The worst of times?

On one level 2016 was a shocker. Rarely has so much prejudice, ignorance, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry and straight up xenophobia been displayed so proudly or delivered in such toxic concentrations. Rarely have so many good people despaired of so many other good people.

As an agency for whom diversity and inclusion is in its very DNA, this could be cause for great self-doubt.

Is what we do futile?

Questioning ourselves seems only natural in these circumstances. I feel the only way to answer is with another question: how can we ensure that diversity will always be celebrated?

In fact, when I look at 2016, I think to myself that there has never been a greater need for a shop like ours, one so entirely committed to finding ways to include all and celebrate all. Inclusive communication and the awareness it brings is a potent antidote to ignorance and a subtle, sharp weapon against even the most despotic agenda. We must carry on with the work we do because it is vital to reach underserved minorities who are easily neglected and forgotten. We have tremendous work to do ahead.

The best of times.

Despite its bleak moments, 2016 has been one of the best years in our history. We have never won as many awards as we did this year. Our work for Chalo swept the podium at the Summits (a show for small agencies), winning Gold, Silver and Bronze. We dominated our category with a best in class performance at the Marketing Awards, with seven awards. We won an MEA silver for Marketing Effectiveness. We even won a gold for the best campaign never produced, work for a TTC pitch presentation on priority seating awareness.

And, in a marvellous affirmation of the work we do and the passion we bring to it, we were officially certified as a #BCorp for our work with minorities and for our positive impact on the planet.

We capped that with an extraordinary showing in New York, winning seven EMMAs from NAMIC, the premier organisation advocating for multi-ethnic diversity in communications in North America. We tied, believe it or not, with BET, for the second highest number of awards handed out. Yup. Little old us.

We closed off the year with a peak moment in our many years of celebrating diversity when we were invited to design and contribute typographic art and poetry to This|ability, a remarkable new book that now resides in the National Library of Canada. This|ability, is Canada's first ever book on Art Brut and Outsider Art. Conceived by Ayako Ellen Anderson, a social activist, artist, advocate for Universal Access and founder of the Creative Spirit Art Centre, the book features the remarkable vibrant, raw work of the Centre's artists, shining a light on their talent rather than their disabilities.

Looking back, there is reason for austerity and sober reflection, yes. It's why we have scaled back our usual celebrations this year and are instead making a corporate donation to Médecins Sans Frontières. But it's been a good year too, and so we are keeping with our annual tradition of sending out a cheeky seasonal greeting to clients, vendors and friends at this time of year. Which is what I would like to close with.

A merry Barrett and Welsh Christmas Powerpoint

As we head towards the Christmas break, we want to ensure you are fully leveraging all holiday assets for maximum efficiencies. So we put together this handy Christmas video* that provides a handy recap of the season's key metrics. Turn up the volume or don ye now your headphones and simply click here to view the video on Vimeo.

Merry Christmas and to all a happy new year.

*No data was mangled in the making of this video. Any numbers that appear were safely released into the wild once production was complete.

This fascinating read in the Washington Post exposes the expectations the mainstream has of the multicultural and, equally, multicultural expectations of the mainstream when it comes to what a cultural brand should be named.

Emperors and Empresses fence with Chopsticks and wrestle Pandas and Dragons for top spot among Chinese restaurant names, across the USA. Imperial Gardens, Golden Woks and Great Walls hold their own against a mob of Jade Villages and several Bamboo Groves. Even this rather convenient online Chinese restaurant name generator only serves to underscore our reluctance to use our noodle in favour of the lazy familiarity of the cliché.

I guarantee very similar findings with Indian restaurants - across the world. It is a world ruled by Maharajas, Maharanis and their edifices - their Taj Mahals, their Bombay Palaces and occasionally when slumming it, by their humbler Huts, whether serving Dosa, Roti or Curry. Here and there we see a sideways leap from Kadhais to Tandoors - that's frying pan to fire for those unaware of the cuisine's argot.

It's easy to see why in a world of Stupidly Imitative™, Ho Hum™ and Same Old Same Old™, we are passionate about differentiation and why we were careful to guide our FreshCo client away from stereotypes and clichés when we went to work for them. And it's why the brand they so correctly approved and ran with - Chalo - is so right for our time and for our audience.  

Gavin Barrett is Ideawallah at Barrett and Welsh, a Toronto agency which serves as defacto Ministry of Defence in the war against cliché, whether in Arabic, English, Putonghua, Macedonian, Pig Latin or Zamboni. (Just checking to make sure you were paying attention). No pandas or dragons were hurt in the writing of this post which also appeared as a LinkedIn post by Gavin.

Before Humans of New York became a social media sensation and before Bill Cunningham made street photography fashionable, Helen Levitt, inspired by a conversation with Cartier-Bresson and took to the streets of Manhattan equipped with a Leica. She slipped past the glitter and lights and makeup to examine the underbelly, the grit. Hers was the city that built the city - the myth that is New York. From the late 30s, and well into the 90s, she wandered through poor, working-class neighbourhoods, alert to their incredible life, sensitive to how they pulsed with interaction. She captured evanescent moments of joy and beauty, the pleasure and play of children, men and women, talking, waiting, watching as cultures and communities connected on the street to make and shape the New York we now know. Towards the end of her long life (she died in 2009, aged 95), she lamented that much of what she photographed had vanished. “I go where there’s a lot of activity,” she said. “Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”

You can read and see more about Helen Levitt in the New York Times' obituary for her.

Helen Levitt, New York, c.1940

Helen Levitt / New York City, c 1940

Helen Levitt 1928-2009 New York City (Girl with Lily). From Joshua P. Smith Collection of Photographs

Well Dressed Man on the Streets of New York City, 1940 by Helen Levitt
Helen Levitt / NYC (Phone Booth) 1988

Note: All copyright belongs to the artist/owners of the copyrights themselves.

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