Uncovering deeper layers: Art projects funded to confront racism across the city

City council has approved close to $215,000 in grants for local non-profit and grassroots organizations to tackle racism — with more than a quarter of the funding going to arts-based projects or organizations.

"When you try and handle some of these subjects through the arts, then you're helping humans connect with something complex," Shalini Sinha, chair of the city's anti-racism advisory committee, told Taproot. "You have more of a chance of seeing deeper layers in the human experience, and you have more of a chance to ask what needs to happen next.

"We all know a movie, a play, artwork, or a song that stayed with us for a long time — that we kept thinking about and that impacted our lives. And so I think that's one of the reasons why the arts-based projects had a bigger impact."

The advisory committee was established in late 2019, and city council approved $300,000 in funding for an anti-racism grants program. The aim is to make Edmontonians more aware of racism, its impact, and how to take action to address it; raise awareness of community organizations that are working to dismantle racism; and build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable city.

Sinha, founder of Inclusiv, explained that the committee was focused on determining whether projects could have a lasting effect on developing anti-racism in communities across the city. Fifty-two applications were received for this first iteration of the annual program, and 16 were funded.

The arts projects that received funding include The Black Bookshelf Project, which provides schools and early education centres with easy access to books and resources written and developed by Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color, and Ribbon Rouge Foundation's ArtSpace: Telling ACB Stories for Change, which engages African, Caribbean, and Black-identified people.

Smiling dancers with a drummer

Ribbon Rouge Foundation is one of the organizations that received a grant for its proposed anti-racism project. This image is from its annual Kin Festival, featuring community conversations and artistic creations from ArtSpaces, Black History Month, and more. (Ribbon Rouge Foundation)

There will also be an art installation honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women by Parkdale Cromdale Community League and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, as well as Chinatown anti-oppression workshops and projects led by Latitude 53 Society of Artists.

While the majority of the available funding was allocated to grants, Sinha added that the committee decided to hold back some of it to respond to issues as they come up.

"So, for example... we've identified the need of putting more anti-racism education into the community," she said.

The committee will also manage a separate grant program using $1.174 million of the remaining 2021 Edmonton Police Service budget that was marked for redirection towards community safety and well-being initiatives.

"We'll be thinking about what parameters we can create for organizations to make a real difference in systemic racism," Sinha said about the additional funding. "It's most likely that that money will be linked specifically to initiatives that improve safety for marginalized individuals, who are predominantly racialized, also the LGBTQ2S+ community, and we look at those intersectionalities."

The city will accept new applications for the grant program in 2022, and a full list of the projects funded this year is available on the city's website.