The Future Is You and Me is a program designed to support young women of colour to take on leadership positions in creative and arts organizations. Based in Vancouver and co-founded by Kristin Cheung and Megan Lau, The Future is You and Me aims to use workshops and mentorship to engage and inspire the next generation of diverse women leaders.
We sat down with Kristin and Megan to discuss gender equality, empowerment through mentorship and the importance of safe spaces in their workshops. The Future is You and Me begins another round of workshops in Winter 2019 in Vancouver.
What inspired you to create The Future is You and Me? How did your collaboration start?
Megan Lau: The idea started with Kristin, who has extensive experience in arts and culture in Canada. She has given so much time to cultivating spaces for artists from marginalized communities — and as a result, that has generated opportunities to be in spaces with key decision makers and administrators. On her way back from working with some of these arts and culture leaders in Ottawa in 2016, she wrote a Facebook post that was a call to action. She invited friends to be a part of changing the face of the cultural and creative industries in Canada, and it really spoke to me.
We met for coffee and started spitballing ideas about how to create a systemic intervention, and how to best use our skills and experience. I really felt that having someone older to turn to for support and to see myself in would have made a tremendous difference in my career path early on. And that was the kernel that became The Future.
We were especially inspired by the Toronto-based workshop series for young black women called #GYALCAST Academy, which put a deep focus on the relational and the importance of love and friendship.
Kristin Cheung: I’ve known Megan for many years through the arts, the publishing sector, Vancouver’s Chinatown community, and the community activism scene in Vancouver. We’ve had very similar paths navigating careers in the arts. I felt that collaborating with Megan was the right fit for this project. My background is in arts fundraising and Megan’s background is communications and mentorship. We share similar experiences in community organizing and are both passionate about diversity.
Can you describe why you chose to create a mentorship program?
ML: A lot of young women are looking for mentors. We named The Future a mentorship program partly because it’s a draw for the women we want to welcome. In the end, our program doesn’t have a traditional mentorship model: our participants aren’t paired with anyone. Instead, we’re introducing them to a handful of women doing incredible work in our city, and we hope that they will connect with them afterward.
As racialized women doing this work, we’re often the only people of colour in a room. We chose a mentorship model as a way to focus on building intergenerational and cross-disciplinary connections because those relationships can sustain us in those moments of isolation and frustration.
KC: The program is structured as weekly workshops for a cohort of 12 young women of colour. We have a small group so we can learn all about each other’s projects and personalities, and build strong bonds. Having hands-on workshops enables active and non-hierarchical learning, where mentors learn from participants and vice versa. We often meet around couches, like 12 friends sitting around a living-room space. Megan and I want to create a safe space to share intimate or sensitive information our participants normally might not talk about in other social settings like work meetings, parties, or readings.
What issues do you hope to change / address through your collective?
KC: We’re really focused on building a stronger network of women of colour involved in creative and artistic professions — particularly in leadership positions. We want our participants to use their work, as administrators or artists, to represent and champion their diverse views and experience.
Gender equality is currently at the forefront of mainstream conversations about social change, but we also need to always think of diverse views within a feminist framework inclusive of race and ethnicity. Because we have more women at the top, it doesn’t mean anything if they are not reflective of the diverse population.
ML: There aren’t many other programs like this in Canada, let alone Vancouver. In fact, we might be the only inter- and multi-disciplinary program for racialized women in the arts. Each time that we run the program, we are putting the issue in front of people who may not spend much time considering the makeup of their boards or the diversity, or lack of, in their staff. Every time we offer the program, we are both saying that we are here and we deserve to be treated fairly, and we are telling young Indigenous and racialized women that they matter and their creativity can be a catalyst for change.
What is your ultimate goal with this program?
ML: I believe the ultimate goal of all programs aiming to create social change should be to make themselves obsolete. When women of colour and Indigenous women — including trans women, those who have invisible and visible disabilities, and women who identify as part of the LGBTQ community — are properly represented in the cultural sector, there won’t be a need for programs like ours. Then we’ll be able to rest, ignore our inboxes, and go to the beach!
In the short-term, my hope is that our participants feel empowered and equipped to pursue careers in the arts and seek out work that welcomes their perspectives and criticality. The work ahead is to challenge the status quo, and we want our participants to know that their experiences and perspectives are valid and valuable.
KC: I definitely agree with Megan. If all arts organizations (and other sectors like business and tech) can enable leadership from women of colour, through an intersectional lens, then we’ve accomplished our goal. Right now we’re not at that point and we still need to build awareness through a program like ours and build solidarity in our peer networks and beyond.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming workshops and what’s in store for The Future is You and Me?
ML: Our upcoming series of workshops will have a new focus on the ways that women in our community have expressed their identity, activism, and creativity, and connect their work to a larger history of women artists. We’re also going to dig deeper into practical skills — like organizing your finances and strategies for job applications — that will support sustainable careers. Our outreach will also focus on connecting with more BIPOC women and women with disabilities.
We’ve received tremendous support from The Canada Council for the Arts and The City of Vancouver for this project, so it’s likely that we’ll be able to offer the program at least one more time this year.
Kristin Cheung loves consuming cultural products (art, film, books, zines, YouTube videos) and facilitating arts and creative projects. Kristin has worked as an Arts Administrator and fundraiser for organizations such as Contemporary Art Gallery, Gateway Theatre, Ricepaper magazine, Geist magazine. Kristin has graduated with a Masters in Arts Administration & Cultural Policy from Goldsmiths University of London.
Megan Lau began her creative life carefully arranging her crayons according to the colours of the rainbow. In other words, she has always been an organizer. Megan has been active in the local arts and culture community as a writer, editor and programmer for the past decade. She holds a Master of Publishing from Simon Fraser University. Her writing has appeared in publications across Canada, including Maisonneuve, Megaphone, Hayo, Shameless, Ricepaper magazine, and Reader’s Digest.