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Activism & Action Our Voices

Ilene Sova: A Woman of Action

 

ilene-sova-bio-pic3-448x600

 

Ilene Sova is a Toronto artist, artrepreneur, Tedx Woman speaker and founder of The Feminist Art Conference (FAC). Sova started drawing at age three, and while pursuing her bachelor of fine arts at Ottawa University, developed a keen interest in women’s psychology and feminism. She later combined these three passions and made a commitment to use her painting skills to catalyse discussion of women’s social issues. Her “Missing Women Project” was showcased at the 2013 National Forum on Feminism in Ottawa.

LiisBeth will be moderating a panel on Gender, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation at the upcoming FAC at OCAD University on Saturday, Jan. 21 2017. Panelists include Jack Jackson (AllJackedUp), Renish Kamal (Fidget Toys), Emily Rose Antflick (Shecosystem), and more!

LiisBeth recently sat down with Sova to talk about art, politics and the FAC.

LiisBeth: Why did you found FAC?

Ilene Sova: I founded FAC out of a project that I was working on called the Missing Women Project. I had been painting Missing Women from Ontario for four years in an impassioned attempt to bring about a discussion around violence against women in our local communities. As I was going through each case and doing the research for the portraits it was very clear that each woman had suffered violence due to patriarchal systems of oppression. While I processed this, I had all that feminist rage building up like a pressure cooker. I realized that I really needed to talk about these issues with feminist artists who could give me feedback and context. I came to a realization that I really wanted a supportive community to connect to.

My second realization was that that community didn’t really exist in any organized form in Toronto. So, when I launched the show, I decided that I would organize FAC to bring other feminist artists together to talk about the issues in our work and to meet one another under one roof, make connections, network and create relationships. I made a call for submissions and took the big leap and put it on social media. It had 45 shares by the end of the day. And by the end of that week, I had 20 volunteer committee members come forward! I was getting emails from all over the world (Kenya, Colombia, the U.S.) I was shocked by the reaction! The first FAC was quite magical, and afterwards, everyone was asking, “When is the next one?” I hadn’t thought about doing it again, but when myself and the committee saw the response, we decided in that moment to commit to yearly events and programming to continue with this wonderful energy!

LiisBeth: How many years has FAC been running? What has the response been like?

IS: FAC started in 2012 and our first conference had 60 participating artists and 150 attendees. It sold out in 48 hours. In 2014, we had 120 participating artists and 350 attendees and the conference was fully registered in 54 days. Last year we had 140 participants and 560 people registered! It’s growing beyond my imagination and we now have the addition of the two-week FAC Residency with Artscape Gibraltar Point every spring!

LiisBeth: We just have to ask: since Trump’s win, what are your thoughts about the role of feminism in the coming four years?

IS: My initial feeling about U.S. election news was a strong sense of ambivalence. Does it really matter who won? As a young anti-globalization activist, getting tear gassed pepper sprayed and beaten by police (for speaking out against economic trade agreements) I learned quite early that, to quote Bell Hooks, the “white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system” will do what it will do. I also experienced how systems issues impact our everyday lives. In my view, the system today is on a fast track to eliminate the middle class, divide people, deregulate, reduce government, erase the social safety net and ultimately privatize services to make immense profits for billionaires. To do that successfully, it MUST create fear, marginalize, oppress, mass imprison, and destroy Indigenous rights. Donald Trump is simply part of a mechanism. And so was Hillary Clinton for that matter—which is why she didn’t win.

As someone who disagrees with how the system works today, and as a feminist activist, I wake up each day asking myself what will I actually do to change it? My answer? I decided to make the kind of art that fuels social change, and focus on helping to build and support my community. I research issues I’m passionate about; and take considered actions to create positive change in people’s everyday lives. It’s the reason I work tirelessly on initiatives like the Feminist Art Conference, getting art education back into our schools with the Blank Canvases project, working hard to provide affordable art spaces at Walnut Studios. These are my points of resistance; this is how I fight back. All the wonderful feminist community organizers in Toronto know it’s time now more than ever to focus on the work in our local areas. As a feminist, if you are feeling demoralized and helpless, give some thought to how you can RESIST in your own, unique way. Help build an active, positive community in spite of the election of a regressive regime in the U.S.. Stand up. Fight back. 

LiisBeth: That sounds like a terrific New’s Year’s resolution item! Thank you, Ilene!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Some Additional FAC Facts

  • In 2013, FAC received over 70 submissions from all over North America, including Colombia and Kenya.
  • FAC 2015  expanded to one week of activities including three satellite exhibitions (one at The University of Toronto, one at York University and one at Artscape Youngplace). Participants came from as far away as Norway, South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, Turkey and the U.S.

What to Expect at FAC 2017(running Jan. 10-21)

Another incredible lineup of speakers, artists and panels, including:

  • Liisbeth – Gender, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation (Jan 21)
  • Queering Feminist Art Class Panel Presented by Feminist Art Gallery / York University
  • Centre for Pluralism in the Arts Ontario – Women of Colour and Equity: Double Trouble
  • Black Futures Now – Organise This!: The Ethics, Politics, and Joys of Organising a Black Conference
  • Closing Keynote Presented by Native Women in the Arts: Sadie Buck Interviewed by Erika Iserhoff
  • Maker’s market!

For more information and the detailed schedule, go to https://factoronto.org/fac2017/.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/feminist-art-conference-2017-embodied-resistance-tickets-29284113572.

Categories
Our Voices

When the Shoe Doesn’t Fit, Make a New One

I can’t quite remember when it finally clicked. Maybe it was when enough people realized the word entrepreneur wasn’t a good descriptor for the kinds of businesses us “non-business” folk were interested in building.

The first push for a new definition, I recall, was “social entrepreneur.” It came into my awareness sometime in the early to mid-2000s, and I remember feeling really liberated by the idea that I could have a business with social, rather than economic, drivers as its engine. It felt like a homecoming actually, like someone finally gave me words to describe something I previously could not articulate. Social entrepreneurship inspired me to experiment with turning our café in Berlin into a salon that would host different kinds of conversation events exploring interculturalism, philosophy, city-building and language exchange events.

Over the past two years I’ve been very involved in researching and designing training for a new form of entrepreneur: the creative entrepreneur. Again, taking up this qualifier for entrepreneurship has been really exciting. What would businesses look like if creative people drove it? What would artists, writers, filmmakers, illustrators, designers, playwrights and any other creative professional bring forward as a business model? What could their efforts mean for our communities?

Working in this domain has brought me back to consuming more art and performance, while also creating art. The push on the definition has inspired me to venture into completely new places; it’s caused me to challenge my own understanding of what commercial exchange is in the first place and what it could mean in the future.

And although I’m in my fourth year as a freelancer/consultant, I’m only now realizing a new term has emerged for my breed of professionals: solopreneur. Our motto? Have no boss, be no one’s boss.

Rather than turn myself into someone who perpetuates hierarchies of power and/or income, I’m much more interested in exploring collaborations, collectives and partnerships. What does it look like when people of different skills sets come together to work on projects, to organize our own learning, to band together around our collective interests, and to support one another without replicating old models of doing so? I feel incredibly excited to think about what new ways of organizing will look like among all of us independents.

Out With the Old

In the past, the word entrepreneur only really included a small sliver of the population, primarily males interested in growing very profitable companies. The vision was not that appealing to anyone who did not find thoughts of monopolies of distribution channels, IPOs and complicated cash forecasting techniques something to look forward to.

For those of us looking to create something for ourselves, rather than fit into what was on offer for us, we only had these guys to look to as examples of what it meant to run a business. If we were on a social or cultural mission, then we only had non-profit models to aspire to. The past decade has changed all that. Entrepreneurship has been disrupted and it’s happened as a result of creative, heart-and-soul-filled people who prioritize mission, purpose, significance and impact above the instrumental approaches to business that were birthed from and supportive of industrialism.

When I think of it like this, it all feels kind of revolutionary. We’ve managed to snatch entrepreneurship away from those who have benefited from it the most. We’ve pulled it out from underneath the feet of a male-dominated technocratic start-up scene. By taking up a social mission, we’ve challenged and exposed sclerotic non-profit institutions and organizations that have lost sight of who they are there to serve.

We’ve stretched the definition of the possible to fit a larger group of people who are not looking to establish large corporations or institutions, are not looking for investors or funders, are not motivated by the possibility of growing rich and who are not business school grads. We are people who are in this to try something new, not to replicate the methods, cultures, values and techniques of those who’ve already made it.

Defining the New

What that “new” is and exactly how it will be done is still in the making. We know that most of us are interested in nurturing practices, values and spaces supportive of a more humane way of living together. We also know that we need to earn a decent living doing so or none of our visions will stand up in the material world. But we have, by no means, landed on a clear understanding of exactly what these new attempts at building businesses and means of organizing will look like. And because we don’t have a clear path ahead of us, we are all invited to take a crack at shaping what entrepreneurship will look like in the future and how we will use it to build our world.

So on that note, I’d like to put forward the essential meaning that I hold when I approach entrepreneurship — socially, creatively and individually. I don’t see it as a process or a destination but rather, I see it as an overall approach to interacting with the world around me. Being an entrepreneur to me means:

Being someone who appropriately relates to the environment I operate within, who is able to remain flexible enough to perceive and respond to changes and cues from that environment in a way that is satisfying to both me as the entrepreneur and those I serve.

Put more simply, I believe being an entrepreneur is about being good in relationships. There is no, one-size-fits-all approach to define what being good at relationships is. Rather, the definition varies depending upon the partners involved in the exchange. That’s why no one can give you specific instructions on how to be good at relationships and even if they do, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to do it. Relationships always involve a dynamic and delicate interplay between at least two people.

Of course you can be in a relationship and not be good at it. Think, for example, about parenthood or leadership or teaching. Just because you get the title does not make you good at it. The same goes for entrepreneurs. You can start a business and be manipulative. You can thrive on exploiting other people. You can be an egomaniac interested primarily in power and prestige. You can grow rich as this kind of entrepreneur. That’s a choice you can indeed make, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Creative, social and solo entrepreneurs, amongst others, are at the forefront of creating new relationships with those they serve and by doing so, are challenging the very way in which business is conducted. They are questioning the tenets of our economic system, they are challenging the divisions between for-profit and not-for-profit models, they are pushing themselves to take action to make art, products and experiences that shake up our world and invite more people into the process of world-making.

If you think about it, being in relationships with others can help us strive to be the best people we can possibly be; entrepreneurship can and should be the same. Building a quality relationship between you, your business, those you serve and the community you all exist within can be the primary focus of an entrepreneur. The commercial exchange that happens as a result of that relationship comes second.

Or at least, that’s how I see it. You are completely free to contest that definition in any way you want so please do so. This is our world to make, so let’s get to it!

Originally posted on www.allisonhillier.com by Allison Hillier.

 

 

Categories
Our Voices

When the Shoe Doesn't Fit, Make a New One


I can’t quite remember when it finally clicked. Maybe it was when enough people realized the word entrepreneur wasn’t a good descriptor for the kinds of businesses us “non-business” folk were interested in building.
The first push for a new definition, I recall, was “social entrepreneur.” It came into my awareness sometime in the early to mid-2000s, and I remember feeling really liberated by the idea that I could have a business with social, rather than economic, drivers as its engine. It felt like a homecoming actually, like someone finally gave me words to describe something I previously could not articulate. Social entrepreneurship inspired me to experiment with turning our café in Berlin into a salon that would host different kinds of conversation events exploring interculturalism, philosophy, city-building and language exchange events.
Over the past two years I’ve been very involved in researching and designing training for a new form of entrepreneur: the creative entrepreneur. Again, taking up this qualifier for entrepreneurship has been really exciting. What would businesses look like if creative people drove it? What would artists, writers, filmmakers, illustrators, designers, playwrights and any other creative professional bring forward as a business model? What could their efforts mean for our communities?
Working in this domain has brought me back to consuming more art and performance, while also creating art. The push on the definition has inspired me to venture into completely new places; it’s caused me to challenge my own understanding of what commercial exchange is in the first place and what it could mean in the future.
And although I’m in my fourth year as a freelancer/consultant, I’m only now realizing a new term has emerged for my breed of professionals: solopreneur. Our motto? Have no boss, be no one’s boss.
Rather than turn myself into someone who perpetuates hierarchies of power and/or income, I’m much more interested in exploring collaborations, collectives and partnerships. What does it look like when people of different skills sets come together to work on projects, to organize our own learning, to band together around our collective interests, and to support one another without replicating old models of doing so? I feel incredibly excited to think about what new ways of organizing will look like among all of us independents.

Out With the Old

In the past, the word entrepreneur only really included a small sliver of the population, primarily males interested in growing very profitable companies. The vision was not that appealing to anyone who did not find thoughts of monopolies of distribution channels, IPOs and complicated cash forecasting techniques something to look forward to.
For those of us looking to create something for ourselves, rather than fit into what was on offer for us, we only had these guys to look to as examples of what it meant to run a business. If we were on a social or cultural mission, then we only had non-profit models to aspire to. The past decade has changed all that. Entrepreneurship has been disrupted and it’s happened as a result of creative, heart-and-soul-filled people who prioritize mission, purpose, significance and impact above the instrumental approaches to business that were birthed from and supportive of industrialism.
When I think of it like this, it all feels kind of revolutionary. We’ve managed to snatch entrepreneurship away from those who have benefited from it the most. We’ve pulled it out from underneath the feet of a male-dominated technocratic start-up scene. By taking up a social mission, we’ve challenged and exposed sclerotic non-profit institutions and organizations that have lost sight of who they are there to serve.
We’ve stretched the definition of the possible to fit a larger group of people who are not looking to establish large corporations or institutions, are not looking for investors or funders, are not motivated by the possibility of growing rich and who are not business school grads. We are people who are in this to try something new, not to replicate the methods, cultures, values and techniques of those who’ve already made it.

Defining the New

What that “new” is and exactly how it will be done is still in the making. We know that most of us are interested in nurturing practices, values and spaces supportive of a more humane way of living together. We also know that we need to earn a decent living doing so or none of our visions will stand up in the material world. But we have, by no means, landed on a clear understanding of exactly what these new attempts at building businesses and means of organizing will look like. And because we don’t have a clear path ahead of us, we are all invited to take a crack at shaping what entrepreneurship will look like in the future and how we will use it to build our world.
So on that note, I’d like to put forward the essential meaning that I hold when I approach entrepreneurship — socially, creatively and individually. I don’t see it as a process or a destination but rather, I see it as an overall approach to interacting with the world around me. Being an entrepreneur to me means:

Being someone who appropriately relates to the environment I operate within, who is able to remain flexible enough to perceive and respond to changes and cues from that environment in a way that is satisfying to both me as the entrepreneur and those I serve.

Put more simply, I believe being an entrepreneur is about being good in relationships. There is no, one-size-fits-all approach to define what being good at relationships is. Rather, the definition varies depending upon the partners involved in the exchange. That’s why no one can give you specific instructions on how to be good at relationships and even if they do, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to do it. Relationships always involve a dynamic and delicate interplay between at least two people.
Of course you can be in a relationship and not be good at it. Think, for example, about parenthood or leadership or teaching. Just because you get the title does not make you good at it. The same goes for entrepreneurs. You can start a business and be manipulative. You can thrive on exploiting other people. You can be an egomaniac interested primarily in power and prestige. You can grow rich as this kind of entrepreneur. That’s a choice you can indeed make, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.
Creative, social and solo entrepreneurs, amongst others, are at the forefront of creating new relationships with those they serve and by doing so, are challenging the very way in which business is conducted. They are questioning the tenets of our economic system, they are challenging the divisions between for-profit and not-for-profit models, they are pushing themselves to take action to make art, products and experiences that shake up our world and invite more people into the process of world-making.
If you think about it, being in relationships with others can help us strive to be the best people we can possibly be; entrepreneurship can and should be the same. Building a quality relationship between you, your business, those you serve and the community you all exist within can be the primary focus of an entrepreneur. The commercial exchange that happens as a result of that relationship comes second.
Or at least, that’s how I see it. You are completely free to contest that definition in any way you want so please do so. This is our world to make, so let’s get to it!
Originally posted on www.allisonhillier.com by Allison Hillier.