By Genelle Levy
Sewer cleaners, audiotechnicians, construction workers, journalists, demolition experts, these are all builders of our communities, our businesses, our interconnecting highways, our media institutions, our hangouts and our homes. However, their work can tend to be forgotten, and their rights the last ones to be fought for. Since the Industrial Revolution, political parties and unions have fought to deal with these challenges. Yet in the 21st century the plight of the worker is still a constant battle.
The Mayworks Festival was founded in 1986 by the Labour Arts Media Committee of Toronto and York Region Labour Council. It is an art festival that honours and recognizes working class people, and artists who have the ability to create and inspire change. Their mission is to shed light on the everyday challenges that working class people and artists often face such as low wages, poor working conditions and lack of community, and ultimately to recognize the work that they do. Mayworks strives for equal representation among artists, labourers and marginalized groups such as people of colour, First Nations people and women whether it is as contributors who display their creations in the festival or as audience members, supporters and activists in the effort to socially and artistically engage people in labour rights.
This past May, the 2013 Mayworks Festival was comprised of a variety of activities that enhanced artists’ skills and focused on the immigrant experience. These included workshops that dealt with the challenges of finding work in the art industry to seminars on bridging gaps between Canadians and Indigenous peoples and theatre acts that highlighted the struggles of the immigrant experience. Mayworks also provides a variety of cultural services throughout the year including coordination of arts events and liaison services to artists with negotiating contracts. By prioritizing the needs of artists, Mayworks supports a group of people who have the ability to physically display the need for change. By combining this with effective methods for engaging the immigrant voice, they are creating a platform for social justice and change within labour rights.
The Min Sook Lee Awards are awarded at the Mayworks Festival’s fundraising gala each year to labour unions, activists and artists that have used art as a means to depict the challenges, and advance the rights, of labourers and working class people. The Min Sook Lee Awards inherit their name from the writer and film director Min Sook Lee who directed and produced the film Borderless in 2006, highlighting the struggles of undocumented workers in Canada. Min Sook Lee is an avid activist and filmmaker whose films have been screened in North America, Europe and Asia as well as broadcast on CBC, Global, TVO and History Television. Min Sook was last year’s award winner for Outstanding Contribution to Labour Arts. She also assisted in the coordination of the inaugural Min Sook Lee Awards in 2012.
The Canadian Media Guild is one of the partners of the Mayworks Festival. The Min Sook Lee Awards this year will be held at the Mayworks fundraising gala on November 23rd from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto. The East African Community Association will be serving a four course meal of authentic African cuisine, and the night will also host the best of the city’s local talent. Steelworkers Hall is located on 25 Cecil St. in Toronto. Tickets are $50 per person and $25 for students/ underemployed and unemployed people. This is a wheelchair accessible event, and tickets can be purchased by calling (416) 333-2217 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Genelle Levy is a CWA Canada associate member