07 Jul Weaving a Legacy Towards Gender Equality
In 2020, the Sunshine Coast Foundation recognized the need to be a local leader in the movement to advance gender equality.
Around the same time, we applied for a Gender Equality Grant through the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and we were fortunate to receive it. Obtaining this grant helped us to fund local projects focused on gender equality.
The Equality Fund, through which we received this grant, is described as a way to “build on efforts to shift power to women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people, and will work towards a future grounded in justice and gender equality.”[i]
In 2021, the Equality Fund granted $3.5 million across the country supporting 126 organizations.[ii] We are proud to say that from the grant we received, we were able to supply a grant and support the gender equality work of two organizations of the Coast. One of the organizations that we granted to was the Sunshine Coast Arts Council (SCAC) for their program Weaving A Gathering Place.
Gather, Listen, Transform
Weaving A Gathering Place (WAGP) began as a pilot project of SCAC. Under the guidance of the Leadership Circle, a collective of Elders, artists and community leaders, the group transformed a storefront, now called The Gathering Place, into a dynamic space for women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse folks to gather together.
The program was led by Jessica Silvey, a weaver and fibre artist of Coast Salish and Portuguese descent. Participants experienced a variety of hands-on studio instruction and also learned medicine and plant teachings. Learning from artists like Silvey, they practised their hand at such things as cedar preparation and basket making, natural dyes, weaving, macrame, and beadwork. In addition to this hands-on learning, they experienced empowerment training from local women leaders who shared personal stories of success, challenges, and opportunities they have faced in their lives.
“By centering belonging and highlighting the role of women mentoring women as central to creating a space of support for long-term transformation, this project addresses a systems-level cause of gender inequality”, explained Sadira Rodrigues, Director/Curator for the SCAC, “it echoes approaches women have used for millennia in order to thrive.” [iii]
Having child-care available during program time, transportation offered to and from the studio space, and food provided at each gathering supported participants to partake in the program by removing barriers that may have prevented their participation.
Since the doors of The Gathering Place opened, people have been showing up to this space to learn from each other, to weave, and to share their stories. In their final grant report, the SCAC shared the changes they have witnessed, “the downtown space has created a profound shift for Indigenous women who feel that they have a safe space for themselves to showcase their creativity – this has already led to an increase in their sense of belonging and self-esteem”.
Exemplifying Gender Equality
Increased opportunities to provide public awareness about the experience of the program is one strategy to advance gender equality. In a March 2022 exhibition centered on mixed-race experiences, program participants seized the opportunity and stood in front of a large crowd at the Arts Centre to speak about their experiences. “To witness their strength and confidence was remarkable,” Sadira reflected.
“The presence of a weaving space amplifying Coast Salish practices has seeded an important move towards decolonial ways of thinking locally. The Gathering Place, with its large windows onto a public plaza has allowed for settler residents to witness and observe the working of a studio, and to begin to dispel an “us” vs. “them” sensibility which was prevalent in our community,” she continued.
Jessica Silvey describes the act of weaving as combining various elements or details into a connected whole.[iv] In many ways, the Gender Equality Fund has woven together numerous stakeholders and funding, to launch projects just like this one.
In their final grant report, the Arts Council ended with an invitation: If you’re living on the Sunshine Coast and curious about decolonization and indigenisation, the Arts Centre has begun to offer workshops open to the public. Check out their website, Instagram, and Meta for more information. So far, the response to these workshops has been phenomenal!
All photos in this post are courtesy of Jessica Silvey.
[iii] 2022 Gender Equality Grant Final Report, Sunshine Coast Arts Council
Interested in learning more about the community impact of the Sunshine Coast Foundation? Read stories about our grant recipients and how they contribute to our communities, and take a look through our grant recipients archive to review past projects funded by the Foundation.