What does it mean to create a culture, break down the existing structures of power in order to create the world we want to exist in? Who are the creators of culture, and who is culture created for?
These are the questions that drive the annual CURRENT: Feminist Electronic Arts Symposium, a Vancouver-based multidisciplinary and intersectional electronic art and music initiative.
Now in its third year, CURRENT has changed shape over time to best fulfill its mandate of igniting change and increasing diversity in Vancouver’s electronic arts community, specifically for women and non-binary, Black, Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC), and underrepresented communities. It began in 2017 as a three-day event and expanded in 2018 as a five-day, multi-venue symposium with performances, workshops, and panels that have fuelled arts and culture policy recommendations.
Recognizing the challenges to becoming an established cultural creator in Vancouver, including lack of resources, formal training, and sociocultural barriers, the CURRENT team is hosting a three-day, paid mentorship program from July 23-25, 2019. Through the mentorship, CURRENT co-founders will impart lessons learned from their experiences breaking into the electronic arts scene, aiming to amplify a new generation of producers and curators from their own underrepresented communities.
“This year, we decided to do things a bit differently,” explains CURRENT co-founder and multi-award winning artist, Soledad Muñoz. “Although the showcase performances were fun, we felt that we needed to do something that would further facilitate the passage of knowledge.”
The program will cover responsible cultural creation, multi-day event programming, curatorial vision development, community building, budgeting and grant writing, as well as mental health.
“We start with responsible cultural creation because we want to ensure that the artists can work within the culture that they want to create, that they don’t have to work for larger corporations…we want BIPOC women and non-binary folk, and all the most vulnerable people in our community to create their culture and to be safe within it,” says Muñoz.
The 11-participant cohort of CURRENT mentees, including Samira Warsame (aka Zam Zam) and Betty Mulat (aka Venetta), were selected based on their existing experience in community-based engagement and involvement in larger projects that could use a push.
Warsame and Mulat are the co-founders of NuZi, a music collective that provides a platform for Black and Indigenous, trans and queer women of colour in the electronic arts, and highlights Blackness in Vancouver. NuZi was initially born of the duo’s desire to DJ, with Mulat playing techno and acid, and Warsame delving into rap and hip-hop. But it quickly grew into something much bigger.
“We were both in the same headspace about being frustrated in Vancouver about the lack of representation and how White the scene was. Being Black led to ostracization and repression in the city. We were feeling objectified constantly, and feeling isolated being the only Black people at the party,” says Mulat.
“It’s hard to find a place for women and for women of colour in that scene, and a space that is directed for us. After learning about the history of electronic music in the world, we wanted to stick to its roots. This is music for us by us. We want to create a community where we belong and don’t feel ostracized. So we decided to create that culture on our own,” adds Warsame.
In this sense, CURRENT is much more than an artistic endeavor. Its co-founders and mentees are fostering the creation of safe, inclusive and accessible cultural spaces. They are leading social movements, empowering activism and community-building within art.
For Warsame, creating culture is not just about the events she puts on–it’s also about the shows she doesn’t play.
“I only play queer events, and I don’t play events with White dudes. I only play events led by Black women. It can be really isolating and sad because I want to party and meet friends, but it’s so in my bones – I can’t go anywhere that is going to deny my existence. I’m actually a lot happier that that’s how I work now. Soledad [Muñoz] told me that a few years ago, that it’s all about the shows you don’t play,” she says.
“We need the safe spaces where we can be us,” explains Muñoz, highlighting how important safety is, but how sad it is that that is still something that we have to strive for.
Following the mentorship, participants will be offered future placement opportunities to apply their skills, with partners such as New Forms Festival and FUSE at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
For NuZi co-founders, who built their entire collective out of self-teaching and self-sufficiency, they hope that the mentorship will provide the foundational skills of event production, connect them with other Black artists, boost their confidence and leave them feeling recharged to continue creating the world they want to live in.