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Concordia’s Institute for Urban Futures moves its sex workers’ rights conference online

The May 1 event will focus on the impact of the global pandemic on marginalized communities
April 23, 2020
By Colin Throness

Image by Sadie Gilker Image by Sadie Gilker

With International Workers’ Day approaching on May 1, Concordia’s Institute for Urban Futures (IUF) has taken the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis in stride. Its team members have done so by moving their upcoming conference about sex workers’ rights online and adjusting its focus to the current context.

Shauna Janssen, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, is director of the IUF, which is rooted in Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts. The institute was created in 2016 to amplify research-creation and artist-led approaches to engaging with urgent urban issues.

On April 29, Janssen will be in conversation with Alex Tigchelaar as part of a virtual, interactive conversation series hosted by 4TH SPACE. The event will serve as a preview to the IUF’s May 1 conference.

Tigchelaar is a sex worker rights activist and a doctoral researcher in Concordia’s Humanities program. Her research focuses on the histories, presence and futures of sex work in the city. She is also the IUF’s research and development coordinator.

Tigchelaar was in the process of organizing a one-day conference — hosted by the IUF in collaboration with sex workers’ support group Stella l’amie de Maimie — that centered on sex work in the urban environment.

“The global pandemic has prevented us from hosting the event live,” Janssen explains. “Yet as we move through COVID-19, it is clear to Alex that sex workers and their allies are mobilizing in unprecedented and innovative ways.”

‘Marginalized communities are always on the front lines’

The International Workers’ Day event, which will now be hosted by video conference, will feature eight panellists from numerous community organizations around Canada. These scholars, sex worker rights activists and front-line workers will share points of view and experiences within the context of COVID-19 and how these communities are being impacted.

“Some of the themes and topics the conference will address are around the criminalization of marginalized bodies and communities. Alex has curated a really engaging group of speakers and sex worker activists,” Janssen says.

“I am also interested in hearing about the leadership taking place in marginalized communities — those who are always on the front lines when it comes to questions of the right to the city.”

Janssen believes there is a lot to be gleaned from the labour of these marginalized urban communities.

“It’s important in our role as researchers, connected to different institutional resources, to support, learn from and engage with often-overlooked networks of care at a local level.”

Since Janssen began her directorship in 2018, the IUF has continued to cultivate a wide range of research and research-creation projects. The team directly support and connect students, faculty and researchers with a diversity of urban actors, histories, current developments, debates, and community, social, art and design practices regarding the future of cities.

The conversation between Janssen and Tigchelaar about sex work in urban space in the era of COVID-19 will happen on April 29 at 2 p.m. Take part in the conversation by joining the 4TH SPACE Zoom webinar or watch the live stream on the 4TH SPACE Facebook page. ​

The IUF’s International Workers’ Day conference will be hosted online on May 1 from 2 to 5 p.m.

RSVP for the one-day virtual conference,
Sex Work in the Time of COVID-19, hosted by Concordia’s Institute for Urban Futures on May 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. in collaboration with Stella l’amie de Maimie.



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