There is much to learn from these trailblazers in the arts and education. Moderated by Nicole Inica Hamilton in 2022, each panel discussion below provides insights into how to build, grow, and maintain arts organizations or collectives, from a Black Canadian perspective.
BLACK WIMMIN ARTIST
NIA CENTRE FOR THE ARTS
WILDSEED CENTRE FOR ART & ACTIVISM
dance Immersion began in 1994 with a determined Vivine Scarlett working to create more opportunities for Black dance to enrich communities and be enjoyed across Canada. Today, and every day since, dance Immersion recommits to supporting the strength, beauty, diversity, and contributions of African Diasporic dance. dance Immersion is now a charitable non-profit organization that continues to support dance artists of the African Diaspora. The organization offers presentation, skill development, and networking opportunities for Blacks in dance, serving artists who practice contemporary and traditional movement forms from Africa, the Caribbean, North America, South America, and Europe.
dance Immersion experiences considerable success in connecting dance artists across Canada and around the world, with over 300 educational events, 75 stage productions, and 3,000 Black Canadian dance artists served as of the end of 2021.
Vision: To bring opportunity and inspiration to every dancer of the African Diaspora.
Mission: dance Immersion advances and connects intergenerational dance communities through producing, promoting, and supporting dancers and dances of the African Diaspora.
dance Immersion provides its services via three interconnected platforms:
This work takes the form of Canadian and international stage presentations; workshop series led by renowned artists for youth, adults, and professional dancers; mentorship programs that provide artistic and administrative growth opportunities; internships for youth in the arts sector; inspiration and support for the development of new performance works at the early stages; and legacy programming to reconnect, reclaim, and envision a beautiful future for African Diasporic dance forms. Many of those supported by dance Immersion since 1994 have gone on to form or expand their own dance companies, perform across Canada, and be presented in the United States, Ghana, and the United Kingdom.
Nia Centre for the Arts is a Toronto-based charitable organization that supports, showcases, and promotes an appreciation of arts from across the African Diaspora. Nia Centre is committed to supporting artists working across disciplines and ranging in experience levels. We strive to build creative capacities and support the development of healthy identities in Black youth. We are committed to connecting community members to artistic and cultural experiences, year-round. Initially funded through the Youth Challenge Fund in 2008 to address the roots of youth violence and disengagement, early programs focused on helping young people hone their artistic talents and on supporting positive youth development. Since then, Nia Centre has connected thousands of young people and emerging youth artists to mentors, opportunities to build transferable skills, and employment.
The Centre has offered programs in music, spoken word, literature, visual arts, theatre, dance, and interdisciplinary arts—often in partnership with established artists and arts organizations. Nia Centre always had a vision for a physical location to address the lack of safe spaces for African-Canadian communities to collaborate and create, and for Black artists to push their creative limits. In 2015, we secured a lease for 524 Oakwood Avenue, located just south of Eglinton Avenue West, in the heart of a historically Caribbean neighbourhood in Toronto with a long history of artistic and creative entrepreneurship. After 10 years of working to build the creative capacity of our community, we’re taking on our most ambitious project yet: transforming our 14,000 sq. ft. facility into Canada’s first multidisciplinary professional arts space dedicated to showcasing art from the African Diaspora.
Our facility at 524 Oakwood Avenue will feature a(n):
This new space will help bring our entire community together to experience art rooted in Afro-Diasporic traditions.
Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism is a vessel that seeks to nurture Black radical creation in Toronto and beyond. Inspired by Octavia Butler’s evocative novel Wild Seed, this artist-run centre aims to be fertile ground for Black creativity and organizing. Wildseed was birthed by Black Lives Matter artivists who hoped to build an enduring space that would cultivate the most transformative and radical ideas from Toronto’s diverse Black communities. Wildseed is a transformed industrial space—a blank canvas reimagined as a multipurpose artist-run community incubator, gallery, studio, and home to Black Lives Matter Canada. Wildseed is a transfeminist, queer-affirming space politically aligned with supporting Black liberation work across Canada.
Founded in 2016 by Toronto-based artist and curator Anique Jordan, Black Wimmin Artist (BWA) started as a resource-sharing network to support the art practices of Black women and gender non-conforming people. With a mission of contributing to and building the structures surrounding their creative labour, BWA has grown to a network of over 200 Canada-based Black women and gender non-conforming artists and art workers. The group includes a wide range of creatives from emerging artists and writers to collectors, academics, and arts administrators. Ultimately, BWA is a responsive community of Black women and gender non-conforming artists connected through art.
BWA operates in a virtual space with a mission of building and nurturing the ecosystems surrounding Black women artists, while jointly deepening familiarity and visual literacy around the work of Black artists globally. Members reciprocally support each other economically (sharing employment opportunities), socially (through building a community), creatively, politically, and emotionally. These actions affirm the incredibly large and widespread presence of Black women's creativity across Ontario and Canada. Collectively we are trying to build on the infrastructure that supports the work of all art practices.
In 2019, the collective staged a monumental performance entitled “The Feast,” a performative dining exchange seating 100 Black women and gender non-conforming artists and arts workers around an exaggerated table down the centre of the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was a communal action positioning Black women creatives, knowledge holders, and cultural producers at the centre of one of Canada’s largest arts institutions. The intellectual and artistic labour of Black women is largely absent from the Canadian art history canon, ushering the continuous urgency to name, further visualize, and celebrate their contributions. This historical gathering represented a continuation in that tradition. “The Feast” was BWA's first in-person meeting since the collective developed, and was also used as an opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 exhibition “Black Wimmin: When and Where We Enter,” the first Canadian exhibition to exclusively feature the work of Black women artists by Black women artists and organized by the collective Diasporic African Women Artists. “The Feast” was organized by the artists of the BWA advisory committee: Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Najla Nubyanluv, Ojo Agi, Raven Lam, Sadora Asefaw, Setti Kidane, and Anique Jordan. The evening featured several speakers, sounds by Ola Mohammed, a diasporic African menu by Eden Hagos of Blackfoodie, and a group photo by Ebti Nabag.
NAFRO DANCE PRODUCTIONS
R.I.S.E (RISE) creates safe and inclusive spaces for BIPOC youth and emerging artists to express themselves in a positive way. Our name stands for “Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere,” and through our Edutainment methodology we empower racialized youth across the Toronto regions to create meaningful art—rooted in self-knowledge and self-expression—while also training them in performance and media arts production to harness their passion for art into employable skills. We believe art has the power to transform the lives of youth we often see lost to the system and its streets. Our founder, Randell Adjei, transformed his life from an angry teen to a celebrated community leader and Ontario’s first Poet Laureate. Realizing the power of healing through art, Randell wanted to provide a platform for youth to also transform their pain to power. To fill an absence he felt in his primarily Black Scarborough community for safe self-expression for BIPOC youth, RISE started as a weekly community gathering where young Black artists connected, expressing themselves and collaborating in a supportive environment. RISE quickly expanded, attracting hundreds of racialized youth to weekly events who found our dynamic atmosphere of creative support nourishing. RISE amplifies BIPOC youth speaking truth to power.
NAfro Dance Productions celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2022! Founded in 2002—the result of Artistic Director Casimiro Nhussi’s relentless enthusiasm for sharing the beauty of his homeland’s culture with the rest of the world—it is the only African contemporary dance company in western Canada, bringing a style of dance to Canada and Winnipeg that is well-known in the rest of the world, but still young in the prairies. In the past two decades, NAfro Dance Productions has established itself as Winnipeg’s most dynamic dance sensation, setting itself apart from other dance companies in the city as their dance and music thrills audiences with thought-provoking themes. NAfro’s goal is to encourage and assist the development of both African and African-Canadian dancers and choreographers by giving them a place to explore and realize their visions and goals, and to have a great time along the way.
UMOJA LEARNING CIRCLE
CULTURAL PLURALISM IN THE ARTS MOVEMENT ONTARIO (CPAMO)
Many African Diasporic parents search for culturally safe and impactful education programs for their children. Helping to meet that need, Umoja Learning Circle—a small, accredited private school—was co-founded by Kai ner Maa Pitanta and Tafari in 1998.
The school began as a half-day program with Kai ner Maa and two children; its curriculum was a unique blend of eco-environmentalism and Afro-centric principles. In addition, as solid nutrition and success in education are inextricably linked, Umoja focused on serving strictly vegetarian foods to students. And come February, there was no need for Black History Month: Black history was woven seamlessly into the everyday curriculum. In conceiving and developing Umoja, Kai ner Maa was joined by Tafari soon after its inception. In its first community advertisement in Share Magazine, the school was presented as "Young Lions and Angels." The official name was then first proposed as Umoja Learning Academy, but by Tafari's recommendation, “Academy” was changed to “Circle” as a preferred name to honour African cultural principles.
Development of the tiny-but-mighty full-time accredited private school for kids (from kindergarten through grade six) was full of many adversities and adventures, yet, the two students enrolled on the school’s first day quickly grew to 17 as African Diasporic parents were searching for a safe culturally centered space for their children. Umoja eventually grew to purchase its own building, and the school received acclaim from parents and journalists alike with profiles in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. Umoja also became a meeting space for budding community collectives and those seeking a place to nurture the soul.
Today, the work of Tafari and Kai is carried on through various Afro-centric and environmentalist youth initiatives in the Greater Toronto Area, and many of their students now serve their communities across North America.
Initiated in 2009, Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO) is a movement of Indigenous and racialized artists engaged in empowering the arts communities of Ontario. CPAMO seeks to open opportunities for Indigenous and racialized professionals and organizations to build capacity—through access to cultural institutions across Ontario—that will result in constructive relationships with Indigenous and racialized professionals and organizations.
Through its initiatives, CPAMO has identified several challenges that are impacting the broader goal of equity and pluralism in the arts. CPAMO has convened numerous workshops, town halls, conducted research, and issued reports on these matters. Several reports can be viewed on CPAMO’s website—many of these documented sessions have been conducted with CPAMO members as workshop resources and performers. CPAMO has also included art services organizations and major funders in the planning and implementation of these activities.
CPAMO works with Indigenous and racialized artists to improve their profile in the arts in Ontario, and strongly believes that its efforts will create an environment in which creative artists from Indigenous and racialized communities will be better understood by presenters for music, dance, theatre, interdisciplinary practices, visual arts, and literary publishers. CPAMO also thinks it is important that these artists understand the milieu in which presenters operate, with the intent that this will enhance the publishing and performance opportunities for Indigenous and racialized artists who, in turn, will have a better understanding of the presenting ecology.
CPAMO Roundtable members are at the forefront of artistic creation in Ontario—and across Canada—connecting to the histories and contemporary expressions of artists from Aboriginal, African, Asian, South Asian, and Latino descent. Combined, these artists are the vanguards of Canadian art to come.
BLACK WOMEN FILM!
THE AMANI PROJECT
BLACK WOMEN FILM! Canada is a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting the long-term success of Black women in film and media.
“Our work is transformational, motivational, and dedicated to providing a community for Black women content creators that will help change the future of our dominant visual culture and support Black women in taking leadership roles across all aspects of the industry.” Ella Cooper
Black Women Film acts as a springboard to provide Black women in film and media (producers, directors, writers, crew, DOPs, etc.) with access to opportunities alongside skill development, peer networks for ongoing support, industry contacts, and practical experiences to build confidence. We recognize the potential toxicity of the industry for Black women and work to provide both community support to survive within this structure, and a force for change to dismantle it over time.
Launched by Ella Cooper in 2016 as a leadership program for Black women in film—with support from the Canada Council for the Arts and industry partnerships with TIFF, CFC, NFB, Regent Park Film Festival, and CBC—Black Women Film became a catalyst in the sector dedicated to providing professional development, a network, and a platform for Black women, identified filmmakers, and media artists.
The film and media arts industry has been primarily run by and for white people and white audiences, and predominantly by white men. This landscape can often be racist and non-inclusive, but at this time in our history there is opportunity for change, and efforts are being made to shift the systemic dominant systems that have made it so impenetrable for BIPOC filmmakers—up until now—to really succeed and grow in this field.
In this environment, Black Women Film is dedicated to ensuring that there is a safe, highly professional, industry-level support network for Black women working at all levels of experience in the field to believe in the work they want to create while also supporting them in gaining the skills and community required to take over the industry.
We want to build an equitable, responsive, and ambitious organization that does not emulate existing systemic models but embraces better ways of working to achieve our goals. There is no other network of this kind across Canada.
Timea Wharton-Suri is a serial arts entrepreneur. One of her ventures is The AMANI Project. The AMANI Project shares intergenerational wisdom among African Diasporic artists and educators while creating an enduring archive of their contributions to the cultural fabric of this world.
AMANI (Artist Mentorship and Networking Interplay) is created and managed by Right Path World Arts Director Kai ner Maa Pitanta and Timea Wharton-Suri, and is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage.
The programming includes:
The goals of the AMANI Project are to: