Today we have a guest post by Shayna Stock and Johanna Bundon, two women who are very active in the city through arts and culture, independent media, and social justice. They detail some of what has happened following the cancelation of the ‘Profs in the Park’ lecture series in downtown Regina, and discuss ways to ensure that the downtown continues to become the vibrant, revitalized space we’d like to see.
To those of you who were disappointed, dismayed or enraged following the June 2011 censorship of Emily Eaton’s lecture on Palestinian solidarity,
We are writing to let you know about the follow-up actions that have been undertaken by a handful of concerned community members, and to rally your support for co-creating a more vibrant and inclusive downtown community.
In particular, we are proposing the initiation of a downtown community association of sorts – a network of concerned downtown-lovers, formalized or not, that will collectively hold our institutions accountable and work together to enrich our community.
The Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) has a mandate to “promote and enhance Downtown’s unique assets, to improve conditions for businesses operating in the district, and to improve the quality of life for those who shop, work, live and play Downtown.” As many of you know, their decision to censor a public lecture in a public park is a violation of both their own mandate and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For more information on the cancellation of the talks, see the prairie dog’s coverage, here.
Following Regina Downtown’s decision, two of us attended the RDBID’s AGM on June 16. Given the prevalence of public concern over the cancellation of the Profs in the Park series, we were surprised and disappointed at the lack of opportunity for discussion. The Profs in the Park issue was noticeably absent from the agenda, while the event featured several rose-coloured pep talks by Mayor Pat Fiacco and friends. The meeting did, however, allow us the opportunity to talk to Judith Veresuk, executive director of Regina Downtown, and arrange a meeting with her for the following week.
In the meeting, Judith denied censoring the talks, claiming that the BID had merely asked for clarification, so that they could respond to the couple of complaints they had received from members of the public about the subject of the talks. According to Judith, in response to the request for clarification, the university immediately pulled the series.
In order to check this perspective against that of others involved in the decision, we held a meeting with former RDBID recreation programmer Neil MacDonald, Professor Emily Eaton, and Yolanda Hansen from U of R’s Faculty of Arts who was coordinating the series on their end.
From the perspective of all three of these people, Regina Downtown did ask explicitly that Eaton’s lecture be pulled, following complaints by at least two city councilors (Michael Fougere, who is also Vice Chair of RDBID, and Louis Browne). It’s true that they originally asked for clarification, but after Emily explained the nature of her lecture in a phone conversation with Neil, Regina Downtown was still insistent that the talk be canceled.
Regardless of whose version of the story is correct, the utter lack of responsiveness from the RDBID is extremely disheartening. As a body meant to serve the downtown community, its disregard for our concerns is careless and insensitive.
This runs deeper than a single issue of censorship – this informal investigation of ours, undertaken over the past few weeks in coffee shops, bars, friends’ homes, downtown streets and Victoria Park itself, has revealed many stories that speak about a significant gap in our downtown community. In the absence of a functional and responsive Business Improvement District, or of a downtown community association of any kind, there is no organization that represents and unifies the diverse interests of our community and can advocate on our behalf when concerns arise. We think this should change.
As people who make our home in this space, whether literally or periodically (during noon-hour picnics in Victoria Park, pints at O’Hanlon’s, art-gawking at Neutral Ground or dancing in front of the main stage during the Regina Folk Festival), it’s up to us to make it comfortable, inclusive and vibrant – to challenge the organizations that stand against this vision, and create or support those that encourage it.
Creating and maintaining a new community association is no small task, and not one we are prepared to take on alone – but we can start to organize on a more informal level. For now, we’d like to propose the initiation of a loose but passionate network of downtown-lovers and advocates – an e-mail list, for now, and perhaps, in future, something grander.
If you are interested in collectively cultivating a more lively and loving downtown, please comment on this post, or e-mail shayna.stock[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject heading “downtown lovers.”
For the love of Regina,
Shayna Stock and Johanna Bundon