Patricia Massy, owner of Massy Books and director of the Massy Arts Society

Squaring Off with Patricia Massy

Mon, 27 Mar 2023

Doug Hamilton-Evans
Former Communications Manager, SFU Public Square

Welcome to the latest instalment of Squaring Off – the series where we catch up with past colleagues and collaborators to reflect on our ten years of community engagement.

Working out of 312 Main, the SFU Public Square team is fortunate enough to make Massy Books in Chinatown a regular lunchtime destination where we scatter down the aisles with our heads cocked to the right, looking for escapism and connection in equal measure.

We’re even more fortunate to frequently collaborate with Patricia Massy, owner of Massy Books and director of the Massy Arts Society, which holds space for arts programming. Of mixed Cree, Métis and English descent, Massy is also the co-founder of the Indigenous Brilliance reading series with Room Magazine to raise the voices of Indigenous women, Two-Spirit and queer writers.

We first partnered with Massy in 2020 for the book launch of Blair Imani’s Making Our Way Home, which was her introduction to our program and the start of our ongoing relationship.

“SFU Public Square was very generous and invited me to sit down after the event to see how we could work together,” she says. “Of course, that was in February 2020 before the ‘rona hit and everything came to a standstill.”

But we reunited in 2022 for another book launch, this time for Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus

“I knew we’d have a large turnout, as Massy Arts only seats 50 people and there’s no way we could have accommodated all the folks who wanted to hear Billy-Ray speak,” she says.

Massy Books and Massy Arts Society have held and participated in over 500 events in the last five years –– mostly smaller events at smaller venues. But in the last year, they’ve been hosting more 200-seat events, working with partners like SFU Public Square, the Vancouver Library and the Beaumont to secure the space, coordinate on logistics and bring in larger crowds.

“I never really thought about working with post-secondary institutions to put on large scale events before working with SFU Public Square,” she says. “Now that I have, it makes sense. It’s a great way to share resources, community and connect folks.”

 “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work together to provide space for some of these voices that need to be heard on a bigger scale.”

Likewise, we’re grateful for the opportunity to work with the whole team at Massy Books and Massy Arts, and to catch up with Patricia for our first ten-year anniversary Squaring Off interview with a collaborator outside of SFU.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length

Doug Hamilton-Evans: We were so glad that Massy Books could join us to sell books at Abolition Feminism: Dreaming a New Reality with Angela Davis and Gina Dent in September. At the event, Angela Davis said “artists are always at the forefront of movements for radical change.” It seems like the programming by Massy Arts Society and the selection at Massy Books supports this idea. Can you speak to the role of arts, culture and connecting over books in creating change? Or perhaps how Massy Books and Massy Arts fosters social and political movement?

Patricia Massy: To try and take on “why art is important in the world” would require a book or two, and it’s certainly not something I feel qualified to tackle on. But I think there are many reasons why artists can be found at the precipice of change, and sometimes even the catalyst for that change. 

Stories and art have the ability to reflect back to us the worlds we live in, connecting us directly to how this feels and lives in our body and in our hearts, which I think gives us access to universal truths and the ability to break boundaries and rules and connect us to our humanity –– something that stats and data can't necessarily do. 

Stories have this ability to create different worlds in our imagination other than the ones we live in, and can really show us what is possible in terms of living in a world without racism, sexism and violence in the name of colonialism and capitalism. 

At Massy Arts, we believe that creative practices are integral to the political and social fabric of contemporary life. And we operate in a way that seeks to welcome a community invested in acts of care, radical futurism, and coming together and sharing those stories. We believe artistic and writing practices are anchors to our day to day understanding of the world, and hope to build a platform where these practices are uplifted and celebrated.

For an interview with you for The Tyee, Michelle Cyca said “For Massy, books are more than diversions; they’re facilitators of connection and community.” In addition to running Massy Books, you also program events and exhibitions through the Massy Arts Society and are a co-founder of the Indigenous Brilliance reading series. All this resonates with our mandate to hold space for communities to come together. Why is this important to you?

Massy Books and Massy Arts has evolved through listening to our community and dreaming big. It's kind of like a response and call. I opened up the bookstore with a desire to prioritise Indigenous stories, because I wanted to see my Indigenous history and stories reflected in the books on the shelves. And it was the reason why I reached out to Jónína Kirton and Jessica Johns at Room Magazine to start Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series: I wanted to create community for myself, for my kin, to tell our stories because there wasn't a lot out there. Being an urban Indigenous person, separated from the land where my ancestors came from on my mom's side, it was important to create that community and that space.

I don't want to take all the credit for where we are today, because so many people have been involved in our growth. This includes SFU Public Square, providing space and showing us what's possible on a bigger scale. This includes our most recent reproduction of Conversations with Khahtsahlano with Talon Books. Early last year, Linda Daniels of the Squamish Nation, came to me and said “Can you find a way to reprint this book? It’s important to our Nation and our people.” Without hesitation, I said yes, and got to work. Talon Books was so generous in offering to make the reproduction happen, and well, after 65 years since its first publication, it’s now reprinted. 

We're always trying to improve how we program inclusive, accessible, safer spaces for community and I noticed that Massy Arts has a very comprehensive Community Care section on the website with a Safer Community Agreement and anti-harassment policy and accessibility pages. Could you speak a bit about what went into creating it and how it shows up in your programing?

That too has evolved working with various people. And, we still have a long way to go. We understand this work is not a checklist and it involves relationship building and constant learning. Working with Indigenous Brilliance - Emily Dundas Oke, jaye simpson and Jessica Johns – really taught me what care meant when working with artists, authors, and one another. Currently we're doing training with Nahanee [Creative Consulting] on community care and land acknowledgments. But again, this work is constant and ever-evolving. 

Congratulations on your first major grant for Massy Arts, for being certified as a living wage employer, and for raising and donating over $100,000 to local charities, initiatives and organisations. What’s next? And how do you do it all?

Yes, we've received our first major grant, which is huge. It's really given us the resources we need to support our community and current staff and to expand our capacity.

In terms of doing it all, I don’t and I wouldn’t be able to! 

Massy Books and Massy Arts is staffed by freakishly talented people with their own gifts that we try to utilise and support in the ways they find fulfilling. What might take me a half an hour to an hour to do may take another staff member ten minutes, and vice versa. That said, there is also a lot of delegating and sharing of the workload. I think we’re a pretty good team!

Massy Books and Massy Arts Society has put on over 500 events. What goes into a dream event? Or what are the elements that go into making something that’s powerful and resonates with a gathering of people.

I've never dreamed of a singular event that eclipses all other events. I feel like I'm always chasing my dreams and nothing is off the table. That said, it would be absolutely heart stopping if one day we could get Nalo Hopkinson and N K Jemisin and adrienne maree brown in a room together. Watch our events listings this year!

What makes a powerful gathering? I think world changing events break the rules and push the boundaries, and incite change and connect us to our humanity. Those are the kinds of events we really want to be part of.  

Do you have a list of books you recommend on the topics of community engagement, organisation, connection and care?

For very general community organising books, the first one would be The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, which provides a human-centred approach to gathering in the ways that we can transform the way that we spend time together and the way that we gather.

How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong, which speaks to the injustices built around race, class, gender and beliefs that separate us. But it also highlights our need for belonging and interdependence and offers research, interviews, anecdotes, stories to find connectedness with one another in our community. 

And the last one Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek Murthy. It's about the importance of human connection on our physical health and in our community. And so it's kind of in the same vein of Gabor Maté and how things live in our body.

You can visit Massy Books at 229 E Georgia and shop their books online at their website.

For upcoming events from Massy Arts Society, click here. Some highlights:

Are you a Canadian author? Massy Arts Society has received a grant that has funded the Massy Voices Salon Series, a reading series for Canadians, for BIPOC and LGBTQ Two-Spirit plus folks. To inquire about paid reading opportunities, reach out to Massy Arts

Editor’s note: Massy Books and SFU Public Square are partnering once more for an upcoming event in May with author Nalo Hopkinson! Subscribe to SFU Public Square’s newsletter to find out first. Subscribe now!