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ISPA : From NYC to Sherbrooke

We finally got Kristelle Holliday, our Executive and Co-artistic director, to sit down for more than 2 minutes in a row to give us further details about her ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts) adventure in January! Below, she tells us about the themes and projects that spoke to her the most, notably the meeting and the exchanges with artists around the globe, questions on climate change as well as our presence, as women, in the cultural field.

As a reminder, ISPA is a network of community leaders that serves to strengthen the Performing Arts worldwide. This can be seen in conferences, the personal and professional network that can be developed and the fellowships program amongst many other benefits. Kristelle was elected Quebec Fellow in the 2019-2021 cohort alongside Nadine Asswad from Nadine Asswad Agency and Vincent de Repentigny from La Serre - the Living Arts.

HERE IS WHAT SHE TELLS US : "The stories we tell are all linear, there is a beginning, a middle and an end, but the news and the way we consume our lives is not." I had never thought of this reflection shared by Mohsin Mohi-Ud-din. This was the beauty of my ISPA experience in January in New York. For one week, which included a professional development day for Fellows and ISPA's biennial conference, we had the privilege of hearing arts leaders explore, share and debate a variety of issues.

The meeting of the other Another privilege was to have an entire week of time outside the office to get a glimpse of what's happening to our neighbours on a global scale. On a day-to-day basis we go from one funding bid to another, we juggle 357 hats, we perfect the profession of being a problem-solver (because, after all, your life as an artist or cultural worker is that) ... We survive in the fast lane.

So when I burst my first bubble and left the Eastern Townships, I was able to take the time to discover, first of all, the incredible work done by the rest of the Quebec cohort (Nadine Asswad and Vincent de Repentigny) and the Canadian cohort (Pascale Joubert, Mhiran Faraday, Sergio Elmir, Leslie Mccue and Nina Patel) where we looked at common issues, how to work together, how to draw inspiration from each other. One of the presenters was Alma Salem, a Montrealer and Syrian native who is a curator and activist who finds all kinds of ways to highlight Syrian artists, including the creation of a new virtual space, Syria Sixth Space. We also had Kevin Loring, Canada National Arts Centre’s first Aboriginal Artistic Director who responded to how we can move forward together, post-Kanata. The bursting of the bubble expansion continued. We heard stories that left the public bent over in laughter, such as when the inspirational Faisal Kiwewa of the Kampala International Theater Festival in Uganda was telling us how he literally bought an island to ensure the survival of his festival and had to manage snakes, find a way to build a bridge and transport production equipment on canoes..

The notion of 100 days of reflections was brought by Nazli Tabatabi-Khamtambaksh, one of ISPA’s fellows, an Iranian-Scottish theatre director. Throughout the week, with beauty, wisdom and poetic intelligence, she explored the notion of 100 days of reflections, a process she is putting in place for herself this year. Following her example, how can we, in our practices, use a variety of techniques to allow us to create spaces to feed our reflection and our artistic approach?

Urgent action, access, equity, inclusion and representation were central themes in the discussions. It came out loud and clear that art, today, cannot live silently, cannot just be an aesthetic mark- and this, obviously, doesn’t affect artistic excellence. Art needs to speak with and not for people. Santee Smith, Artistic Director of Kaha'wi Dance Theater told us "that with artistic freedom comes responsibility".

Climate changes The week was not sparkles and glitter. We debated on technology, and whether it is, or not, a threat to the living arts. Maria Hansen, Executive Director of the European League of the Institutes of the Arts, proposed a session on carbon footprint in our environment. We debated on the use of aircraft. Will we continue to travel long distances in the future? Some said yes, some said no. Should we start developping specific work that does not tour? How do we, in our field, find collective, global and strategic ways to tackle climate change?

As a woman One of the last sessions was a session called “The Long Table". A moderator and three other participants were at the table where they debated around a preconceived subject. The format allowed the public to come sit at the empty chairs at the table and participate in the discussion in turns. People started to get involved, and after a few interventions, Nazli, the theatre director mentioned above, was the first woman to join the table. And then a man, and another man, and another man. You see where I'm going. I was seeing this happen and getting evermore frustrated, desperately wanting a woman to stand up and take part. But nobody. Finally, stomach in knots, I managed to make it the table, incredibly nervous at the idea of sharing thoughts in front of this audience. And then, the moderator said, "There are 2 minutes left, you have 30 seconds each". Panic took over.

And the question: What am I going to do with this? How am I going to condense my thoughts into a miserable 30 seconds when what I wanted was to explore an idea, ask questions. There were three men left in front of me ... One after the other, they spoke. And finally, I thought, what's the point? I didn’t want to speak just to speak, there wasn’t enough time, the moderator wanted to finish the session, the people in the room knew it was the end, so I passed my turn. There was still a man due to speak after me. He didn’t shy away. And so, in a sea of intelligent men, who definitely had interesting things to say, there was, finally, only one woman who made her voice heard.

I left the room and straight away others questioned me, “Why did not you speak?” ”We really wanted a second woman to speak" "Of course it's the woman who will be polite and let pass her turn." This made way for a series of small conversations questioning, how was it that in 2019, we still don’t feel we can stand our ground, own space? Whose responsibility is it to make sure that happens? Of course, it's not only at ISPA. But, what, are we afraid of being too greedy? Of asking too much? Of disturbing too much? Do we think we are not up to it? Are we scared of being judged? Why, in a room full of straight-up awesome women, when the invitation was out there for everyone, there is only one who spoke? I continued discussing this once back in Sherbrooke. And in the weeks that followed. And the conversations will continue happening in the following months. And, perhaps, one year on, at ISPA 2020, it'll be a different story.

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