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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Press Release: Introducing VIBE Arts’ 2019 RBC Desire Lines Artists

A photo of Nicholas, taken by his brother, Anthony Spezzano

Nicholas Ridiculous carefully chooses his words, leading a group of 7 seated youth through clear instruction. They’re at the Woodgreen Youth Wellness Hub, holding fabric in their hands. The same material is spread out on surfaces in front of them. Nicholas is in the midst of Scrappax – his RBC Desire Lines program being offered June through August 2019.

“The sole outcome for Scrappax is to show youth that they can create, and be creative. It just takes doing it.”

Nicholas Ridiculous, 2019 RBC Desire Lines Artist

Across six weeks, Nicholas hopes to inspire young people by teaching them to transform an old hemp sweater into a new backpack. 

Once the project wraps up, Nicholas will have two months to fill two, four-by-six foot panels with any artwork of his choosing. The work will be displayed publicly in TTC ad space alongside a staggering headshot of Nicholas and his artist’s statement. This opportunity – running the Scrappax program, receiving mentorship and creating his artwork panels – is made possible thanks to VIBE Arts’ Desire Lines Program, funded by the RBC Emerging Artist Program.

Desire Lines is a two-year art-in-mentorship program awarding young, emerging artists with the opportunity to exhibit their work in subway stations around Toronto. This year’s cohort, comprised of 7 artists, has spent the past six months leading arts education programs and receiving one-on-one mentorship opportunities. Their final works, two 4’x6’ panels, will be exhibited at a private event on November 21st before being installed into Pattison Outdoor advertising spaces in TTC subway stations around the city.

Get to know the 2019 Desire Lines Artists:

Keisha James Filmmaker and Community Arts Worker who has found her calling as a facilitator and coordinator in the community arts sector. “It feels incredible to have this opportunity. This is my largest scale solo project to date, and although it is hard work, I am excited to share my story and what I have been creatively brewing.”

Jasmine Wemigwans Toronto-based Indigenous Artist. “It feels amazing to have the opportunity to have my own artwork exhibited at a large scale in the TTC. I am excited about the exposure this will bring to my art.”

Jason Julien Multidisciplinary Visual Artist. “A positive takeaway of this project has been the interactions with my mentor, Jason De Mata – he is my greatest support right now.”

Nicholas Ridiculous The hairless hyena; son of fiction & student of story. “Desire Lines is a neat opportunity, I’m excited to see the final display – then I will have a better sense of my feelings. So far so good, though.”

sydanie  Rapper, mother, art facilitator, student, and founder of The MOCHA Project. “I really enjoyed working with the youth at The Spot Youth Centre. They were so intelligent and engaged; the topics and lessons were relevant to them. They taught me the importance of shaping my voice around experiences and tailoring information to them. Sharing knowledge is the most natural way of building intergenerational relationships and continuing my own learning.”

Mirka Loiselle Illustrator, Artist, and Educator. “Desire Lines gave me the push necessary to see through a large-scale project from start to finish. Illustrating picture books is a long-standing career goal of mine, and I hadn’t yet given myself the challenge of illustrating a storybook from start to finish. Funding from this program allowed me to set aside some time to accomplish this goal.”

Vicky Wang Artist, Musician, and Lover of Life “With this project, I developed more trust in myself as an artist and explored a new medium of creating art. This was my first art piece designed on a digital platform, and I’m looking forward to continuing.”

Stay tuned for more Desire Lines updates, and keep an eye out for the Artists’ work in TTC stations in early 2020.

Desire Lines is made possible by RBC and presented in partnership with Pattison.

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