Black Power & Performance

Art festivals are a great chance to get behind the art and understand the artists’ process. At Kuumba, audiences learned the process behind the festival. I said before that Harbourfront does a great job of bringing international artists to Toronto. According to the panel of Black Like We this weekend, Harbourfront does a poor job of bringing Toronto’s own communities to the stage.

‘When I am out there I see a lot of beautiful dark-skinned women doing all the heavy lifting of organizing our community. I’m looking on stage and I see three straight dudes and a light-skinned girl.’

The last audience comment really dug in. Two panellists admitted they’d tried to give up their seats, but either the host wouldn’t budge or their contact couldn’t (or wouldn’t) appear at this event. It was a cool moment because the panel and audience talked it out , concluding that there needs to be a structural change to bring more black and African Canadian voices to the forefront of Toronto’s art scene. One panellist suggested it’s time for straight cis men to move to the back of the fight and let other faces come forward. As a white audience member, I hear this and know it applies to me too. It’s time that black women, trans people, queer communities and more become visible.

There was a long discussion about how using African American/Canadian is about establishing history beyond a Eurocentric worldview. But an audience member rejected using a qualifier in front of “American” or “Canadian”. Black establishes something else, too- participating in the 20th century Black Power movement or claiming certain rights & social status. I’m in neither category but I do advocate for individuals’ right to name themselves, choose their identity and be proud of it.

Major pride beamed during the RISE Edutainment showcase of young Toronto artists. Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (RISE) is a leadership and community arts program in Scarborough that hosts weekly open mics on Mondays. They start sign up at 6:30 and regularly have around 100 people. So get there early. 

RISE’s showcase featured quick performances of theatre, dance and music. I just about fell in love watching Aaron Ridge strum his guitar and get hyped when his slap knocks echoed through the Brigante Room. Aaron’s Soundcloud features a blend of R&B, soul, folk and rap tunes. Go listen and prepare to be blown away.

RISE commits to “making positivity cool” and giving a voice to the voiceless through art. I think Harbourfront can learn something from their philosophies of edutainment and artivism to engage communities and give young black artists power and voice.

Kuumba was terrific fun this weekend. I still like the Harbourfront because it’s always bustling with a variety of Toronto’s population. I’m glad there are critical conversations happening and constant self-checks from audiences and organizers alike. My hope walking away is that the next generation of festival organizers and corporate sponsors actively work at changing the whitewashed structures of arts programming. There needs to be a diversity of funding, context, format and staffing – not just in the artists being showcased. I hope to be part of the change.

Here’s one of Aaron’s songs to give you a little taste.



One comment

  1. Alex · February 24, 2016

    Very informative. I really liked how you contrasted the Harbourfront demographics with that of the RISE and black cultural events in Toronto. Really good read.


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