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Art and politics converge at the People’s Social Forum

By Lisa Levesque on April 10, 2014

On Tuesday April 8th at Gallery 101, the People’s Social Forum held its official Ottawa launch. To celebrate the budding activist movement, the event featured a potluck, social justice speakers, slam poetry, and local musicians, all in the context of the gallery’s exhibit of international art.

The People’s Social Forum bills itself as an attempt to assemble together left-leaning activists for the sake of dialogue and unity. Environmental, indigenous, feminist, student, worker, and youth – they’re all a part of this political movement. The launch served as a rally for the big event planned for this summer. Occurring on Earth Day on traditional (unceeded) Algonquin territory in Ottawa, the People’s Social Forum August 21st-24th event is both a celebration of culture and heritage and a protest at the violation of aboriginal rights and lands.

Between now and August, you can expect to see a plethora of other events associated with this movement. The People’s Social Forum website lists several, but participants in the movement are also encouraged to become active contributors. This Forum wasn’t your old run of the mill art show event – it was heavy on the free political literature, including “Seize the Future,” a political rallies how-to guide.

Brandon Wint.

Brandon Wint.

The theme of this specific night was art and culture. The slam poets, Ottawa’s own Brad Morden and Brandon Wint, were excellent as always. They received a huge amount of audience support. The musicians, The Elizabeth Riley Band, Eric Mandala, NewSoulProject, and Slim Moore, were similarly well received. Their styles – country, ethnic, hip-hop – reflected the night’s theme of diversity. The art that provided a backdrop to the whole was similarly distinct.

The exhibition, Turning the Page, featured local works from H’Art artists and international work from Arts Project Australia. Fueling it all was the potluck, which, I have to say, was surprisingly well put together. (Who would have suspected that total strangers could be relied on to bring real food? There was pizza. I can’t even get my friends to consistently bring chips and beer.)

To keep the political undertones of the show strong, speakers punctuated the artistic performances. Fair labour advocates, student union representatives, and indigenous movement speakers all contributed their ideas about why the People’s Social Forum matters. Clayton Thomas-Mueller, a campaigner for Idle No More, summed it up best: “[these events will] help facilitate what has been happening across this country for the last couple years, and that’s convergence…we have to have a look at how we stop business as usual in order to have a real conversation.”

In all, I found the conversation that the People’s Social Forum is trying to foster intriguing and inspiring. If it has one failing, it’s that it’s a little schizophrenic at times. It’s a lot to keep in mind: an August event that has months of build up, the convergence of diverse movements, the handy how-to guide for protesters, and to kick it all off, slam poetry and pizza. Still, for being so broad, it’s a movement that’s attempting a fight against apathy, a celebration of diversity and culture, and a protest against injustice. For these reasons alone, my love of arts and culture aside, I’m eager to see what will be happening in Ottawa with the People’s Social Forum next.

Check out their Facebook event to learn about how to get involved.