Let's Be Mutuals

Special Project
December 2020 - October 2021

Let’s Be Mutuals is a title retroactively given to a year-long collaboration between Ava Ginger, Qian Cheng, Bianca Guimarães de Manuel, ma̱lidi, Desiree Nault. The project has been called a “Research Fellowship”, the “Fellowship of Aunties”, the “Mutual Aid Working Group,” and has since become a fluid, permeable collective who have a desire to experiment and learn together in public and, more importantly, in relationship. 

The project began in July 2020 with two purposes; to increase the organizational capacity of the Calgary Black Empowerment Fund (CBEF) by hiring two Research Fellows to gather information on mutual aid practices, and through exposure to that learning, help M:ST disrupt the ways power, labour, and capital were distributed in our institution.

We recorded almost exactly a year after CBEF and M:ST began their work to rebuild M:ST’s very dusty hiring processes. It follows 8 months of working with Qian and Bianca to unpack, along with mutual aid- authorship, hierarchy, tokenism, and consent. It also marks the end of 4 months working with Prudence Iticka, Philomene Iticka, and Tiya Roba of Black People United (BPU) to deliver actionable hands-on support to their organization. 

The podcast (we keep calling it a podcast despite there being only one episode) is a conversation between Prudence, Philomene, Qian, Bianca, ma̱lidi, and Desiree. It functions as a genuine, candid exchange between artists, activists, writers, and organizers as well as a public update on M:ST’s work with CBEF. This discussion in particular was inspired by the question: Is there something more direct that contemporary art and artist-run centres can offer to communities during a time of social unrest and, what might the community (especially activists) want from artist-run centres? The conversation is juicy, salty, and in the end, uplifting- we hope some of it resonates with you! 

Missing from the recording is Ava Ginger, Co-Founder of CBEF, who is a visionary and leader within our group and who, within our partnership, initiated the crucial move from theoretical to practical support of Black-led organizations.

You can contribute to the work of Black People United by giving an affordable monthly donation through their withfriends campaign at withfriends.co/black_people_united. Sign up is simple and you can tailor your donation to suit your budget.

Podcast notes: The conversation was recorded on July 27, 2021 and is 90 minutes long. It was recorded on Zoom and only minimally edited- this is reflected in the audio quality. The music that starts and ends the podcast is by Josh Pan.

Access the audio transcript here. 

Access the “Let’s Be Mutuals” research bibliography here. 

This project was supported by Calgary Arts Development.

Time stamps:

00:00:21 - Land Acknowledgment.

00:00:56 - Introduction to the podcast.

00:02:59 - Introduction to Prudence, Bianca, Philomene, Desiree, malidi, and Qian. 

00:10:09 - Definitions:

  • 00:10:31 - How do we define Mutual Aid? 
  • 00:15:23 - How do we define socially engaged art? 
  • 00:24:26 - How do we define community?

00:35:42 - Are art institutions compatible with community building? 

00:50:27 - What can art offer to communities during a time of social unrest? How can we bridge art institutions and communities? Is this something we should even attempt?

01:08:04 - Divest or reform? Who should lead the restructure of an institution? Can they actually do this work? How willing are non-profits to reform themselves? 

01:29:44 - More about BPU.

01:32:34 - End of recording.

Black People United (BPU) is a group of Black people dedicated to organizing mutual aid networks for black communities in Calgary through the exchange of acts of care. We believe in radical love and the power of the people to care and support each other.

The Calgary Black Empowerment Fund (CBEF) is a grassroots organization sparking Black empowerment initiatives in Mohkínstsis. They stand against injustice and empower our future.

Bianca Guimarães de Manuel está no in-between Brazil and Canada. She is uma Latinx scenographer, performance designer and artist-researcher interésted in como creation happens between people and things. Bianca believes que scenic elements podem interrogate the body, and people can interrogate spaçe, destabilizing power relationships of language, meaning and status cuó. Bianca is trained in the MO_AND method (Brazil), which is focused on creative practice at the intersection between ethics, aesthetics and politics, and has an MFA in Technical Theatre from the University of Calgary.

Qian Cheng is a Chinese-Canadian emerging artist and organizer based on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ Nations. Cheng is interested in weaving different frameworks of interconnectivity and dreaming of community practices that reflect a better sense of wellness; using art as a tool to create platforms for different publics and communities. She has recently exhibited works at The New Gallery, Surrey Art Gallery, and Number 3 Gallery and is currently co-developing a Time Traveling manual with a group of Time Travelers. ⁠⁠

ma̱lidi (Mercedes Webb) is a writer of mixed ancestry including, Haida (Kunn janaas), Kwakwaka’wakw (Mama̱liliḵa̱la), living as a guest on Treaty 7 Territory. Their writing aims to inform readers and generate interest in the ways art and writing are intrinsically intertwined with the social contexts we are living through and how that informs the futures we may create. Webb’s vocals were included on the vinyl from Rita McKeough: Works, and were the recipient of the 2019 Canadian Art Writing Prize. They have their BA in Art History and Communications with Distinction from University of Calgary.  

Ava Ginger is a plainspoken trailblazer seeking to liberate the world through love and art. Unleashing their power through performance art, poetic essays, and various other manifestations, their goal is to make art and joy accessible. From hosting art shows to city-wide protests to organizing local mutual aid groups, Ginger is electrifying the art scene with each step they take, foraging a future where voices are heard and faces are seen.

Let's Be Mutuals


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