The Paueru Gai Dialogues
The Paueru Gai Dialogues
Catalyzing Social Equity through Culture & Connection to Place
To kick off the new year, the Powell Street Festival Society is launching an online series, The Paueru Gai Dialogues. On the last Saturday of each month, BIPOC artists and activists will share their perspectives on a host of current social issues with the aim of inspiring civic engagement and community building during the disruption of the enduring pandemic.
The inaugural event, Catalyzing Social Equity through Culture & Connection to Place, is at 1pm Pacific/4 pm Eastern on Saturday, January 30, 2021.
Guest host Izumi Sakamoto will facilitate a discussion with three panelists – Ayumi Goto, Kathy Shimizu and Terry Watada – as they share their perspectives on how cultural heritage and connection to place impact an artistic practice. Participants will join breakout groups to share their own experiences and to consider how Japanese Canadian art and culture might advance social justice. To wrap up the event, everyone will reconvene to offer questions for further contemplation.
Izumi Sakamoto is Associate Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received MSW, MS (Social Psychology) and Ph.D. (Social Work & Psychology) from University of Michigan and BA and MA from Sophia University, Japan.
The next two sessions in the nine-part series are On Food & Culture for Collective Resilience on February 27 and On Social Disruption and Community Resilience on March 27.
Throughout the coming year, The Bulletin will be featuring a regular column previewing and reflecting on The Paueru Gai Dialogues.
The Paueru Gai Dialogues are free. To receive a link to the first online event, register at www.powellstreetfestival.com/dialogues
I talked to PSF Executive Director about her vision for the series.
Bulletin Interview: Emiko Morita
Maybe we can go back a bit and reflect on the past year. Like all arts and cultural organizations, the Festival really had to dig deep, and reimagine itself in light of the current reality, where we can’t gather. Now that some time as passed and we’re heading into a new year, how do you feel about the way the Festival played out?
I am proud of our pivot to The Telethon. The event struck a balance between high-quality arts presentation and the Festival’s grassroots charm. Also, I am overjoyed by the positive response to our call to action in support of our Downtown Eastside (DTES) Community Care programs. The Telethon became a pertinent moment to explain why we advocate for marginalized people living in the DTES and how this relates to our Japanese Canadian history and our future. The $60,000 donations raised to create jobs and build skills within the neighbourhood was a tremendous affirmation of Powell St. Festival Society’s mission, values and goals.
I am also sad that the 44th Powell Street Festival did not bring a crowd of people together to the Powell Street neighbourhood to celebrate Japanese Canadian art and culture, see familiar faces and make new friends, eat comfort food and marvel at the festival’s sumo tournament. When I think back to The Telethon, I have a visceral memory of standing on Jackson and Powell, alone, listening to the taiko drumming emanate from the rooftop of the Vancouver Japanese Language School. If you saw me, I may have been jumping up and down cheering but, inside, I was also crying a little.
So now we’re starting out the year with this new online series, The Paueru Gai Dialogues. How did the idea come about?
While the 45th Powell Street Festival will send festival vibrations throughout the lower mainland, we are facing a second year without a large public gathering. As the pandemic endures, our primary challenge is to stay connected with our diverse stakeholders and to strengthen people’s understanding of, and increase their stake in, Powell Street Festival’s commitment to the DTES. When it comes time to relaunch the Festival as a public gathering event, we want to be sure people understand, and are excited to celebrate, our return to the Powell Street neighbourhood.
Reflecting on the reciprocal relationship that PSFS has with its stakeholders, we know it is vital for PSFS to hear different perspectives in order to remain relevant and to fulfill our mission. And we understand that people engage with PSFS, in the multitude of ways that they do, to expand their personal experiences and connections to community. How do we facilitate this when we’re not all working toward the festival as a large public gathering? The Paueru Gai Dialogues is our answer.
On another level, there is an urgent need for the Japanese Canadian community to discuss contemporary social issues. The Black Lives Matter protests and the widening gap between the privileged and marginalized populations have been amplified by the global health crisis. We cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to respond to these needs; this is the opportunity to create safe spaces where we can challenge ourselves to listen to difference and to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others, and to find ways to use any privilege that we might have for positive change. It is exciting to consider that we might take this moment to move beyond our Internment/model minority narrative, and to explore questions of accountability as settler-colonizers as we continue to grapple with our own history of displacement. If successful, The Paueru Gai Dialogues will advance this goal.
Can you talk about the structure of the sessions – what is the role of the hosts and the panelists?
The guest hosts will bring expertise to the Dialogues’ themes. They will contextualize the topic and prepare the guest panelists to ensure a quality experience for the participants. The artists/panelists will give 7–10-minute presentations that share their perspective on the dialogue topic (i.e. food sovereignty, resilience amidst social disruption, climate change, art as activism, decolonizing artist practices and institutions, poverty and the housing crisis, etc.). We are turning to Japanese Canadian artists to anchor these conversations and articulate the complexities as they relate to their racialized identity and how they manifest in their craft. That said, the Dialogues will be intercultural and intergenerational. One goal is to strengthen our allyships with other racialized and/or marginalized communities.
Breakout rooms – I’m thinking that session participants will not be passive observers. How are you running these breakout rooms and what are you hoping that people take away from them?
We know “Zoom fatigue” is a thing and we don’t want to waste people’s time. The Paueru Gai Dialogues is a free event but it does include an expectation of the audience/participants. In breakout groups, participants will be asked to share their own experience or perspective on the given topic and to listen to the others in their group. Of course, the participant can choose to pass and the group facilitator will ensure the space promotes safety and inclusion for everyone. To wrap up the event, participants will reconvene to offer generative questions for further contemplation.
The Paueru Gai Dialogues distills the Festival as act of empowerment and refashions it into a year-long reflection. We hope you’ll join us!
The Festival has always been about reaching out beyond the confines of the west coast – and the online format of course opens things up in that regard. How do you see The Paueru Gai Dialogues opening up a national dialogue, and role does the Festival have in facilitating it?
PSFS is deeply connected to its geographic location of the Powell Street neighbourhood/DTES. As elder Grace Eiko Thomson recently said, Paueru Gai is the furusato or the hometown for many Japanese Canadians living outside of Vancouver.
We scheduled The Paueru Gai Dialogue series on Saturday afternoons so that community members from across the country can participate. We know that participation in the Festival and now the online series, people have an opportunity to connect with their furusato. What’s more, our ambitions to discuss contemporary issues and how these pertain to someone of Japanese heritage sets the Japanese Canadian community on an empowered path into the future.