One of the greatest joys and challenges in a career of creating, producing and presenting art is that it puts you face to face with identity. It’s the joy of being challenged to see yourself as you are, to love and celebrate that. It’s the challenge to respectfully participate, even immerse oneself, in different cultures. And it’s the experience of seeing others participating in the culture you identify with.
Growing up in suburban Ontario in the 1980s and 1990s, I knew I was a lover of music and sports before I knew almost anything else. Both filled my life and gave me access to culture that was not plentiful around me. I was born and lived with layers of identity. My immigrant parents – a Black Jamaican father from Mandeville and a white Hollander mother from Valkenswaard – gave themselves plenty of room to enjoy where they were from, but also what they appreciated about other traditions. I was as likely to hear classical music from Austria or country music from Memphis on the radio in the car as I was to hear soca, reggae or Dutch waltzes.
Later, I made music that was based on my own layers of lived experience, but that was mostly inspired by artists from Jamaica, the United States and the United Kingdom. I really credit my work at UrbanArts and at the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) as music officer, for introducing me to some of Ontario’s incredible Black artists – Ian Kamau, Suritah Wignall, d’bi.young anitafrika, Weyni Mengesha, Colanthony Humphrey (also his little brother Clairmont Humphrey, now known as rapper Clairmont The Second), dub poets Lillian Allen, Klyde Broox, Michael St. George, and so many others who are, in my mind, legends. They tell incredible, nuanced stories of community, of country, of the world.
This is my first Black History Month since my return to OAC in the role of CEO. The feedback we heard from the Black arts community, and from many other arts communities, has informed OAC’s new strategic plan, Reset. Renew. Revitalize. The plan calls for OAC to continue broadening its equity lens and acknowledge the unique experiences and barriers of many equity-deserving individuals and communities, including the Black community. Although we recognize that we have made progress over the length of the last strategic plan, we also know that there is much work ahead.
I hope that we not only celebrate Black artists, but that they have a chance to celebrate themselves this Black History Month. I welcome any opportunity to connect with members of this arts community. I know I will be working hard to grow during my time as CEO and am looking forward to the challenge of continued growth in support of Black art.
CEO, Ontario Arts Council