Exeko

Exeko on the street

THE PROBLEM

Many people in Canada face degrees of social exclusion. This can be caused by a myriad factors – absence of social and economic opportunities; physical, psychological or mental health challenges or ethnic and racial prejudices. From a policy and social service standpoint, these types of challenges tend to be addressed on an individual basis – rather than focusing attention on the root causes. From a broader societal standpoint, the manifestation of our inability to address isolation results in some of us talking down to, misrepresenting or ignoring the contributions of those in society most marginalised by the systems we all operate in.

THE INNOVATION

Exeko uses creativity as a driver for social transformation, promoting social inclusion for people experiencing or at risk of exclusion. They operate from a core ethic: the presumption of equality of intelligence. For Exeko, intellectual marginality happens whenever someone (or a program, service, organization etc) dares to think in the place of somebody else – often because it is believed that the individuals can’t think for themselves. Exeko believes that everyone has the potential to reflect, analyze, act, create, and to become an integral part of society, irrespective of their social status or life course.

The Exeko approach is called Intellectual Mediation, which means approaching an individual taking into account their potential, not their problems; positioning oneself in an open dialogue on an equal footing.

Exeko combines 3 elements. They:

  1. Foster an ethical culture that presumes equality of intelligence
  2. Use techniques based on creation, experience and interactivity
  3. Develop content on critical thinking, social analysis and citizen action

To achieve social transformation, Exeko designs programming around marginalized populations; citizens of civil society and its institutions, and government. Strong believers in a systems approach to social change, they acknowledge that each community is interdependent and interlinked.

Nadia Duguay and François-Xavier Michaux founded Exeko in 2006. Michaux has a Masters degree in Engineering and he chose to use his very analytic mind to expand the power of art in society. Duguay has a background in conceptual, contemporary and relational art. Importantly for the work of Exeko, relational art creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity.

Intellectual Mediation, which the team introduced in 2008, is inspired by many practices – relational art, conceptual art, philosophy for children and social work among them. Essentially, it is about creating positive spaces for humans to be together.

“The role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within [existing reality], whatever scale chosen by the artist.” French art critic, Nicolas Bourriaud

The organization employs 41 full time and contract staff. They also host internships and coordinate 230 volunteers. Their staff comprises a unique combination of managers, fundraisers, developers, theorists, anthropologists, circus people, actors, invisible theatre experts and poets.

Exeko offers training to service providers, educators and activists to embed their work in an understanding of intellectual mediation. Librarians, school teachers, social workers and police officers have received this training in various communities – particularly in Quebec where the innovation is based. In recognizing the intellectual equality of their various clients, students and the public, service providers realize how current programs are insufficient in addressing social isolation and reinforce the narrative of “us vs. them.”

Exeko plans to expand across Canada over the next 3 years with some funding now going to research and development. They created a social innovation laboratory in order to accelerate their mission and understand the issues of intellectual marginalization. They are working in partnership with the Canadian Commission of UNESCO on school-based integration of their practices.

WHAT IMPACT DO THEY TRACK?

  1. Organizational Metrics ie: numbers of people involved in their programs
  2. Connective Impact ie: how programming supports reductions in crime levels, improved employment, citizen participation, school perseverance
  3. Degree of intellectual emancipation: Exeko questions traditional metrics: employment, school completion etc. They cite people who are completely happy – intellectually emancipated – but not working in formal systems. They argue that people outside the mainstream can still be creating a better society. They want to champion these people.

“9 years ago I was doing mediation in a prison. A man was in the program for a year before being sent to a U.S. prison for a further 6 years. He sent me letters on the impact of the books I had suggested he read. When he was released, he reached out. He had created a blog of social analysis. He thinks and analyses every structure and issue in society. Others may not regard this as “work,” but this is the biggest impact we can have. He is a complete human being. He is free. We have thousands of examples like this.” – Nadia Duguay, co-Founder 

EXEKO PROJECTS INCLUDE:

IdAction

10 years in IdAction is a series of intellectual mediation courses in shelters, Aboriginal communities, schools, prisons or on the street. These courses look like workshops of free expression, completely adaptable to circumstance and participant desire. For example: looking at portraits produced in various forms of media (painting, sculpture, photography), participants and facilitators discuss what they see and analyze the importance of appearance in societies. Its mobile version, idAction Mobile is a philosophical and cultural caravan which has rolled in the streets of Montreal for 3 1/2 years to meet homeless people and particularly Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness.

Shared Culture

Running in partnership with cultural institutions like the Museum of Fine Art, participants discuss issues around access to culture – fine arts, institutions, language etc. Where possible, they introduce people to artists of every discipline and talk about the system of art.

This might look like their partnership with the McCord Museum. They took Inuit artifacts from the permanent collection out to Inuit people living in sit- uations of homelessness on the streets of Montreal. Setting up an outdoor collection, the Inuit people discussed their lived understanding of the objects and transferred that knowledge to the public passing by. The curators who work in the museum then understood that the Inuit people had knowledge they had never considered. They took that knowledge back to the museum for integration with their programming.

Libre-library

Offered to hundreds of people experiencing homelessness, Libre Library is a network of permanent and mobile micro libraries. 12 libre-libraries are currently being hosted in day centers and shelters in Montreal to promote accessibility and co-creation of knowledge. Access to the books is free. Libre-library is also a place for exchange and reflection through workshops, book clubs, writing sessions, author meet-ups, and more.

Métissages Urbains

A project of artistic residencies in communal spaces: the streets. Artworks are created in collaboration with the public in order for citizens to meet and exchange views. Art is used to question how we co-habitate spaces in our urban environments.

Art and Intellectual Disability

Pairing an emerging artist with an intellectual disability with a professional artist, the two co-create work. The process is designed to build empathy, allowing the professional artist to understand the barriers for those with an intellectual disability accessing professional programs in art.

Trickster

Running with First Nations communities, Trickster culminates in the stage production of a traditional aboriginal tale. The Elders transmit legends and traditional knowledge orally. At the end of the program, the youth are invited to present their interpretation to members of the community.

BARRIERS TO DEVELOPMENT

COMMUNICATION

Concepts like intellectual mediation, marginality and emancipation sound intimidating and academic. The terms are new to many and it can be difficult to explain the merits of the program in a concise way.

PROGRAM TRANSLATION

Expansion of the program outside of Quebec has been slow. There are differences in the translation of ideas and language to overcome.

FUNDRAISING

Despite needing time to refine and further develop their theories and practices, Exeko still spend 50% of their time fundraising. Most funders support particular projects of Exeko, not program sustainability.

BREAKING SILOS

The social sector, as with all sectors works blinded by the silos it has created. This veils the importance of research and development work for long term, sustainable and transformative outcomes for society.

CULTURAL REDESIGN

Challenging ideas on the merits of formal education and qualified intelligence requires a cultural rewiring of formal education and social expectations.

IMPACT ON CANADIAN CULTURE

Exeko is working to review their evaluation processes and take steps towards codifying a new practice based on Intellectual Mediation informed by social innovation.

In addition to the projects and programs that directly and exclusively benefit marginalized populations, they are raising awareness about and participation of non-marginalized citizens, skills transfer with other organizations and institutions in the sector, and more influence on public policies for a more inclusive society.

Exeko hopes to influence Canada’s multi-culture. They believe Canada can be an open space for equality and understanding diversity and they want to be part of its creation.

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