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Nia News

Black Excellence in Full Force!

We hope the flowers are still smelling sweet for our readers who are mothers. Continue below to read our Mother's Day feature on singer/songwriter Janïsa who collaborates with her teen boys to create beautiful art. 

The City has bestowed a special title to a Black artist whose community-minded work inspires us on the regular - learn how Michele Pearson Clarke is visually shaping the city. Last month, we welcomed a special guest to Nia Centre. Keep reading to find out what knowledge Aisha Karefa-Smart, James Baldwin's niece, shared with us.  

Finally, we have a new Creative Connect mentor! Scroll down to see who's sharing their time to mentor our young people.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to catch up with us, and for continuing to support Nia Centre's efforts to promote an appreciation of arts from across the African Diaspora. We're here for you, and we hope to help make the upcoming months an amazing moment in time for you, and our community.

Congratulations Michèle Pearson Clarke!

The City of Toronto has announced Michèle Pearson Clarke
as the second Photo Laureate. 

Toronto’s Photo Laureate is the first position of its kind in Canada. It honours a photographer recognized for exceptional photography and whose work focuses on subjects relevant to Torontonians. 

“Traditionally, a laureate position comes at the end of your career, recognizing a very long career, and that’s not me,” said the Trinidadian-born artist.

Michèle's artistic career began after she graduated from Ryerson University's MFA program in 2015 where she was awarded both the Ryerson University Board of Governors Leadership Award and Medal and the Ryerson Gold Medal for the Faculty of Communication + Design. Currently, she teaches in the Documentary Media Studies program at Ryerson University. Prior to pursuing photography, Michele earned a MSW from the University of Toronto and worked as a health promoter.

“It made me excited to feel that the selection committee felt like they could make a different type of choice, It feels like a recognition of what I've accomplished so far and it also feels like an investment in me as an artist,” she said.

Michèle's photography, video and installation work has been widely exhibited across North America including Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art at Le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (2018); All That is Left Unsaid at ltd los angeles (2018); Black Radical Imagination at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2016).

Michèle will hold the position of photo laureate for three years and will receive an annual honorarium of $10,000 for her services to the City. She will serve as Toronto's ambassador of visual and photographic culture at events that promote those arts and she’ll develop a legacy project, in collaboration with City staff.

“I'm not so much interested in this role as an opportunity to promote my own work, I’m more interested in being an advocate and an ambassador. I'm a mentor and there are ways that I incorporate that into my practice but, obviously this is a much bigger platform to explore how to leverage the resources and power that people will give to me because of this title, to do things for other photographers and to engage with Torontonians in ways that fall outside of the typical scope of a contemporary art practice,” she said.

Michèle's intent to use her legacy project to support other emerging photographers is a direct reflection of her community-minded nature. Whether in front of her class or working individually with people to create her artworks, Michèle is most concerned with human connection, challenging representation and holding space for others which is similar to the work she used to do as a social worker. She will spend her first weeks talking to as many Torontonians as possible to hear what they think about the position and what they would like to see her take up.

A selection panel assembled from Toronto's photography and visual arts community recommended Michèle to be appointed as photo laureate and city council approved the recommendation last month. Mayor Tory said, “the quality and scope of her work makes Michèle Pearson Clarke an ideal choice to represent Toronto as a photography and visual arts ambassador.”

“I know the life I live today, I live it because thousands of people before me shifted things just a little bit and to me my job as an artist, as a person, as an activist, is to move things forward a little bit in my time,” she said.

For more information on Michèle Pearson Clarke visit her website..

Mothering Creativity! 

Happy Mother's Day to all our readers! To celebrate all that mothers do for their children, we're recognizing artist Janïsa Weekes who is progressing her artistic career while raising teenage boys to have an appreciation and interest in the arts.

Photo by Yannick Anton 

Janïsa is a singer/songwriter and emerging actor. Formerly known as Asia Soul, Janisa got her start singing in her mother’s church choir in Edmonton, Alberta.

“She said, ‘you’ve got a gift!’ And pushed me up onto the stage and sure enough it was a connection, a beautiful marriage,” Janïsa recalls.

At 13 years old, she became the church’s music director and toured across the continent with the choir, Triumphant Sound. Today, Janïsa is grinding out a new album while pursuing acting. Recently, she was cast in the film ‘This Place’ directed by Nayani Thiyagarajah .

“It's been an experimentation of sorts," she said of her career in the arts, "really the process has been just to find my voice throughout."

The experiment continues with her latest album that is the first under her given name. The track ‘Lonely‘ has a special production credit that belongs to her firstborn, Selah. At 15 years old, Selah plays the drum kit in his school’s band and has discovered his passion for beat making.

“He's relentless with it,” says Janïsa, “he does it like every single day and he played me this track and I immediately got inspiration. I took out my phone and I said, ‘play that again’.”

Janïsa ran with it and her debut single was created with her son. “It was also a testament to himself that he can create something from start to finish and have such a beautiful song at the end,” she said.

Growing up, Selah and his younger brother Tefetro were surrounded by music and if the instruments at home were not enough, Janïsa would often bring them to her gigs. She has fond memories of when her sons were younger and she’d play the guitar. They would clamber over to where she was sitting and try to play the strings as well.

“I knew that music was my was the running energy vibration that was going through me and that saved me countless times. Music was something that I knew I would have for the rest of my life. They were a part of my world so they had to be part of that. “

This past year, Janïsa started a collective for mothers that are also artists called Mother Artist Society. Once a month, she opens her home to mothers and their children to gather and support each other in motherhood and the arts. Feelings of isolation as a single mother pushed her to create the collective and when it came time to design a logo she trusted her younger son Tefetro. 

"I told him what I wanted. I told him the colour, what it was about and most importantly the feeling I get and what others get when they feel supported, loved and included."

Tefetro turns 14 next month and his knowledge of technology and computers is already beyond his years.

"He's built a couple PCs, he knows the ins and outs of computers, the CPU and the RAM...all of that goes over my head when he talks his tech talk," Janïsa said proudly.   

Although, she is familiar with the trials of the music and other creative industries, Janïsa has no reservations about either of her sons pursuing a career in the arts, “I never hold back saying that this world can be a sheisty place and a mean world, but it's also a beautiful world and you can learn a lot and gain so much knowledge and understanding of who you are,” she said.

Janïsa's new album drops next month. For more information follow her on Instagram. 

We welcomed a very special guest: Aisha Karefa-Smart to the Centre! 

One of our highlights and most talked about event, from last month was an exclusive screening of the film If Beale Street Could Talk based on the novel by literary great James Baldwin. After the screening, we hosted an intimate discussion with Baldwin's niece Aisha Karefa-Smart and Nataleah Hunter-Young.


Aisha's childhood home in New York City was a congregation for African American writers, artists and musicians. Her uncle, James Baldwin, often hosted all night “jam sessions” with literary greats such as Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. Aisha is a published author, educator and she facilitates discussions examining the work of her uncle and his reemergence into mainstream political and racial discourse.

“He's like a train that's coming through,” she said, “people are trying to get on the train and get some of that teaching and love because his work is all about the redeeming power of love. I think people respond to that because we need that so much in this time.”

If Beale Street Could Talk is a Black love story that is as relatable now as it was in 1974 when the book was published. In his fifth novel, Baldwin crafted a story about a Black family struggling to hold on to each other, and welcome new life, in the midst of injustice. In the film, actors Kiki Layne, Colman Domingo, Regina King and Scarborough native Stephan James bring to life Baldwin's characters which Aisha says are based on her own family members.

“I know that Tish's mom Sharon was deeply influenced by my grandmother and my grandmother's ability to love unconditionally, to not judge and to accept family members in whatever circumstance you found yourself in. She was not going to reject you,” said Aisha, who finds the film emotionally overwhelming.  “I'm watching this family and I see my family,” she said.

Aisha also described the film as unexpected because of her uncle's strong critics of Hollywood and its depictions of Black people, which he wrote about in a book called The Devil Finds Work published in 1976.   

“We’re usually accessories in a film...we’re not fully developed characters, who have an interior life, who are going through things,” she said.

So when Barry Jenkins wrote the Baldwin Estate almost a decade ago and sent a copy of his first feature length film Medicine for Melancholy, Aisha and her mother were impressed because Jenkins’ characters were evolved, the dialogue was clever and the film has several poignant observations on race and class. Medicine for Melancholy is also a Black love story.

“A lot of people think it was Moonlight and the fact that he had won an Oscar for Best Picture that convinced the estate but it was [Jenkins] first film - it's an incredible film,” she said.  

Jenkins' trademark style of capturing the richness of Black skin on film and his technique of zeroing in on a character's face to show the gamut of expressions and emotions they are feeling suited Baldwin's words perfectly.

“There's a million and one ways to tell a story, it's not just the formulaic thing that Hollywood has pushed out. It's time for something new and I think [Jenkins] is one of those filmmakers that's pushing that,” Aisha said.

Referring to Jenkins as a master, Aisha remarked on his ability to tell a story without a lot of dialogue and at only 197 pages, If Beale Street Could Talk does not have a lot of text. While the majority of the film is steadfast true to the novel one creative liberty Jenkins took was with the ending. Aisha believes the novel's actual ending was not filmed because it would have been too devastating.  

“When i was at the premiere in New York, I said that to love while Black in this culture, in this Matrix that we're in, is a revolutionary act and it’s an act of resistance.”

Nia Centre would like to extend a special thank you to Aisha Karefa-Smart for visiting the Centre.

Save The Date! 

OUTREACH: ROOTS, our partnership program with Gallery 44, led to the creation of some beautiful photography. Youth participants learned how to operate a 35mm camera and how to enlarge their prints in a darkroom while personally interpreting the theme of 'Roots'.  
Take a look!  

Photo by Muna Youssouf 

Photo by Lina Wu

Photo by Simal Gormus

Photo by Shahaddah Jack 

Photo by Yvonne Stanley.

Save The Date - July 12, 2019
Opening reception for OUTREACH programs exhibition and presentation of awards to participants at Gallery 44 in 401 Richmond (exhibit will run until July 27, 2019)

Thank you to Gallery 44, photography instructor Surendra Lawoti and guest speaker Ebti Nabag for making Nia’s OUTREACH program a success.  Until next year!

Creative Connect Mentor Spotlight 

We're thrilled to announce Adrian Wallace as a Creative Connect mentor!


Adrian Wallace is a screenwriter, director and actor. With over five years of film, television and entertainment experience, he has established himself as an industry professional. Currently, Adrian is working as the Creative Director at the newly launched radio station 106.5 ELMNT FM He's also the creator, lead actor and director of the web series Courtside, which won Best Web Series at the 2018 Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival.

As a mentor, Adrian hopes building his leadership and mentorship experience while providing critical advice, guidance and support to youth interested in a creative career path that he has training and expertise in.

Creative Connect is a professional development project for youth, early career artists and creatives seeking capacity building and career building opportunities in the creative sector and beyond. Register today to be a mentee with Creative Connect and you could be matched with Adrian for one-on-one mentoring.

Community events, jobs and opportunities 


Generator: Artist Producer Training 2019/20
Generator recognizes that producing is a creative practice. We reject the binary that separates “boring, efficient office worker” from “passionate, clueless creative” and embrace the exciting, fertile and collaborative space where arts management and live performance meet. We enthusiastically invite submissions from individuals and companies from a diversity of performing arts practices who want to participate in Generator’s collaborative work culture. We especially welcome applications from equity-seeking groups, including those who identify as: Indigenous, Black, People of Colour, Trans, Nonbinary, Queer, Disabled and intersections of those identities. Deadline to apply is May 15, 2019For detailed accessibility information for our current office please visit this webpage.

BIPOC Writers Connect: Mentorship, Networking, Training Conference
October 30, 2019 at CSI Spadina (192 Spadina Ave)
This half-day conference is an opportunity for Black, Indigenous and racialized emerging writers to connect with industry professionals, funding officers and published authors. BIPOC Writers. This event is open to Black, Indigenous and racialized writers who have had a minimum of one published piece of writing (e.g. an article or short story in an online newspaper or magazine) and currently have a work-in-progress (fiction, nonfiction, or poetry). Deadline to apply is July 7, 2019. More information and the application form can be found here.

Ongoing May Events

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival
May 1 - 31 at a various locations throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
CONTACT 2019 showcases an outstanding selection of Canadian and international lens-based artists. The Festival’s Core Exhibitions are comprised of collaborations with major museums, galleries, and artist-run centres as well as site-specific public art projects. These are cultivated through partnerships and commissions, and frame the cultural, social, and political events of our times. The Featured and Open Call Exhibitions present a range of works by local and international artists at leading galleries and alternative spaces across the city. The Festival also includes a wide range of Programs including a book fair, a symposium, lectures, talks, panels, and workshops. CONTACT exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public, with some exceptions at major museum

Ban’yuh belly
May 4 - June 1, 2019 at Zalucky Contemporary (3044 Dundas Street West)
Ban’ yuh belly focuses on the grief, anger, and mental health of loved ones who are mourning children they have lost due to violence—systemic or otherwise. The works attempt to disturb the normalcy through which Black lives are violently taken and interrupted. Employing a Trinidadian expression meaning “to hold onto something,” Anique Jordan uses the phrase Ban’ yuh belly to visualize the ways we cope with violence. Centering on mothers and mothering, Jordan’s work contends with the survival strategies used to make sense of the senseless.

JAYU: Am I Wrong to Love?
May 10 - July 31 at the Daniel Spectrum (585 Dundas Street East)
This portrait series will explore the stories of 20 refugees from 12 different countries who have all fled their home countries because of their gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Portraits in this series were taken by 18 graduates from our iAM Program, a year-round initiative that provides photography and social justice training to underserved youth from across the Greater Toronto Area. Each of the 18 youth were mentored one-on-one by a professional photographer from Toronto. In total, 18 photographers volunteered their time to mentor for this exhibition. 

A Complete Change of Form Into A More Beautiful Or Spiritual State
May 10 - June 8, 2019 at Cooper Cole Gallery (1134 Dupont Street) 
A group art exhibition curated by Timothy Yanick Hunter featuring artists Eileen Isagon Skyers, Eve Tagny, Qualeasha Wood, Curtia Wright and Timothy Yanick Hunter.
This exhibition is symbolic of the intersection between the digital plane and spiritual practice, both can be characterized by their ephemeral abstractness. A Complete Change Of Form Into A More Beautiful Or Spiritual State investigates varying ideas surrounding identity, memory, and the transformation of self. Together these artists explore the phenomenon of technological convergence – in this case, a phenomenon where transcendental spaces and ritual meet digital space and practice. The term transfiguration is defined as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. The works in this exhibition navigate ideas within religion, spirituality, digital space, and the internet as technologies of self realization. How do concepts of memory & identity parallel each other? Each artist in A Complete Change Of Form Into A More Beautiful Or Spiritual State identifies a step in this process by questioning the states of being to which we aspire, asking how much control do we have over our states of being, what ways they can be manufactured and manipulated, and what ways do we gain control.
Copyright © 2017, Nia Centre for the Arts

Toronto, Canada

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Copyright © 2017, Nia Centre for the Arts

Toronto, Canada

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Nia Centre for the Arts · 524 Oakwood Avenue · Toronto, ON M6E2X1 · Canada

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