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Community engagement, arts & culture and live performances today!

Today at SHIFT: Connect we have panels on community engagement and arts and culture, both which have been severely affected by the pandemic, and we end with live performances from a drag performer, musician, and comedian. For more about today’s speakers/performers, check out our website: https://shiftplanningconference.webnode.com/portfolio/

Our community engagement discussion at 2pm featured Rodney Small who does amazing work at One North End Community Economic Development Society and Ayo Aladejebi, who works on engagement with the African Affairs Integration Office at HRM. Ayo talked about understanding the “who” in engagement for him has meant understanding the African NS community, how they’ve persevered despite centuries of oppression, and succeeded to make contributions to the city and province that are still dismissed and minimized. Though they make up just 2.4% of the NS population, that is 37% of the racially visible population, and Halifax has the largest concentration of people of African descent, so in terms of public engagement they are quite significant. The population of people of African descent is rapidly growing including people from all over the world. He mentioned how previous planning projects (like urban renewal of Africville) ignored the “who” question, and that’s why HRM now has an African Affairs Integration Office–it was part of the city’s Africville settlement in 2010. COVID has pretty much been a double whammy for the community–not only were they more affected by the pandemic but getting information to them required collaboration with community groups. This ultimately brought together the provincial, municipal and other groups to support culturally appropriate communications, rec centres as COVID testing centres, and transportation to spaces to allow member of multifamily households to socially isolate (many black families will take in members of the community who would otherwise be homeless). This community-driven COVID response team was recognized with an award for the work they did last year. Ayo mentioned that they have had in-person gatherings combined with online technology to allow people to participate if they don’t feel safe coming in-person. Engaging the community has to come from an Afri-centric perspective, providing space for their lived experience, which will give the organizer cultural humility. “If you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, you go together.”

Rodney acknowledged the others who came before him, and mentioned that 439 black families have been displaced from the North End since 2010–more families that were displaced from Africville in the 1950s. Rodney realized the role the media had to play in the North End, such as portraying black youth as drug dealers which was a reason to disinvest in the community. Many conversations with friends and mentors at the North End Public Library led Lindell Smith to run for city councillor and Rodney to start One North End. He spoke about the art of hosting engagement in a meaningful way, which includes real inclusion and strengthening relationships. There’s a power in the invitation itself–people must be genuinely welcomed to participate. Engaging from a genuine and sincere place is critical, as is creating a safe space, or a “brave space” that encourages people to speak what’s on their minds. Using graphic illustration to capture the conversation has allowed them to evolve. Being able to have difficult conversations is critical, but it’s becoming more difficult because many social spaces in the community have been removed. One North End is working with NS Works on the Matrix Code on a 12-month program to train African NS people to develop coding skills to work in the software development industry. One North End also works on the African NS Social Innovation Lab, a multi-stakeholder advisory committee, and the community-created North End Start-up and Training Program (which offers micro-loans to Indigenous and African NS people to start businesses). They’re also working on a Community Benefits Agreement for the redevelopment of the former St. Patrick’s School site on Quinpool Road.

Shannon Parker (Art Gallery of NS), Alyson Dobrota (PBJ), Barbara Lounder (artist and NSCAD educator), and TJ Maguire (Develop Nova Scotia) spoke at 6pm on how arts and culture have been in keeping people connected during COVID. At 7pm, performers Jamie Douglas (musician), Andrew Albert (comedian), Dave Sampson (musician) and Matt Watson (comedian) will talk about how their careers have been affected by the pandemic. Andrew talked about how much live audiences affect the way he writes, and now he’s reawoken his interest in wine (he’s a sommelier), doing wine shows online, and how he’s done everything from painting to construction to keep afloat this year. His latest album, Filthy Clean, didn’t get picked up by SiriusFM so that was a disappointment. But he did a small festival in Moncton this summer (with quarantining in NB). Matt talked about his road life (70 shows in 90 days) and how he got addicted to the van life. Touring in Australia when COVID broke out, Matt made the decision to stay in his van parked at a friend’s property until November when Australia pretty much eliminated the virus. He’ll do a tour of campgrounds in Canada this summer. Dave had an opportunity to travel to Nashville and perform, and had a whole festival booked for summer 2020. But on the other hand, collaboration opportunities he could never get because they were in LA or other cities, he was able to do through Zoom. Writing for CBS, Netflix and other networks really took off. But all three are social people and really miss interacting with their fellow musicians and comedians, as inspirations for their work.

We’re closing with a drag performance by X, music by Dave Sampson, and the comedic stylings of Andrew Albert at 8pm!

Click here for free tickets!



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