By Genelle Levy
Change is the thread that can bring together a big city actress, an artist from New York, a former foreign correspondent, an involved community member and a filmmaker, uniting them all for a common goal. The Min Sook Lee Awards are awarded each year to labour unions, activists and artists whose work promote change and the value of labour and social justice movements across Canada. The 2013 Min Sook Lee Awards gala was held at Steelworkers Hall in Toronto on November 23 and was emceed by award-winning CBC news anchor Dwight Drummond and Toronto city councilor Kristyn Wong Tam.
The winners of this year’s Min Sook Lee Labour Activist Awards are Sabrina “Butterfly” Gopaul and Bill Gillespie. Sabrina “Butterfly” Gopaul is a grassroots activist within the Jane and Finch community. Sabrina serves her community through rallying for the creation of safe spaces for young artists and creating forums where voices of the community can be heard. As for winning filmmaker Bill Gillespie, the craft of giving voice to a story is one he honed over many years as a foreign correspondant and CBC reporter. This year, Bill was recognized for his film Made in the USA which raises awareness about how U.S.-style “right to work” rules would negatively affect unions and workers here at home.
A lens can often be an effective tool for portraying a rare perspective. This is what photographers Carole Conde and Karl Beveridge are able to achieve. Carole and Karl are winners of this year’s Outstanding Contribution to Labour Arts Award. Their twenty-five year career includes campaigns for inclusivity in art, negotiations within unions and exhibitions of their own artwork. Their 1976 campaign It’s Still Privileged Art highlighted racial, class and gender barriers within the industry. As Carole says the idea is to “create a collective voice.”
This is also true for Heather Allin, actress and former President of ACTRA Toronto and Nicole St. Martin, actress and Co-Chair of TAWC. Both of these women come together with the goal of ensuring that women within the film industry have a collective voice which will be represented by the media. This year, TAWC was recognized as a labour union with outstanding contribution to the arts for their video campaign Get Women Working. The video highlighted the lack of diversity and voice amongst women in film. As Heather says, “we didn’t want to just talk about the problem we wanted to create some solutions.”
Filmmaker Glen Richards’ emphasis is creating solutions through technology. Glen was recognized this year as an artist who captured the values of labour and social justice in their art. Glen developed an app correlating with the Mayworks Labour Walks in which people now have access to learn about the history of the labour movement through a guided walking tour. He is also currently working on a film entitled “The Monument” which highlights issues of violence and female agency in Africa.
Activist and filmmaker Min Sook Lee points out that “a lack of labour rights has become normalized and anyone who questions it is considered radical.” Therefore, “we must search for alternative solutions” and enable our artists to support the change.
Genelle Levy is an associate member of CWA Canada, CMG’s parent union