Accessibility, experimentation and self-determination

Open Action Night offers artists a safe space to share their work

Full disclosure: When Lorenza Mezzapelle (Assistant Arts Editor) pitched Chloë Lalonde (Arts Editor) her story ideas for this week, saying she wanted to reach out to the students who started Open Action Night, Chloë laughed – the exact text reads “Omg I am ded. I started open action night.” 

Painting, sculpture and film are prominent in the Montreal art scene, but where does one go to casually watch or engage in performance art?

Concordia students Merlin Heintzman Hope and Chloë Lalonde are hoping to change that with a new series called Open Action Night. Similarly to an open mic, participants are invited to sign up and perform anything.

“I think a lot of people want to see performance happening,” said Heintzman Hope, adding that most often, with the desire to perform comes an intensive application process, documentation, propositions, and juries, or alternatively, grading. “It’s not for visibility but rather, ‘oh I have these ideas, I have this live art work that benefits from being in front of people, and I want to be able to showcase it somewhere.’”

“Community-based and socially engaged artwork is a big focus for us,” said Heintzman Hope. “We started working together because we wanted to have more of that.” 

With a focus on building a community around performance, Open Action Night aims to be accessible and inclusive. “We want to emphasize the child-friendliness of [the space],” said Lalonde.

“We think about age accessibility and would like that to be more of a thing, where art is for all people, where it should be,” said Heintzman Hope. “It should go for much older folk, it should go for children.”

While there are no confines as to what one can present, performers are asked to be mindful of their work, in an effort to create a safe-space.

“People should be considerate,” explained Lalonde. “They should think about what they would feel comfortable having a child witness.” Moreover, performers are expected to trigger-warn their work.

 “There’s a space out there where you can feel at liberty to try things in front of a supportive community,” said Heintzman Hope.

As practicing artists, Heintzman Hope, a Painting and Drawing student, and Lalonde, an Art Education and Anthropology student, aim to draw inspiration from, and bring their practice into, the live sessions.

“Accessibility has been a consideration of mine, which ties into my practice in a few different ways,” said Heintzman Hope. “I’m a student-parent and the range of events that I can go to with my family is pretty narrow, particularly at school.” Heintzman Hope aims to share this personal experience, towards allowing for a more accessible and community-oriented space.

On the other hand, Lalonde aims to further her practice through observation. “I’m synaesthetic and I get a lot of sensation in colour, so it’s an experiment for me,” said Lalonde, who is interested in drawing sounds and movement. “If there’s nobody there, there’s also that idea of drawing the sounds of silence.” Synaesthesia is a trait that merges multiple senses, for example, someone with synaesthesia may be able to hear colors or see sound.

Described by Heintzman Hope as a space for artistic determination, Open Action Night creates an environment for performers to experience live art, or experiment with their own practice. Artists are invited to alter space, test out a new piece, or reperform an old one.

“It’s a real try space,” said Heintzman Hope. “If people want to show something rough, try something completely new, or if they don’t have a piece but they have a method of working.” He added that performers are welcome to work with instructions, in the dark, or to create a no-talking zone.

But there’s more to the project than just Open Action Night. Lalonde and Heintzman Hope have upcoming performance-related projects in the works.

“Should they know what it leads to?” asked Lalonde. “Is it too soon?”

“They should know that there are secrets,” added Heintzman Hope. ”It’s called Sessions Aléatoires, and we’ll find different ways to rope in artists into different risky schemes that have children involved.”

The next Open Action Night will take place on Dec. 12, beginning at 6 p.m., at the old Cafe X (VA-229), in the VA building. Further information about upcoming projects can be found on Facebook and Instagram (@sessions_aleatoires.) 


Feature photo: Balancing a spoon – Philippe Tremblay.

Photos by Cecilia Piga.

Student Life

Dancing our way to safety with PLURI

Nightclubs are beginning to address the sexual harassment marginalized groups experience

Suppose you want to have a fun night out with a group of friends, but you’re not a cisgender, heterosexual male. Of course, bartenders are usually apt to thwarting suspicious behaviour, and venues often have bouncers or security for when dodgy situations escalate. Nonetheless, for marginalized groups—namely the LGBTQ+ community, women of colour (WoC) and cisgender women—a night out typically entails a mixture of catcalling, verbal harassment, non-consensual physical interactions, and, in too many cases, sexual assault.

In 2017, just under 30,000 sexual assault cases in Canada were reported to the police, according to a StatsCan report released in July. Of those cases, almost 4,000 were deemed unfounded, meaning “police determined that no crime had taken place,” reads the same report. The Conseil des Montréalaises released an opinion paper titled “Montreal, a Festive City for all Women: Security of Trans Women and Girls at Outdoor Events in Montreal.” It cites studies indicating that, in 2011, 47 per cent of women felt twice as nervous as men walking through their neighbourhoods at night, and 45 per cent of women avoid certain areas at night. These, and many other reports, cannot even begin to quantify the degree of sexualized violence marginalized communities experience and the number of unreported sexual assault cases.

Christopher Roberts, a Concordia student who enjoys Montreal’s nightlife, said they spent a lot of time at Bar Datcha, a popular cocktail nightclub on Avenue Laurier W., one block west of St-Laurent Blvd., one of Montreal’s popular nightlife strips. Datcha is a nightclub that recently partnered with PLURI, a non-profit organization aiming to reduce harassment on dance floors. Through integrated safety monitors visible by the yellow ‘Party Support’ label on their backs, or staff shirts from respective venues, PLURI volunteers are trying to make dance floors more enjoyable for everyone by intervening in harassment situations before they escalate.

PLURI, which stands for Peace Love Unity Respect Initiative, was co-founded by Éliane Thivierge and Celeste Pimm, alongside a small team of other volunteers, in August 2016. The non-profit offers a range of workshops for event organizers, bar staff, and aspiring volunteers that provide “training on how to recognize harassment, how certain systemic oppressions interact with party spaces and bystander intervention,” according to an interview with PLURI.

Party Support volunteers have been present at music festivals such as MUTEK, POP Montreal, Red Bull Music Festival, and Slut Island. PLURI explained that Party Support volunteers are the “middle [ground] between the event patron and security… They are points of contact that are more accessible and less intimidating than security.”

Bar Datcha, a popular cocktail nightclub on Avenue Laurier W., one block west of St-Laurent Blvd., one of Montreal’s popular nightlife strips. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Patrick Gregoire has been the manager of Datcha for the past four years. He said the venue has been working with PLURI’s dance floor safety monitors for over six months, despite only announcing their partnership just over a month ago. Gregoire explained that, at first, the Party Support volunteers were inconspicuous, and didn’t wear any labels that indicated their position. “But we felt that their work is best when people see someone on the dance floor with authority that isn’t security,” said Gregoire.

Roberts explained two instances, both occurring the same night at Datcha, which involved their friends experiencing sexual harassment to the point where bar staff and security intervened. “The wrong people found [their] way to [some] queer people […] and one was grabbing people, including my friend,” said Roberts. “I found a bartender to let them know the situation and, immediately, a bouncer kicked the guy out.” Roberts said the second incident involved a cis male harassing two of their queer friends and, when the situation escalated, Roberts “made eye contact with a bouncer who immediately dissolved the situation.”

Carla, a bartender at Datcha, said she’s very happy about the bar’s collaboration with PLURI. “It’s a plus having that extra team around,” she said. “And the fact that they’re all women—I love.”

Chris, another bartender at Datcha, said he’s been fortunate enough to “work [at] places where [they’ve] always had someone to deal with those issues.” Carla added that the Party Support volunteers try to educate people and deconstruct instances of harassment. “At the end of the night, the girls all sit down with security and the bouncers and go over what happened that night,” said Carla. “It’s really cool.”

Gregoire, as well as PLURI, emphasized the benefit of having initiatives like Party Support. “Before, these things wouldn’t get flagged until it was a problem,” said Gregoire. “[Volunteers] often end up checking in with people who are being harassed before they decide to reach out for help,” explained PLURI. The non-profit organization added that most patrons facing harassment will accept the support offered instead of tolerating these behaviours or removing themselves from the space.

Concordia journalism student and techno music enthusiast Erika Morris said that an initiative like PLURI “makes [her] feel better about these places recognizing an issue and trying to do something about it.” Security has been helpful at times by keeping their eyes on men who harass her, explained Morris. “Sure, it made me feel a bit safer that night, but the next time I went out, I had just as many chances of being harassed again,” she said. Marginalized communities—particularly queer folk—who experience harassment in public spaces, thus creating the need for these programs, “just reflects a higher societal problem,” added Morris.

“I think it’s cool that these people who are volunteers stay sober to try and help people,” said Morris. Roberts agreed that they feel PLURI and the Party Support initiative is an important step towards helping marginalized communities feel safe when they go out at night. “But in the end,” said Roberts, “there’s an overwash of sorrow that reminds our communities that we are being pushed into corners of spaces […]. [We] need more help than ever just to feel comfortable being with each other and ourselves for a night.”

Feature image by Alex Hutchins.


The Art Hive is a safe space for all

The Art Hive is dedicated to students’ creative expression, without judgement

Creation, self-care, and skill-sharing—Concordia’s Art Hive provides a serene environment where everyone can create. Run by the school’s creative art therapy students, this space provides students and the university’s community with a place to relax, decompress and work with a variety of creative materials. The Art Hive works to provide an inclusive space for the community, with the intention to connect, share skills and create.

There are a variety of Art Hives located across Montreal, which provide community connection and artistic resources to varied neighbourhoods throughout the city. Concordia’s very own Hive is free, open to all, and wheelchair accessible. It also works with the university’s Centre For Creative Reuse (CUCCR) to provide recycled and reused materials, creating a sustainable foundation for art-making.

This space is dedicated to students’ creative expression, without judgement, whether they have previous experience with the arts or not. Students use it for self care in periods of academic stress, to work on creative school or community projects, or to meet other people from diverse backgrounds around a constructive activity.” – Rachel Chainey, Art Hive Network national coordinator.

Its location within a university arguably heightens the significance and value of the Art Hive’s mandates and resources. In an academic environment that generates a lot of stress, intensity and focus on productivity, the Art Hive provides a space for people to remove themselves from that environment and take time to relax, be creative and work without an agenda or a deadline.

The Art Hive is for people of all disciplines, whether fine arts or any other department of study. Artistic spaces can often be intimidating and may appear or act as an exclusive environment, deterring some from becoming involved. The Art Hive is a resource specifically for the community, and its mandates work to make sure it is inclusive, accessible and comfortable for all.

For those who are experienced in fine arts, the Art Hive provides a more relaxed space to create and practice a craft, contrasting with the typical academic format of deadlines, critiques and specific criteria. Instead, students can create without these pressures and perhaps find further inspiration for their other work. In studying fine arts and creating work exclusively for a curriculum to be graded, the magic and joy in art can be lost, to a certain extent. By providing an environment specifically for the wellbeing of the community, with no structure or need for a specific finished product, fine arts students can once again find their passion and inspiration, or just create artwork in a space focused on providing peacefulness and freedom for all.

With ties to art therapy, the Art Hive uses creation as a therapeutic practice. Along with its regular scheduling and space, the Art Hive also offers a Pop Up Art Hive at the Zen Den in the university’s Counselling and Psychological Services department space. The space works to give visitors a calm, comfortable environment to decompress and practice mindfulness, while also having support and staff on-hand for those who are struggling or simply need some support.
The mental wellness aspect of the Art Hive is another major component of the organization and what it can provide to the community. As students, mental health—which can be affected by stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed—can be a prominent concern. It’s not always easy or accessible for students to reach out or receive help for these concerns. It is also often difficult to acknowledge the need for extra support. This space has direct ties to therapeutic practices and removes some of the potentially daunting aspects of reaching out for help, while still working to provide a form of relief or aid through its format. The accessibility of the Hive comes into play here-everyone is welcome.

The Art Hive is also just an enjoyable place to be. While there plenty of benefits tied to wellbeing, mental health and student life, the space also provides an environment to create, experiment and connect with others. With its inclusivity, accessibility and flexibility, the Art Hive truly provides a great space for the community. It can be a wonderful resource for students, addressing and acknowledging a variety of needs and working to provide a comfortable space for all.

The Art Hive is open on Mondays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the 5th floor of the EV building. The Pop Up Art Hive at the Zen Den is open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. every other Tuesday.

Concordia is not an intellectual “free market”

Why liberal bias on campus hurts freedom of speech

Free speech has recently become a contentious topic at The Concordian. Last week, the newspaper published an article titled “Safe spaces: Both useful and necessary,” refuting my previous objections to safe spaces.

One of the article’s main arguments, stated that “the increase in safe spaces across university campuses is a sign that the concept of a safe space is succeeding in this ‘free market.’” But claiming that all universities, and Concordia specifically, represent a free market is not just intellectually dishonest—it’s laughable.

Liberal bias is institutionally entrenched by students and universities. Dissenters can do little to be heard when universities, university groups and students stifle opinions.

The Toronto Sun reported that Generation Screwed, a group opposing expanding entitlements and government control, was kicked off a parking space at Laval University last month for “unsanctioned activism.” The university demanded the group get a permit to protest, which the school refused to give, without stating a reason.

“The very concept of having to get a permit to express yourself we think is just absolutely ridiculous,” said Aaron Gunn, executive director of Generation Screwed, according to the same article in the Toronto Sun. Protesting is a right—one university’s should not institutionally control.

Even when universities do the right thing, many students help perpetrate this authoritarian control of the narrative. According to CBC News, a student from Mount Royal University in Calgary was recently threatened and robbed of his “Make America Great Again” hat by students who called it “hate language.”

I like to wear my “Make America Great Again” hat too. The pro safe spaces article in The Concordian indicated speech limitations in safe spaces are no more extreme than Canada’s Charter. But when political disagreement is deemed hateful, like the incident in Alberta and through my own experiences as a conservative have shown me it is, we’re left with no choice but to succumb to Big Brother or be shunned.

Narrative-control happens at Concordia too, albeit more insidiously. Recently, Reggies hosted a Rap Battle for Climate Justice, organized by the CSU and student groups, to discuss the topic of pipelines, fossil fuels, and tar sands through a rap battle. Despite featuring arguments and counterarguments for environmental justice, the event was anything but a real battle.

The pro-economy performers were caricatures “dressed in suits, walking around throwing fake $100 bills in every direction,” it was written in The Concordian article covering the event. Participant Mutatayi Fuamba even admitted that everyone present shared the same opinions. “We are all against fossil fuels—we are all for social justice and climate justice,” he said.

Climate justice is complex. Yes, protecting the environment and communities is important—but so are the millions of jobs and dollars tied up in Alberta’s oil industry.

I’m tired of our campus pretending it wants to tackle big issues, then asserting its bias as inherently correct through careful manipulation of speakers. We’re not having discussions so much as lectures in echo chambers.

The opinions of marginalized students should be heardbut dissenters shouldn’t automatically be labeled hateful, racist, sexist or anything else.

I don’t want liberal or marginalized speakers silenced—I want a variety of speakers. I want to be persuaded with well-formulated arguments from both sides. I want to be encouraged to share my opinions and political affiliations without fear of attack, theft or character assassination.

When Concordia organizes events with speakers from the same side of the argument under the guise of discussion, not all sides are being truly addressed. Those who haven’t done a lot of research on some of these complex issues might assume all sides are being represented, and that liberal ideas are winning. But they’re not—they’re just not competing.

Graphic by Florence Yee


Safe spaces: Both useful and necessary

Why misconceptions about safe spaces lead to conflict

As safe spaces pop up on university campuses across the country, so too does the debate of limiting free speech. All too often, critics of safe spaces say the concept is designed to keep out ideas or opinions that conflict with a particular set of beliefs or values. And all too often, I’ve heard people call these spaces “closed-minded,” and complain that students are being babied and coddled.

These arguments barely have a leg to stand on. In some cases, this dislike towards safe spaces is a genuine disrespect of an individual’s right to want to get away from various forms of oppression. However, I do feel much of the aversion to these spaces stems from a lack of understanding of what a safe space actually is. I rarely see any critiques of safe spaces actually take the time to properly explain what a safe space is, or the complexity of safe space policies in general. So, before breaking down why the spaces actually contribute to campus and student life, it’s important to look at what constitutes a safe space.

While the specifics of any particular safe space vary, at its essence, it’s a space where individuals can feel protected from unwanted or unsafe situations based on gender, race, age, sexuality, religion affiliation and other aspects of identity, orientation or beliefs. In these spaces, respect for every individual’s background and experiences is key. In communities as diverse as Montreal and Concordia, students from all walks of life have different relationships with the world, and it’s vital that we provide a space that allows for a respectful conversation about these differences.

Graphic by Florence Yee.

Certain groups with particular goals or mandates will create safe space rules that reflect their values. This summer, executives—including myself—at Concordia’s LGBTQ+ resource centre, Queer Concordia, rewrote the organization’s safe space policy. In it, we highlighted the importance of creating a space free from not only homophobia and transphobia, but also sexism, racism and ableism, among other aspects of identity. The policy also has specific rules against hate speech, and outlines a specific protocol for addressing various offences of the safe space policy, including the handling of offensive language.

Canadians have a fundamental, undeniable right to free speech as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—but even those rights fall short of protecting against hate speech. In that regard, safe spaces like Queer Concordia’s don’t deny anyone any freedom of speech rights already implemented in the law.

Where the confusion comes in is perhaps the prohibited use of “offensive language” and the difficulty in defining what can be considered offensive. Everyone has a different line as to what they find offensive, and it’s difficult to draw one solid line in the sand. However, safe spaces like the one at Queer Concordia try to create a “call-out culture” where “calling out” offensive language and sentiments can be used as an opportunity to educate people about why certain language or expressions are considered offensive.The process of “calling out” involves explaining and discussing why a phrase, expression or action is offensive—the total opposite of shutting down all conversation. This isn’t stifling free speech, this is creating a culture where we can break down the language we use, and understand how it’s harmful to marginalized groups or individuals.

It’s also important to note that “calling out” doesn’t happen only to privileged individuals or those with different political views, but it could also happen to marginalized people who may speak offensively without realizing it. “Calling out” shouldn’t be considered shameful or mean—it’s a way to generate conversation and realize our own biases and problematic tendencies.

For marginalized students, safe spaces can be one of the only places they feel they have the power or security to discuss these ideas. It’s easy to say bad ideas can be defeated in a sort of “free market” of ideas. However, when you consider that these marginalized individuals have long been denied the opportunity to discuss their ideas in any way, how else are new ideas from these marginalized communities supposed to develop?

Safe spaces provide a place for different ideas to develop and grow without being shut down by a system that was never created to account for differing perspectives—like modern-day versions of 18th century salons in France, home to intellectual discussions lead by marginalized groups. If nothing else, the increase in safe spaces across university campuses is a sign that the concept of a safe space is succeeding in this “free market.”

These safe spaces are generally small pockets scattered across campuses, not large, university-led initiatives. Having safe spaces on campus isn’t affecting the whole student population. Even the use of trigger warnings in class won’t end the possibility of debate or discussion—they simply give students the opportunity to leave the room if they feel the need to do so. In a cinema course I took last year, one of the films screened was I Spit On Your Grave—the 1978 film infamous for having the longest rape scene in history at around 25 minutes. By warning the class, the professor might have saved victims of sexual violence from reliving their traumatic experiences. It’s unrealistic to expect victims of sexual violence to disclose this sort of private and personal information to their professors. The 30 seconds it takes to warn students about something like this takes nothing away from other students’ learning experience.


Safe spaces hurt our campus and students

Exploring the contentious topic of safer spaces at Concordia

Recently, the University of Chicago sent a letter to incoming freshmen informing them that safe spaces and trigger warnings would not be tolerated on campus. The university also said they wouldn’t cancel controversial speakers simply because they were deemed offensive.

“Members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas,” the letter stated.

The letter, which was shared online, provoked a social media frenzy —many praising and decrying the decision alike. Decriers, however, are gaining traction. Pew Research Center, a Washington D.C.-based “think tank,” found 40 per cent of millennials support limiting free speech to avoid offending minority groups.

Safe spaces have overtaken college campuses. According to The New York Times, when Brown University invited libertarian Wendy McElroy to debate the existence of “rape culture” on college campuses, student volunteers set up a safe space next door for “triggered” students.

In an incredibly infantilizing move, the space offered cookies, colouring books, Play-Doh and videos of frolicking puppies to adult students.

Here at Concordia, we have started to embrace safe space culture. Campus clubs such as Queer Concordia, sell themselves as “safe spaces,” while official campus events like ASFA Frosh tout new “safe spaces” as a major progressive change and selling point. This hurts students.

Exposure to new ideas is the basis of higher education. Assuming students can close themselves off, as if they’re sure their ideas are inherently correct, is limiting. Confronting new ideas, exploring other options and understanding others allows us to expand or update our worldviews.

Open dialogue also helps us strengthen our beliefs, as hearing thoughtful critique allows us to explore why we hold these ideas, and defend them more succinctly.

“We expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement,” said the UChicago letter. “This may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

Uncomfortable ideas shouldn’t be feared. “Bad” ideas can’t survive in the free marketplace of ideas. Like an Adam Smith-esque free market, the best ideasnamely “true” or “moral” ideaswill win out in a fair and transparent competition against inferior ideas. The best way to fight “bad ideas” is to let everyone hear them.

At a talk given at the University of Massachusetts, provocateur and journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, explained that, after its first real media exposure on the BBC’s Question Time, the far-right, racist British National Party lost mainstream support and the few local seats it had won in the previous election. The party is virtually non-existent today.

“This is why it isn’t just important to give platforms to ordinary speech,” said Yiannopoulos, who was banned by social justice groups at several colleges. “It’s important to give platforms to all speechbecause sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

University should prepare students for adult life – which doesn’t care or cater to feelings. It’s a hard adjustment, but the corporate world doesn’t offer cookies and Play-Doh.

Students need to discern between disagreement and harassment, and learn how to act independently in each situation. Forcing students to confront their issues head-on teaches them to speak up for themselves, which is beneficial. To assume students can’t or shouldn’t be fiercely independent in the defense of their beliefs and needs is infantilizing and insulting.

Critics of UChicago’s policy fear that students with mental illnesses, like PTSD, will be negatively impacted. Yet students with diagnosed disorders have a responsibility to inform peers and professors. Most, if not all, would be sympathetic. But this should be dealt with on an individual basis, not as university-wide mandate. You can’t limit education to cater to the minority.

Safe space culture stifles individuality, creativity and independence, which are good qualities to foster in our future leaders. As John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Graphic by Florence Yee

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