Happy Black Futures Month from Onika Powell, Artistic Director

Happy Black History/Futures Month!!!

The days seem like a blur as we all try to navigate living in a pandemic. As always, VIBE Arts is very fortunate that we are still able to continue our mission of beautifying our city whether it is by providing high-quality arts programming to those who don’t have access, art installations through our Year of Public Arts and Cultural Hotspot funding, or art created by our roster of artists from our various mentorship programs. If you missed it, please take a look at our 2021 Impact Report.

VIBE continues to join members of our community in observance of the accomplishments and contributions of Black Canadians. This month we welcomed another Black History Month for us here in Canada. This month marks the 26th anniversary of Black History Month and we have seen quite the evolution from mainly focusing on the oversaturation of stories of slavery, to now including amplification of Black Voices and their Excellence. Black stories are being told by Black people, educating on how the past continues to impact the future and serves as a power of resilience.

With the same energy, we have been focusing on these stories throughout our programming year, through community activations and mentorship opportunities. It is always a pleasure seeing the growth and success of our artists, and at this time we are coming to the near end of Cohort 3 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 the 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.

This program was developed in 2019 and tailored to the needs and wants of our Black artists, carefully curated to acknowledge the Black lived experience. In 2020, our very first cohort of NExT artists reimagined Fort York to invite future leaders and change-makers to share their stories, challenges, and experience of being a Black Creative. Coincidentally right at the start of a global pandemic. In 2021, with the same goals and mission in mind, we partnered with TO Live to reimagine what exhibition space looks like when the city was still literally locked down. With great support and teamwork, we produced a beautiful window display of artwork, which has provided many of our artists with their first sale from passersby or continued work from other organizations and corporations.

Now in 2022, I’m inviting our supporters to save the date. March 16th marks the launch of NExT: The Future of Art Exhibition 3.0 at Meridian Arts Centre, through our continued partnership with TO Live. Please stay tuned for full details on this launch, exhibition hours, and artist talk. I’m always amazed by the work that is created through this program, but I’m even more astonished by the growth and confidence in our artists involved. I am entirely grateful to our funders, TD Bank Financial Group, for making the NExT Program possible, and AIR MILES and Entro for supporting NExT: The Future of Art Exhibition 3.0, and also to our amazing roster of Mentors that have given dedicated time and energy to this program. We are talking about Black Creatives like Darkie, who put a pause in his busy schedule of providing promotion billboards for Toronto’s own Drake during the launch of Certified Lover Boy just to talk to our artists during our Meet & Greet. Or there was that time our Mentor Akua Delfish facilitated a professional development workshop on Branding & Communication all the way from Ghana while on vacation. Most recently we had her brother Kwame Delfish also speak to our cohort about Exhibition & Curation, while simultaneously designing The Royal Canadian Mint’s new Black History Month Coin. These are just some of the members of our community that have shown up and showed out to support the next generation of leaders in our art community, and I am forever grateful.

Support for this program or any other Black program needs to be done all year. So yes, we are remembering and celebrating the hardships and achievements of the many people who built this world, but please invest in these same communities after February. We should continue to make a conscious effort to educate ourselves on the past, recognize the barriers, identify our individual privileges and use that to elevate and amplify Black voices. Black History Month is Black Futures Month, and “The Future Is and Always will be Now”.