Creating the Black Arts Program

by Timaj Garad, Outreach & Access Program Manager

Black artists add immeasurable vibrancy to the city’s arts scene, often trailblazing in creating new mediums while tapping into the plethora of traditions within the vastness of Blackness. It’s hard to find an arts genre that doesn’t have roots in Black expression and cultures, yet so often Black artists experience erasure in mainstream and lucrative art spaces within the city. Despite this, Black artists create spaces to thrive, build community, and amplify each other. Growing up as a multi-disciplinary artist in the city, it’s in these community-driven third spaces by and for Black artists, that I found a home to nurture my artistic expression. That’s why it’s so heart-breaking to know how many of these same spaces, communities and people, who nurtured so many of us, are themselves challenged to continue their creative work due to the barriers that disproportionately affect Black artists.

TAC’s Black Arts program was born out of a desire to bridge the gaps created by those barriers, while working towards dismantling the anti-Black racism that has created barriers for Black artists in the first place. This program is a start to the systemic change TAC is committing to as a funder in order to better support and amplify the work of Black artists. I stepped into this role to lead the work of designing and managing the Black arts program because of my own experiences as a Black artist in this city. Sustaining a career as an artist while having to navigate systems and industries that were not designed with us in mind is a heavy burden that has held so many of us back for so long. Knowing that you don’t have the generational wealth of your peers to fall back on if you fail, is even heavier.

It’s such a necessary and exciting opportunity to have a dedicated recurring program for Black artists and Black arts organizations. What’s more exciting is how much thought and intention was put into the development of this program in collaboration with Black artists and arts workers. Over the past year, TAC has consulted over 300 Black artists and arts workers across Toronto through surveys and focus group conversations.

The first phase of the consultation process, led by artist-consultants Paulina O’Kieffe Anthony and Kai Ner Maa Pitana, started with a conversation with Black artists about what they need and would like to see come out of a Black arts program, which led to a series of recommendations detailed in the report Black Arts Funding for a Black Arts Future: Recommendations for Toronto Arts Council. We later designed a program aligned with those recommendations. In the second phase of the consultations, we presented the program design, received feedback from Black artists and arts workers, and later incorporated much of that feedback into the finalized program that is now available.

The community-driven nature of the program is integral to its success because we want this program to really reflect the current needs of Black artists that it seeks to serve, so that it can have the greatest impact possible.

Of course, our work doesn’t end here, but the Black Arts program is a promising start to experiencing more of us take up spaces that we’ve been denied for so long and I’m so excited to soon be witness to all the beautiful Black art that will be created and shared through this program.

Photo of Timaj Garad, speaking into a microphone.
Timaj Garad, performing at the 2019 Toronto Muslim Arts Festival (TMAF)