Former Toronto International Film Festival stalwart to receive the YWCA's Women of Distinction Award on May 23
On May 23, maxine bailey will receive the YWCA’s Toronto Women of Distinction Award for her work as a member of Toronto’s arts community. Under her leadership at the Toronto International Film Festival, bailey introduced several important initiatives, the most prominent among them Share Her Journey, her campaign to increase the number of women working in front and behind the camera in the film industry.
Why is it important for women to share their stories?
I grew up with strong female archetypes and as an avid reader I always wondered why the same range of stories was not available in other mediums. I wanted to encourage and support more women to work in film. Ultimately, without stories seen through a woman’s lens, we are missing half the story.
How did you come up with the name?
When I originally launched the project, some people were concerned about the language around “her.” And I said, ‘Why can’t a woman’s story be a universal story, just like men’s?’ If we had used the language of Share “Their” Journey, it would have been about everyone’s story, and we would not have been able to challenge the norm of men taking up these spaces.
In terms of Toronto’s arts community, what do you hope to see in the future?
I would like to see acknowledgment of the arts as a societal benefit – because what kind of world would we live in if we did not have arts and culture feeding our souls and beautifying our surroundings?
Right now, Toronto is going through a kind of renaissance. The major arts organizations are all going through changes of leadership. I would love to see more diversity. Arts organizations in Toronto should reflect the city in which we live, which is quite visibly and culturally diverse. I would love for our larger arts organizations, in particular, to reflect that.
What effect do you think provincial cuts to the Ontario Arts Council will have on community arts programs?
Every time I hear about an arts program being cut, it breaks my heart because in many communities, the arts are an outlet for people. And every time an arts program is cut, a parent has to make a decision to buy food, pay rent or give their child the opportunity to stretch and grow through an arts class. These types of cuts are felt very inequitably across the city. Arts and culture should not be treated as an add-on.
Why do you think it is particularly important for youth to have access to arts programming?
When Bob Rae was premier of Ontario he introduced the jobsOntario Youth program. This program put money in the hands of communities throughout the city to fund different arts initiatives, one of which was called Fresh Arts. Rapper Kardinal Offishall, singer Jully Black, film and music video director and producer Director X and many more came out of that program.
If these incredible artists did not have access to this youth program, they probably would not have been able to grow their talent or build international reputations for themselves – not to mention brand Toronto, Ontario and Canada as cultural hotspots.
Some of these phenomenal artists have returned to Toronto to mentor others and to give back. The young woman who directed Drake’s God’s Plan, Karena Evans, was only 22 when she directed that video. And guess who mentored her? Director X.
Investment in arts and culture not only supports youth, it benefits our economy. I have never understood the mentality of cutting arts funding. These programs affect the future of our province.
Jasmine Ramze Rezaee is manager of advocacy at YWCA Toronto.