Happy Black History Month from Onika Powell, Artistic Director

Happy Black History Month!!!

Again, it’s time to rise up and celebrate the works and achievements of Black creators, innovators, leaders and activists across the world. For many, February serves as both a time of pride and a reminder of the contributions Black people have made in our world.

For VIBE Arts, February also marks an exciting milestone in our continued efforts to create opportunities for Black Artists; it brings the last leg of our introductory cohort of our Black Youth Mentorship Program, NExT. NExT – short for Network and Explore Together – was built on the vision to build, connect, and strengthen networks of Black artists throughout the GTA. The program was developed, with barriers in mind, to increase visibility of Black Youth Artists in public Canadian exhibitions. Throughout the program, members of the cohort receive multiple one-on-one mentorship opportunities and access to valuable programs and opportunities. NExT creates a shared understanding and space to overcome the barriers faced by upcoming artists in pursuit of artistic success.

Before the launch of the NExT program, our mentorship team sat down with a group of eleven Black Youth Artists to explore their wants and needs. Some shared a desire to exhibit work on a larger scale and asked for support on building their brand. Others expressed interest in learning important life skills, like financial literacy. As the conversation continued, it became clear that in some way or another, they were all on a quest to gain exposure, and build their networks.

After stepping back and taking some space to consider a programmatic solution, we created a mentorship model involving our Established and Emerging Artists. This mentorship structure laid the foundation for NExT programming. In November, teams were uniquely paired based on individual needs, goals and experience and have been connecting with each other regularly since.

On Tuesday, November 25th, Yonge Street’s Diner’s Corner, a Black-established restaurant that would ordinarily be closed, graciously opened its doors to welcome the first official meeting of our NExT Mentors and Mentees. The space was buzzing with excitement and an air of determination. Later that evening, participants were granted an exclusive opportunity to view the critically acclaimed film Queen & Slim, courtesy of Entertainment One. We even attended an intimate Q&A session with the film’s director and writer, Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, two Black creatives. This kick-off event set an extraordinary tone for VIBE’s Black youth-focused mentorship program.

At VIBE, we believe that mentorship is a skill that is constantly evolving, which is why we began our mentors’ journey with a workshop. Facilitated by Black leader and coach Aina-Nia Ayodele, this workshop provided a safe space for our artists to be vulnerable, self-reflect and take on unique tools to help them serve and succeed as mentors.

In just a few months, the NExT program has offered workshops on art creation, exhibition and performance and has attended exclusive events, including the Mandela exhibit (courtesy of TO Live), the Future of Work & New Economy Series with Barack Obama (S/O Rookz) and the grand opening of Kuumba25 at Harbourfront. NExT has received additional opportunities to attend the opening of Musical Stage’s hit musical Caroline or Change, and exclusive viewings at the Toronto Black Film Festival 2020.

The first of two NExT cohorts will wrap up in March 2020 with a Black Futures Exhibition, NExT: The Future of Art. All are invited to join us at the public opening reception on March 5th at Fort York Visitor Centre. Presented in partnership with Toronto History Museums and Junction Craft Brewery, This exhibition will highlight the art that participants have created throughout this journey and celebrate their achievements as they turn the page of this NExT chapter.

The NExT Program is made possible with support from Canadian Heritage’s Community Support, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program.

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