FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Tanya Pacholok

July 11, 2023 by Tanya Pacholok, FUTURES/forward Mentee, Cohort #5 Environmental Action, FUTURES/forward Mentorships, Featured, Youth Empowerment /


FUTURES/forward Mentee, Tanya Pacholok — cohort #5, February to June 2023 — mentored by Seanna Connell

As part of the triad model, Tanya was placed as an artist-in-residence at the Fyrefly Institute, University of Alberta.

Community-engaged arts project co-created with Fyrefly: Queer(y)ing Ecologies

FUTURES/forward Mentee, Tanya Iryna Pacholok, cohort #5Tanya Iryna Pacholok (she/her) is a queer, polydisciplinary researcher and artist who (un)learns and lives collectively in amiskwaciwâskahikan on Treaty 6 territory (otherwise known as Edmonton/Едмонтон). She recently completed a Master of Arts in Community Engagement from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Projects include: queer(y)ing museums, Indigenous-settler collaborations in prairie food system reform (kwayēskastasowin wâhkôhtowin), and her photovoice thesis on community-based degrowth. Tanya also holds a Bachelor of Science in Honors Psychology, and a Theatre Arts Diploma. She is a former Ukrainian Shumka Dancer and has performed as a theatre artist in Toronto, Edmonton and Banff. Tanya is particularly passionate about projects at the intersection of socially engaged art, climate justice, slowing systems, and gender/sexuality inclusion, and the ways in which we can spark dialogue about organising systems, relating and living differently.

Queer(y)ing Ecologies
As a community of 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, we gathered over the course of four months to dialogue and create art about queer ecologies. This was a transformative and enriching experience for me as a coordinator and facilitator. I feel privileged to have explored and shared this experience with various insightful 2SLGBQTIA+ participants and the Fyrefly Institute.
FUTURES/forward Mentorship: Queer(y)ing Ecologies by Tanya Pacholok
Queer ecologies is a growing field of study that explores the relationship between queer theory and environmentalism. At its core, this field of study recognizes that the natural world has been shaped by human biases and understandings of gender, sexuality, and identity.

Queer ecologies approaches environmentalism through an intersectional lens, taking into account how race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity intersect with our understanding of the natural world. This approach encourages us to recognize and address the ways in which environmental crises disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

Queer ecology also challenges conventional notions of gender and sexuality by highlighting the diversity of sexual and social behavior found in the animal kingdom, and by exploring how these behaviours intersect with human experiences. Overall, queer ecologies aims to create a more inclusive and sustainable world for all.

Our Project

While often queer ecologies can be an academic or theoretical lens, I was interested in diving into the experiences and perspectives of it from a community level and from diverse 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. In partnership with Fyrefly, we began the project by tabling at a Pride Event to share and start initial conversations, recruitment, and awareness raising. An interactive art installation where folks shared thoughts, visions and initial prompts was created.

FUTURES/forward Mentorship: Queer(y)ing Ecologies by Tanya Pacholok

The project continued with sessions and gatherings held in a combination of in person and Zoom. Throughout the process, I partnered with the Fyrefly Institute at the University of Alberta but was also in contact with various other partnering organizations that shared our content, resources and helped build the dialogue. Six organizations who were tangentially connected to it include, but not limited: Edmonton Public Schools Teacher GSA, Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose, Edmonton Seniors Pride Center, Edmonton Lesbian Society, Queer Ecologies Institute, and Rarica Now (2SLGBTQIA+ refugees in Edmonton).

Throughout the project, I also met with Dr. Catriona Sandilands at York University for her input and guidance. I also invited and paid a guest speaker for one of the sessions to explore queer ecologies through a Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer perspective, Rae Madge.

Questions and prompts we explored included:

  • How does my gender and sexuality influence my relationship with nature/waste/other species?
  • What is seen and unseen in my identity and relationship with my external world?
  • How do we as 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals live in the in-between?
  • How does my erotic energy fuel my capacity for creation, love, and relation with nature?
  • How do I challenge hetero- and cis normative assumptions of certain approaches to climate action and ‘sustainability’?
  • What is my vision for 2SLGBTQIA+ futures?

The process included twenty participants at various virtual and in-person exploration sessions but overall had a greater public engagement reach through tabling, the final exhibit, and outreach throughout (over 250+ people).

For ongoing sessions, participants tuned in from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa. In these sessions, I facilitated discussion, dialogue, and creative explorations through a variety of methods. A community-empowered approach was intended to provide space for participants to explore the artistic mediums they chose, while also educating and raising awareness about queer ecologies. The purpose of the process was to deepen our shared understanding of queer ecologies and create a community of care along the way that could be shared and help educate awareness of 2SLGBTQIA+ perspectives on queer ecologies.

Minimizing environmental impact of the exhibit was prioritized. All frames, easel,s and supplies were sourced from re-used items and materials. The evening was accompanied by live music and drag performers. One of the performers discussed how much the queer ecologies art exhibit resonated with them since they feel very connected with nature and their garden. Another discussed the inextricable links of colonialism and heteronormative systems that interact with the way we treat each other, other species, and our environments.

Participants explored writing, spoken word, photography, and video making throughout the process. The final exhibit was a combination of these mediums with a strong focus on non-portraiture.

One way to talk about non-portraits is being in between: two competing impulses. One is make a portrait and the other, to reject the impulse to make the portrait. Working in between – rejecting and taking something at the same time. Portrait is about capturing the likeness of a particular person. What is there? What is not there? Seen and unseen? We live between unknowns – the in-betweenness of our lives – from birth to death.

I collaborated and sought to amplify the skills and knowledge of all participants when possible. I was grateful to have a guest workshop session with 2S/Indigiqueer presenter Rae Madge. Her perspective and collaboration was incredibly valuable and important in grounding an intersectional approach to our work. We recognize the inextricably linked systems of colonialism, heteronormativity and white supremacy that contribute to the marginalization of communities, other species, and the degradation of our environment.

While we had some challenges throughout the process, I feel honoured for the perseverance and heart put in by various community members. I truly believe in the impact of this work and how important it is that we engage in climate justice and climate topics through interdisciplinary approaches. We sought to have more intergenerational participants but struggled to fully connect with middle-aged and senior 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. This might be an aim or extension of the project in the future.

FUTURES/forward Mentorship: Queer(y)ing Ecologies by Tanya PacholokThe culmination of the process resulted in a community art exhibit at the Co*Lab space in Edmonton, AB. Twelve participants showcased their art pieces ranging from poetry, video and sound installations, and photography. Fifty-five community members were present at the final event, also a fundraiser for Alberta’s GSA conference, showcased the art, live music, and drag performances. Many community members explored the art exhibit and shared their own conversations and ideas about what queer ecologies meant to them.

The impact and benefit of this project for the partnering organization and the broader 2SLGBTQIA+ community as a whole

It built resiliency, capacity and opened up possibilities for exploration within our 2SLGBTQIA+ community on topics that have previously been overlooked.

Tanya’s phenomenal efforts through the Queer Ecologies project allowed us the synergy of combining a fundraiser concert with a queer art showcase. Tanya’s work connected queer community with artistic resources and community connections. These connections support resiliency within the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Evan Westfal, Coordinator at Fyrefly Institute

FUTURES/forward Mentorship: Queer(y)ing Ecologies by Tanya Pacholok

Further, the event received public recognition from various observers and a local MLA who reposted the “rad queer ecologies event”.

Some participants expressed wanting to continue the project beyond this process. Ideas of further exploration were put forth. One participant noted: “This was amazing, I had so much fun and want to continue exploring these ideas”. Another participant expressed having it be the first time they were able to integrate into 2SLBGTQIA+ community having moved from the Philippines and experiencing a lot of homophobia over the years.

I hadn’t thought about the idea much before but now that I have, I have been hearing more and more people bring it up in various ways just not labelling it ‘queer ecologies’. And, this was a great experience for challenging my technical skills. Participant

An online exhibit is available for anyone to explore further. We invite you to dive into our reflections and continue this conversation.

This project sought to include marginalized voices in topics of climate justice, environmental studies, and climate action. It not only broadened understandings on a theoretical level, but also developed a community of care for the participants. As a process, we explored intentional, embodied ways of learning, relating to each other and with other species.

I feel inspired to continue my journey in honing skills and seeking collaborations on art for social change projects. This opportunity expanded and deepened my understanding of such projects, and I am further energized to use art to spark dialogue about climate justice, slowness, systems change, and alternative ways of relating, loving, and living.

I am grateful to all who made this work a reality: to Evan Westfal and the folks at Fyrefly for their amazing partnership and belief in the project; to ICASC and the Metcalf Foundation for their support in making this a reality; to my inspiring mentor, Seanna Connell, for her supportive and insightful mentorship; to Kim and Judith (at ICASC) for organizing and all of your dedication to making arts for social change possible; and last but not least to all collaborators and participants who came on this journey with me.

This project took place in amiskwacîwâskahikan ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, on Treaty 6 Territory of Turtle Island, home first to the First Nations and Métis’ people of this land. This is ancestral territory, a traditional gathering place, the meeting grounds and travelling routes of many diverse Indigenous Peoples, including Cree, Blackfoot, Dene, Iroquois, Anishinaabe/Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Inuit, and numerous others whose histories, languages, stories, and cultures continue to influence ourselves today.

ICASC/JMP wishes to thank the Fyrefly Institute, University of Alberta, for this collaboration and hosting Tanya Pacholok’s artist-in-residency. FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Tanya’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Metcalf Foundation.



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