Charter for an accessible, inclusive, and equitable culture: a precious tool for the arts and culture sector

In early 2021, Exeko, an organisation that uses both approaches of intellectual and cultural mediation, and systemic approaches inspired from social innovation, as motors of social transformation, has published its Charter for an accessible, inclusive, and equitable culture. That document is the result of a collective and participatory process that included a series of institutional (the Group of Eleven), social, community and artistic partners, and which was initiated in 2016. I virtually sat down with Exeko’s Social innovation Lab Manager William-Jacomo Beauchemin, to learn more about this great tool, the process that led up to it, as well as accessibility, inclusion, and equity in culture.

Credits: Dan Gazut

Charter for an accessible, inclusive, and equitable culture

First, let’s learn about what is the Charter for an accessible, inclusive, and equitable culture. As William puts it, it’s an ethical compass that gives benchmarks and orientations to cultural organisations and institutions related to its three main concepts. The charter aims at clarifying each of these concepts which are distinct but often used interchangeably. Accessibility promotes an obstacle-free path by which every individual can enjoy culture autonomously. Inclusion relates to considering different groups of people and finding ways to foster their participation in the cultural sector. Equity’s goal is to ensure a better representation within institutions’ leadership and within the cultural sector as a whole.

“The Charter is a framework document that allows institutions to keep these main issues in mind and that puts forth key ethical and political orientations.”

– William-Jacomo Beauchemin, Social innovation Lab Manager at Exeko

A four-year collective process with several partners

Exeko is interested in social and political issues in the arts and culture sector since 2006. Throughout Exeko’s different projects, it became clear that there were systemic issues relative to accessibility and inclusion in the cultural sector. In 2016, at the occasion of a meeting with the Group of Eleven (which includes Bibliothèques et Archives nationales du Québec – BAnQ, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Maison Théâtre, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Opéra de Montréal, Orchestre Métropolitain, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Bourgie Hall, Société de la Place des Arts de Montréal, and Théâtre du Nouveau Monde), Exeko suggested to tackle these issues and identify potential solutions. Also, a network of social, community and artistic partners who worked with Exeko (including Accueil Bonneau, Les Muses: centre des arts de la scène, La Maison Tangente, Les Impatients, La Maison de la Syrie, Projet Collectif en Inclusion à Montréal – PCEIM, Association de Montréal pour la Déficience Intellectuelle, L’Itinéraire, and Collectif Bout du monde) shared the same observations about issues in the cultural sector and agreed to participate in the collective process. 

Institutionnal and social partners, taken from the Charter

This concerting process was divided in two main phases. The first one, from 2016 to 2018, was made up of field research. This included discussions with institutional partners to better comprehend the issues and challenges. Then, several cultural outings were planned to observe firsthand how these issues were translated in cultural venues.

“For instance, we would go to the Opéra de Montréal with an evaluation grid and we were asking ourselves what made culture accessible, inclusive and equitable. We went on about ten outings to validate our analysis and make some recommendations.” 

– William-Jacomo Beauchemin

At last, secret outings were organised in theatres with actors to test on the field specific situations in real time. For example, different people would ask ushers to change seats and we would evaluate if they all got the same response depending on their identity.  

In 2019, the second phase of the process aimed at gathering all our learnings and observations through a series of thematic workshops. This allowed to have a global overview and to construct the Charter together as a group during a Forum that was held at the Maison du Conseil des Arts de Montréal. The application pathways that are suggested in the Charter are the result of these three years of field research and the observations that were made.

“Obviously, we encountered several challenges along the way. For instance, keeping organisation and participants involved for such a long period of time was challenging. Social issues that were brought to the public eye like MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have also shaped the discussions along the way. The issues of inclusion, accessibility, and equity are very personal and touch people directly, so we had to create a safe space in which everyone could express themselves.”

– William-Jacomo Beauchemin

Credits: Noémie Maignien

A warm welcome in the cultural sector

Ever since the Charter was launched, Exeko has been aware of many conversations that took place within the institutions. Many other organisations have also been contacting them to know more about the Charter and to better understand how they can implement its principles. Exeko offers an introductory workshop about the main issues raised by the Charter and are happy to refer anyone who’s interested towards specialized organisations for whoever seeks to dig deeper. The warm welcome shows that there was a clear need to get the conversation going in the cultural sector.  

“For now, we ensure to raise awareness and encourage different organisations to assimilate these concepts. We want to make sure there is a follow-up on the process, including by helping organisations that need help and by evaluating the Charter and its impact.”  

– William-Jacomo Beauchemin

More challenges to come

To finish our discussion, I asked William what was, in his opinion, the most important challenge that the cultural sector must tackled to become a truly accessible, inclusive, and equitable space. To him, the most urging issue at the moment is equity because it emerged more recently in the collective conversation. Also, it’s a greater challenge for institutions as it affects teams and boards directly as it aims at sharing the decisional power.  

“The cultural sector has been a part of the conversation on representativity and equity, which are complex issues. Thankfully, things have evolved a lot politically, but also in research and activism fields.”

– William-Jacomo Beauchemin

Challenges that surround accessibility, inclusion, and equity are numerous, but the fact that the cultural sector is tackling these issues is very positive. If you still haven’t had the chance to read the Charter, it’s this way! Hopefully, this important document will have the foreseen effect and lots of cultural organisations will start a conversation and question their current practices.