Ahead of the second-ever intake of the Support – Arts Leaders program, we spoke with several Black, Indigenous and/or People of Colour (BIPOC) arts and cultural professionals making an impact in Manitoba and across the country to hear their stories and learn from their wisdom.
Our first guest is Joy Loewen, CEO of the National Screen Institute, a Winnipeg-based not-for-profit that empowers storytellers across Canada through training and mentorship.
As a lifelong advocate for women and girls, Joy helped launch the Women’s Television Network (now The W Network) in 1995 from its home base in Winnipeg. For over a decade she championed women’s leadership and excellence as a volunteer board member at Balmoral Hall, serving two years as board chair.
Joy is a fiercely proud Manitoban and gives back to her beloved community through volunteerism. She brings her unmistakable energy to many organizations including The Winnipeg Foundation, the Order of Manitoba and Queen’s Council advisories, the Gimli Film Festival and was recently appointed to Canada’s National Ballet School board of directors. She also serves as a civilian aide to The Honourable Janice C. Filmon, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba.
MAC: When did you first fall in love with the arts?
JOY: It wasn’t so much the arts that I fell in love with; it was television. I grew up watching black-and-white TV on a little 9-inch screen and just loved television. I loved the 6 o’clock newscast with Sylvia Kuzyk – so it wasn’t so much the arts; I fell into the arts by way of television.
I’m not an artist myself, but I do love creating and developing and making something, sharing those ideas and seeing them come to life.
My love of television actually started quite young. When I was in high school, I got a job at a radio station after school and got into radio. It wasn’t on air, it was more public relations, so I went to different events throughout the southeastern Manitoba region, representing the station, being in parades and giving out candies and such – it was a great gig – and then when I graduated high school, I applied to Ryerson [University]. They had a program called Radio and Television Arts, and it was a three-year bachelor’s degree program, and I was like, “that’s it” because three years seemed so much more attainable than four. So, I left Steinbach in 1988, moved to Toronto and went to Ryerson and that’s when I really sort of got into the media industry, which supports artists.
What opportunities helped you get started, beyond Ryerson?
It’s one thing to get a good education; it’s another thing to actually have opportunities to connect with industry professionals and work in the field. As part of my second year at Ryerson, they had internships, and it just so happened that Vision TV was newly launched. They didn’t have lots of money, but they were quick to accept my offer of coming in to do some volunteer hours there. They had enough money to pay me a bit of an honorarium, which was great, so I essentially got a part-time job out of my internship.
I had the most amazing mentor. Her name was Angel Narick, and she worked me hard. She was joyous and bubbly, crazy efficient and organized, but make no mistake about it, she really expected good work to be done. She had me doing everything! If I finished early, she’d give me a cloth and tell me to go wipe off the shelves where all the tapes are. Basically, “you’re not too good to do some cleanup as well too. We’re a small team, we’re all doing everything, and that includes you.” So, I got a really good foundation for working together for the common good based on that Vision TV experience and mentorship. This would’ve been ’89.
Now that I think about it, that in and of itself was a really foundational moment for me that frames a lot of the work that I do today. I do feel that art, particularly stories, in my case, are a tool for creating empathy and softening hearts, opening minds, building bridges. It’s through stories, through art, that we can reach people in ways that we can’t through debate, through the news, yelling in someone’s ear that “thou shalt”.
For nearly thirty years, you’ve been an arts professional in many facets of Canada’s film and television industry. How have you seen the arts scene change since you began your career?
There is all the innovation now. The fact that filmmakers can create a film using their iPhone blows my mind, and at the National Screen Institute we just set up a program with TikTok, using the social media platform to tells others about ourselves.
The medium is so accessible right now and I think that that’s a gamechanger. I want to see more of that, because the more we can sort of democratize our access to training and skill development, the more people will be able to feel comfortable and have the courage to build connections and make art.
I feel that there is space in our world now to use the internet, use the airwaves, so to speak, as a way of connecting and providing training to more people in less populated areas that equips them to share their stories and art.
“I do feel that art, particularly stories, in my case, are a tool for creating empathy and softening hearts, opening minds, building bridges.”
In your essay for the Winnipeg Foundation that you wrote earlier this year, you talk about the importance of promoting better representation and diversity in stories so that everyone can see themselves in the art they take in. What is the importance of extending that diversity to the professionals working behind the scenes or below-the-line to support artists?
It’s critical. I grew up in a very small town and there really weren’t a lot of folks that looked like me, and it wasn’t a big deal, except that when I now move about and as I’ve grown and developed, not being the only Black face in the room, feels good!
A couple years ago I was at an event, and I walked up the escalator and there in front of me at the top of the floor was another Black woman. She had big, big, big afro hair and she was beautifully made-up, and I was like, “okay! Here I am!” You just show up differently, you know? You don’t feel so alone, you don’t feel so other-than. And it’s not to say that you can’t live in a world where you are different – you absolutely can – but when you see others that look like you, that have behaviour that models yours, it just makes you feel less alone and more of a connection to your community – whether that community be your workplace, your city, your country, that piece of connection as individuals is crazy important.
For me, seeing Black girls on television when I was a young Black girl not seeing Black girls around me was – mesmerizing. Because I just couldn’t get enough. I was enthralled by the show Good Times, and that was because Thelma looked like me. She had a world that was very similar to my world – locations albeit different – but I didn’t see that in my everyday, and so there is a confidence I have now – and of course it comes with age and maturity and development, but also that awareness of the importance of seeing others who look like you, who know what you’re going through.
In some ways it’s surprising that we haven’t been at this moment before, but we’re evolving. And let’s just enjoy this moment because we now with our knowledge get to inform and give shape to the training programs and initiatives that are being developed. There’s a whole bunch of underrepresented folks that are dying for opportunities to work in the industry, and I’m speaking specifically about film and television – and it’s like, let’s train, let’s engage, because that kind of diversity of culture, background, religion, gender, is exactly what’s needed when working with above-the-line decision makers and performers.
What advice do you have for aspiring or up-and-coming arts and cultural professionals?
I’ll steal a line from Obama: show up. You’ve gotta show up for everything. It’s being present, and when you show up, show some interest! Be engaged, because you never know what you are absorbing and who’s seeing you in the room.
It all does lead to something. There’s so much beautiful public art in our city right now, it’s so inspiring. You walk around the Forks, Assiniboine Park, the city street, the Millennium Library – as I was walking to work one day, I was like, these are beautiful spaces that, once you actually go outside and explore, you connect with and are inspired by, and that inspiration leads you to take action and make decisions in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise if you were holed up in your own little space.
So, my advice is to show up, and when you get there, care.
Apply to the Arts Leaders program
The Manitoba Arts Council’s Arts Leaders program supports building the capacity for leadership by individuals who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Colour (BIPOC) in Manitoba’s arts and cultural sector. The program has the goal of seeing more BIPOC professionals in senior leadership positions in the arts.
This program is supported through a partnership agreement between Manitoba Arts Council and The Winnipeg Foundation.
The next deadline to apply is February 15, 2022! For more information on how to apply, visit https://artscouncil.mb.ca/support-arts-leaders/.