Montreal-based musician and activist Stefan Christoff hosted a presentation and workshop about the intersection of art and activism on Sunday at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in the Lower East Side. The event focused on how intertwined social justice and creativity are, and Christoff shared his involvement in artist-led community activism.
“There’s a huge creative element in thinking on your feet and being tactile while working with social issues,” Says Christoff.
Below are three instances highlighted by Christoff in which the artistic community in Montreal was able to advance social-justice causes.
Immigrant workers’ center fight to get fair wages for Dollarama warehouse workers
Dollarama is a Canadian retail chain store that was declared essential during the pandemic due to their sale of low-cost household goods. As a result, their warehouses remained open and functioning. The workforce behind Dollarama is made up of largely low-income immigrants, who were working in close contact with each other and no PPE at a time before vaccines were available.
Local musicians, along with the Immigrant’s Workers’s Center became aware of the situation and took action. During shift changes, the artists gathered, providing masks and handing out fliers. Vocal artists garnered support and visual artists made posters that drew attention to the workers who were suffering. They also signed an open letter advocating for the Dollarama workers.
These actions gained media attention and put pressure on Dollarama, who doubled wages for the frontline workers and gave full-time employees $300 bonuses and part-time employees $200 bonuses.
Musicians for Palestine
In May 2021, Israel launched a weeks-long bombing campaign in Gaza that killed over 250 people. Support and media attention surrounding the Palestinian cause surged, as people expressed their outrage over the violence.
In the wake of this tragedy, Musicians for Palestine formed. The group “is a global network of musicians working together to support Palestinian human rights and to refuse silence in the face of Israeli state war crimes against the Palestinian people.” The project attracted big names in music, as well as smaller, community-focused artists which fostered solidarity for the Palestinian people.
The project resulted in an open letter signed by 635 artists, which made rounds in music media, being published by Pitchfork, Rollingstone and Billboard. It also led to the creation of a podcast that uplifts the voices of Palestinian artists.
Wet’suwet’en protests against oil pipeline
Christoff also discussed how to use art to build solidarity and to localize struggles that people view as being far away from them. The Wet’suwet’en people are an indigenous tribe from Northwestern British Columbia. They are in the midst of resisting the construction of a pipeline that crosses their territory.
Artists in Montreal stood in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en in an act of climate justice. Local artists transformed a venue, previously used for live performances, into a press conference area for a local Wet’suwet’en activist, Marlene Hale, to speak about the fight to stop the pipeline.
Christoff worked with Hale and his fellow artists to conduct a press conference as well as issue another open letter signed by 236 local artists expressing their solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and their opposition to the pipeline. “Artists in this city have often spoken to historical moments, and so at this critical time, we stand together to stand with Wet’suwet’en and for climate justice,” they said in the letter.