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News / July 26, 2018

Artists Protest Jordan Peterson Talk at Calgary Arts Commons

Creators of open letter include leaders of local artist-run centres
Arts Commons in Calgary, seen from above in this photo, is a downtown facility including a concert hall, theatre, visual arts and media arts spaces. Photo: Facebook. Arts Commons in Calgary, seen from above in this photo, is a downtown facility including a concert hall, theatre, visual arts and media arts spaces. Photo: Facebook.
Arts Commons in Calgary, seen from above in this photo, is a downtown facility including a concert hall, theatre, visual arts and media arts spaces. Photo: Facebook. Arts Commons in Calgary, seen from above in this photo, is a downtown facility including a concert hall, theatre, visual arts and media arts spaces. Photo: Facebook.

Four of Calgary’s leading artist-run centres have written an open letter protesting Jordan Peterson’s upcoming July 27th lecture at Arts Commons. Since the letter was released a few days ago, hundreds of artists, curators and arts workers both in Calgary and across the country have signed it too.

“As an organization that programs in this space, we feel it is an inappropriate venue for Peterson to be speaking,” says Natasha Chaykowski, director of Untitled Art Society. “We are really overwhelmed by this wave of support.”

All four of the artist-run centres who created the letter have, for many years, had vitrine-style satellite spaces at the Arts Commons building. Peterson’s lecture is due to take place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, also within the Arts Commons facility. The artist-run centres are proposing that Peterson’s lecture be cancelled or moved to an alternate venue on the grounds that “Arts Commons continually hosts a broad and diverse intersection of audiences and artists” and “the dangerous ideas that Peterson stands and advocates for mongers hatred and discrimination against many of our staff, volunteers, interns, Board members, artists, and community members.”

The centres’ open letter in particular indicates concern about Peterson’s opposition to Bill C-16, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to include the right to freedom of gender identity and gender expression, as well as his speculation that “feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance.” Peterson’s statements to the effect that amicable divorce should not have been legalized in the 1960s are also of concern to the open letter’s creators. In its final lines, the open letter appeals to one of the stated values of Arts Commons, which is to “Do the right thing—behaving with integrity, applying professionalism, being honest, and erring on the side of grace.”

When contacted for comment, Arts Commons emphasized that it had not programmed the talk itself, but rather had been contacted by Peterson’s tour organizer and promoter Live Nation for a venue rental—“and we do not censor our third party rentals,” said Arts Commons marketing and communications director Tasha Komery in an email.

Roughly 23% of the 2017 revenues for Arts Commons, also known as the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts, come from public monies—including a $2.3 million operating grant from the City of Calgary and a $100,000 programming grant from Canadian Heritage’s Canada Arts Presentation Fund. The Alberta Foundation for the Arts has also been a supporter in the past, and Calgary Centre for Performing Arts is a registered charity that receives a small amount of cash donations too. Much of the rest of the revenue for Arts Commons, which is governed by a 16-member board of directors, comes from venue rentals and operations.

“Although we do understand members of our community are opposed to providing him with a platform, there are many others who are also part of our community that want to hear what he has to say,” Komery added, noting the Peterson event was already sold out. “We value diversity and if you look at our list of events, you will see that we have events from all corners of our society represented.”

At the same time, Komery argues, “We would not support anyone who promotes hate speech, as outlined in the Criminal Code. We welcome anyone in the community to share their viewpoints, to peacefully protest and to engage in respectful dialogue. We hope Arts Commons is the place that civil discourse can happen.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, following intense local media coverage of the letter, Chaykowski and her artist-run centre colleagues said they had still not received a direct response from Arts Commons in regards to their open letter.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is news and special sections editor at Canadian Art. A graduate of NSCAD University and McGill University, she has also written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail. She welcomes tips, corrections and comments any time at leah@canadianart.ca.