Supporting the artistic future of women of colour

The Future is You and Me, an interdisciplinary workshop series focusing on leadership brings together aspiring artists, who happen to be women of colour, says Kristen Cheung.

There’s an underrepresentation of women of colour in leadership positions,” says Cheung, one of the organizers of The Future is You and Me. “This project supports and nurtures emerging women leaders that reflect our current cultural landscape.”

Kristen Cheung. | Photo courtesy of The Future is You and Me

In her day job as a fundraiser, Cheung is involved with reviewing art grant applications, sitting on committees like the Canada Council in Ottawa. It was there she specifically noticed a lack of diversity in projects being selected across the country.

“It was the first time I realized why people of colour were not in leadership positions,” says Cheung.

Frustrated with the lack of diversity in the selection process, Cheung turned to Facebook to voice her concerns. Megan Lau answered Cheung’s call for action, starting a conversation on how they could better prepare female artists for leadership roles.

Cheung and Lau had met previously as contributors to the local Ricepaper magazine. With similar interests in building community in Chinatown, the arts, and advocating for women of colour, they were both excited about creating a space for female performers, musicians, artists, and writers. They wanted to provide a unique opportunity for artists working on independent projects to come together and learn from one another.

“Our friendship built over time through our community involvement, interest in the arts, and living as a visible minority in Vancouver,” Cheung says.

Building a network

The Future is You and Me received 40 applications for the upcoming cohort starting in January. A lucky cohort of 12 women between the ages of 19 to 25 were selected to participate in five weekend workshops, which include speakers from DiverseTheatreBC and Out On Screen, producer of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

Megan Lau. | Photo courtesy of The Future is You and Me

“It’s really great to see the participants develop their own friendships through the program,” says Cheung.

Although Cheung participates in a number of online advocacy groups through social media, she feels that digital platforms still lack the ability to form connections that lead to long-term friendships and collaborations.

“While social media provides many voices, it can also be very isolating to do things online,” she explains. “For this reason, we’ve structured our program to encourage people to come together.”

Cheung recalls a participant from their 2016 cohort who used the workshop series to find collaborators for a podcast on Asian Canadian women’s experiences called Sample Space. More recently, the same women hosted a sold-out storytelling conference for people of colour at the University of California at Berkeley.

“Our workshops offered this woman a way of meeting people to interview,” says Cheung. “It’s where we would like our participants to be at in their projects when they come to us.”

Workshops to meet the needs of artists of colour. | Photo courtesy of The Future is You and Me

The workshops are designed to meet the needs of artists within each cohort, so the workshop themes continue to change.

“Because of the Me Too Movement and activism in Vancouver recently, our upcoming workshop series will look at how the arts can be used as a tool for activism,” Cheung adds.

Cheung is dedicated to helping women of colour with their career or practice. This help was something she herself never had when she was starting out in her career, but she believes that it is an essential part of developing leadership skills and building connections within the arts community.

“It’s all about supporting young women of colour in the arts,” she says.

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