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”.

Press Release: Introducing VIBE Arts’ RBC Desire Lines: Women’s Work Artists

January 17, 2022… VIBE Arts is excited to introduce RBC Desire Lines: Women’s Work and the program’s cohort of Artists.

RBC Desire Lines began in 2019 as a two-year art-in-mentorship program awarding young, emerging artists the opportunity to exhibit their work in subway stations across Toronto. In 2021, VIBE introduced Desire Lines: Women’s Work. With the disproportionate effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women and the BIPOC population, VIBE identified an urgent need to support and platform BIPOC female artists. Desire Lines: Women’s Work was born, deliberate and specifically designed, to provide young female artists the opportunity to grow their careers in the arts through networking, mentorship, professional development and exhibition opportunities. 

 The Desire Lines: Women’s Work artists have been connecting with their mentors, who have helped them skill-build and offered advice on their artwork creation, and creating their own large-scale public art pieces. These talented artists have experienced a wide offering of Professional Development workshops and virtual learning spaces where they were able to nurture their artistic and career paths, while conceptualizing and leading their own online RBC Desire Lines programming for young artists. 

This work has culminated in a city-wide public exhibit. You can view their original artwork in TTC stations across the city starting January 17, 2022.

EDIT: January 26, 2022. We thank those who reached out to us about the name of this program. We have heard your call to do better and will be changing this language in all communications going forward and in further iterations of the program.


Get to know the RBC Desire Lines: Women’s Work Artists:

Alia Ettienne: “I am a Black woman of Afro Caribbean descent from Toronto. I consider myself quite experimental as my creative endeavours include facilitation, theatre performance, spoken word and dance/movement.” 

Caterina Sinclair: T’karonto-based urban + reconnecting Anishinaabe-Filipina multidisciplinary artist & mom from Winnipeg / Skownan First Nation, MB. It feels like such a unique opportunity to put a little something bright and beautiful into a more mundane part of someone’s day. I’d be honoured if a thought, a detail, an image I shared here stays with someone in a good way.

Cheyenne Gold: Multi-disciplinary artist whose work aims to explore deeper questions about culture, identity, and belonging. 

Desiree Mckenzie: Award-winning spoken word poet, photographer, and teaching artist. “The opportunity to exhibit my work on the TTC feels very empowering. It’s awesome being able to express myself on such a large scale as it deepens the impact my work can have, and all the walks of life it can reach. This is a great example of how as an artist, you never fully know what your impact could be – but that’s the beautiful thing about it. There are infinite possibilities.”

Glo Romy: Graphic design gyal, shutterbug sista, and Hip Hop head. “I’m grateful to have this platform to share my passion for art and design, while bringing forth my own perspective and knowledge.

Karyin Qiu: Interdisciplinary Artist & Self Empowerment Advocate. “It is an honor to receive the opportunity to showcase my work in this capacity. This is my time creating a solo art project on a large scale such as this, so I am thrilled and proud to be recognized and celebrated in this way, especially alongside other beautiful and talented BIPOC women.”

May Chook (Dawn Rosa): Vocal artist, music educator, community organizer. May is a Malaysian-born music person who gets inspiration and joy from the people and community around them.The mentorship and financial support have been great and supportive to my creation. I got to relearn about my music and explore new ways to write. This project also led me to rediscovering my musical identity and then naming my musical practice as Dawn Rosa, which is a literal translation of my Chinese name.”

Nyaomi: A multi-disciplinary artist focusing on interiors and interior décor. She combines her passion to create with her interests in holistic health & wellness to spark change from the inside out. “Amazing learning experience. It’s funny that in creating the workshop, I realized that I also needed to revisit the basics of mark-making for my own art practice/growth. Also, a great reminder to keep things simple. There’s a lot to be seen/felt/experienced in simplicity.”

Serene Illustrations: Serene’s work focuses on escaping reality and finding freedom in other universes. Her inspirations stem from the innate curiosity of a child’s mind, the rich history of her Asian Heritage, and the daily struggles of anxiety. “I’m ecstatic to have the opportunity to have my artwork exhibited at such a large scale in the TTC! One of my goals is to illuminate the ways in which my ancestor’s past continue to enrich the present through mythology, traditions and celebrations. This exhibition helps me share the beauty of my culture.”

Shaniece Phillips: “As an artist I often feel alone in my process and think they have to fight through the the self-doubt on my own. It was great to have so much support and encouragement for my mentor when I was overthinking, unsure or second guessing myself.”

Want to look back at the first two cohorts of Desire Lines artists? Visit the online gallery showcasing their work.


Desire Lines is made possible by RBC and presented in partnership with PATTISON Outdoor Advertising.