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Seriously Influential: Making space and enacting change with Mercedes Caxaj.

Head of Programs for Global Toronto Music Conference talks about GT21’s guiding principles – equity, accessibility, and sustainability.

Becoming an artist or creative entrepreneur can often mean taking on a platform of visibility and a voice that has the power to make intentional ripples. Seriously Influential is a series that reveals how artists and creatives across Canada use their platform as a stage to address social issues and support their communities.

Check out the other interviews from this series with DJ Roshanie, hip-hop artist B1GJuice, and writer/activist Keosha Love.

— Allisa Lim, Writer

We’re entering the summer months of 2021 with a bang! Coming in hot, Global Toronto Music Conference should be at the top of your list for events to check out! Global Toronto is produced by Small World Music, one of Ontario’s leading organizations. This music showcase and conference roots itself in re-imagining and building a sustainable, equitable, and accessible music sector by seeking out artists and industry professionals to bridge the gap between our Canadian market and the international one. For this year’s conference, the theme is Now What: Making Space, Enacting Change, and runs online from June 14 to 18, 2021 – click here to register! 

In an interview with Mercedes Caxaj, Head of Programs for Global Toronto, I became mesmerized by her work ethic and positive outlook on the pandemic. Mercedes’ passion for supporting underrepresented artists and emerging talent, and creating a safe space for individual expression is incredibly admirable. Taking part in the success of multiple arts, non-profit organizations, and festivals can often have us dwelling on the negativity surrounding our current lives that we often overlook the positives. After a year in this pandemic, I personally have come to realize how much it has actually brought folks together. From everyday interactions to connecting worldwide on social issues to figuring out new ways to communicate, we have learned how easy it is to create meaningful connections across international borders, and Global Toronto Music Conference is doing just that!

Allisa: Why did you choose to theme for the 2021 Global Toronto Music Conference as “Now What: Making Space. Enacting Change”?

Mercedes: We are continuing to build upon GT20s theme, which was “Acknowledging Opportunities, Envisioning the Future”.  This was framed at the beginning of the pandemic and explored the state of affairs for the industry, how we felt and how we wanted the industry to be rebuilt in a more equitable, sustainable and accessible manner. We created safe spaces to the best of our ability so that participants felt comfortable sharing their lived experiences, as well as aspirations for the future. The need to make spaces for underrepresented voices at all levels and aspects of the music industry – from funding to producing, presenting and programming – as well as how to kick-start these changes. Thus, “Making Space and Enacting Change” for GT21 is about exploring the pragmatic aspects of the needs and themes explored last year.  We are very excited that we have engaged an amazing programming committee that has actively been participating in the preparation for this year’s conference.


A: What is so “global” about this conference?

M: The global aspect of GT is about gathering art professionals from all backgrounds, underrepresented music genres and equity-seeking voices while building bridges to the international community in order to create business opportunities. Though it could have been easy for Small World Music to wait until we could gather IRL, the decision to go online was made after several international community consultations in which the opportunity, and appetite, to gather the sector for a much-needed communal experience was revealed. It was also clear that Small World Music had an opportunity, and a responsibility, to address systemic issues brought to the fore as a result of the pandemic. To that end, over five days in July, GT20 saw more than 800 participants from 73 countries – nearly half of which were experiencing their first Canadian “contact” event.

A: How do you foresee the future of the event industry post-COVID?

M: One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the ability to meet with someone across the world instantaneously online, but has also surfaced how online programming is more accessible for those who cannot attend your events in-person. It also reaches wider audiences, especially when collaborating with international partners. I suggest that everyone be prepared to continue for online events in tandem with in-person. 


A: Has not being able to travel impacted your music career? What lessons have you learned about the event industry worldwide? 

M: The lack of travel has impacted several aspects of the music industry, the lack of touring and discoverability in new markets.  As a music presenter, this is what we loved to do – go to international music gatherings in order to discover acts that don’t necessarily make the algorithms back home – this is why online programming is still important in order to continue to discover. I think what has been learned in the industry is that collaborations are not as impossible as they seemed – they were actually necessary for our survival through this period. Though venues have closed and some presenters have stopped, there has still been a lot of music being made and presented. I believe that the industry is incredibly resilient and that is something to look positively on.

Global Toronto is a unique platform, where systemic issues can be addressed, underrepresented voices can be empowered, and real change can take place. This event is a great opportunity to engage in important conversations with industry professionals, as we all work to build a more sustainable and equitable future.

Events like this show us how important it is to recognize that virtual engagements mean a wider audience, including persons who may not have the ability to enjoy live music, workshops, or events in person. Global Toronto does a phenomenal job bringing in a community from all parts of life into one virtual space. Allowing room for voices to be heard, listened to, and represented.

The 2021 edition of Global Toronto (GT21) takes place online from June 14 to 18, 2021 with the theme of “Now What: Making Space, Enacting Change.” Twenty-two artists (4 international and 18 Canadian) will each get their moment to be showcased to international and national music communities.

The programming and discussions will be guided by three principles – equity, accessibility, and sustainability. Sign up to engage in panels and webinars that will explore topics around equitable systems, climate justice, and the larger issues/barriers faced by women and the BIPOC community. To make the conference more accessible, Global Toronto is also offering a Pay What You Can (PWYC) option!

Sign up for the conference: www.globaltoronto.org
Follow Global Toronto: www.instagram.com/globaltoronto

Written by Allisa Lim
Follow Allisa
@allisa.lim

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Allisa Lim
Follow Allisa on Instagram: @allisa.lim

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