Open Letter Regarding the “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa:
From the Board of Directors and Staff of the Ottawa Art Gallery; The Ottawa School of Art; Bytown Museum; SAW; Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC); Ottawa Dance Directive; Independent Filmmakers Co-operative of Ottawa Inc.; Artengine; Canadian Film Institute (CFI), and Ottawa Fringe.
We the undersigned believe that arts and culture are the lifeblood of a vibrant society. Through our local cultural organizations, we tell the wonderful and complex stories of our region, we entertain and provide education, and we are a respite that contributes to the wellbeing of our citizens. We are a reflection of our communities, helping us to remember the past and imagine the future. Made up of dedicated and passionate people, our art galleries, dance groups, art schools, artist run centres and museums have worked for decades to deliver intrinsic value to our community that promotes and empowers inclusivity as well as adding important social and economic benefits.
Throughout the pandemic and the societal shifts that have occurred over the last couple of years, we have all worked tirelessly and with limited resources, to reach our audiences in the digital sphere, to close or adapt our spaces in accordance with health regulations and more importantly, to listen to equity seeking communities and address systemic racism and discrimination. We did this because it was the right thing to do, because as members of civil society, we played our part to keep the citizens of Ottawa safe and inspired. We also did it because we are passionate about the role culture and art can play as an essential bridge-builder, mirror, and, response to the challenges and realities of our current time. Would we have wanted to be open to serve our community as usual? Yes, of course. Was it difficult to deal with all the economic and social uncertainties? Yah, it was, but we persevered because we fundamentally believe that culture is necessary for our individual and collective healing, and that we need to safeguard the freedom of expression at the heart of cultural and artistic practice as a means to understand each other and respect different perspectives and experiences.
For weeks now, we have remained shuttered, no longer due to COVID regulations but because of the “Freedom Convoy”. This occupation has made us, the artists and culture community members, and our many, often vulnerable, neighbors feel unsafe and harassed. It has allowed hate-filled and racist sentiments to fill our public spaces, has impacted us financially, and has taken away our freedom and stopped us from serving our community. Even more critically, this artistic freedom is being curtailed when people most need it. We stand in solidarity with all those who have been so deeply impacted by this, particularly marginalized and racialized community members.
We call on the organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” to end their occupation of Ottawa’s downtown core immediately so that we can open our cultural organizations to a community in need. We look forward to continuing to bring the restorative, reflective, and provocative power of art and culture to this region as soon as we are able.