandemic, including “increased support from local communities”, “the time for reflection”, and “opportunities to explore new avenues”.
Elements of pandemic life that respondents would like to see continue include “connections, cultural teachings and knowledge sharing”. More specifically, respondents shared their desire to continue:
“Opportunities to teach children, share cultural teachings, and discuss Indigenous representation and philosophies of art”
“The chance to connect with Indigenous artists across the country, to continue to learn from one another, and to help the community grow through sharing information and resources about promotion and business growth.”
“Mentorship”, which is seen as a critical part of building profile and skills
“New and creative ways to blend healing practices into their art”
“Discussions about dismantling colonial systems and recreating a space that works for everyone”
On the other hand, when asked what they would like to change for Indigenous artists, respondents indicated that:
“Colonial standards around education still exist, and artists without degrees or formal education are not always accepted or awarded the same opportunities as their formally educated peers”
“Creative communities are often tied to Eurocentric origins. This encourages colonial systems and processes, and creates further disconnect, displacement, or isolation for Indigenous artists”
“The industry culture can be very exclusive”
Some have had racist and discriminatory experiences
There has been exclusion based on “gender or identity, physical abilities, and accessibility requirements”
There are “challenges around maintaining a unique Indigenous identity when producing and marketing art to a mainstream world”
A very interesting question probed what one thing respondents would change about the pandemic’s impacts. Respondents identified:
Depression, a feeling of being unsafe, and the inability to afford food
The “loss of connection to community and culture”
Mental health challenges due to “the constant change and chaos that resulted from regular restriction updates”
A feeling of isolation, “with no avenues to exhibit work or test performance with audiences”
Challenges in building relationships, practicing traditions, and maintaining cultural connections
A lack of “sustainable funding options to allow people to continue to create with any sense of stability”
Not surprisingly, some pandemic-related challenges faced by Indigenous artists are, in my view, similar to those faced by non-Indigenous artists. For example:
“Artists who are most reliant on public venues seemed to have been hit the hardest, and the challenges brought on by the pandemic were often related to physical space.”
“Many respondents shared that they have been able to embrace virtual work, with hopes to see it continue post-pandemic to support or complement their traditional performance and art channels.”
When asked to rate “the availability of support at a government or program level for Indigenous artists during the pandemic”, respondents’ average rating was just 3.9 (on a scale from 0=”very poor” to 10=”excellent”). The report provides details of the challenges in accessing funding programs.
One goal of the research was to identify similarities and differences between artists based in the Toronto area and others across the country. The report concludes that “there were no significant differences in the impacts faced between artists in the Toronto area and those in other parts of the country”.
Regarding how the myriad challenges of the pandemic are currently affecting respondents, 32% have been able to successfully overcome them, 28% are still struggling to find solutions, and 40% are confident that they know what they need to do, even though they have not yet overcome the challenges.
The report doesn’t just identify common challenges, it provides potential solutions to them based on responses from those who have overcome their challenges. “The most prominent themes were around making the most of digital opportunities, using down time wisely (e.g., furthering skills and education), and the importance of positivity.”
Respondents also identified “power in their networks. Many shared experiences of (re)awakening and being part of a culture that looks out for others and participates in reconciliation through traditional learning and language, practice and protocol.”
Further, “many artists shared lessons of resilience, moving beyond their comfort zones, asking for help, defining new boundaries, and prioritizing mental health.” Mental health and well-being could be enhanced through “spiritual support from elders, support groups for artists, platforms for voicing concerns, and access to free or subsidized counselling”.
Regarding things that helped them stay committed to their art during the pandemic, “connection to community, family, and resources were all important”, and many “also found strength within themselves to maintain their commitment to creating art”.
“We need to re-instill the values of patience, relationship building, learning and support.”
-Quote from respondent to Impacts of the Pandemic on Indigenous Artists