By Yanet Mengistie
Posted on August 6, 2021
Most Torontonians can’t wait for summer as they struggle through the winter months. Art galleries, shops or shows become hot spots in Toronto during the summer. However, despite the diversity that Toronto claims to have, much of the art scene does not represent the diversity of the city at all. A June 2020 article by Sean O’Neill titled “A Crisis of Whiteness in Canada’s Art Museums” exposed the reality within the art scenes of Canada. O’Neill examined Canada’s four largest public art museums, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), National Gallery of Canada (NGC) and Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), and drew a shocking conclusion. The central revelation was that the art world is largely white, even here in Canada. Data reflected in the article showed that:
- The board presidents of all four museums were white
- The 24 senior executives covering all four museums were 96 per cent white
- 75 per cent of board trustees of all four museums were white
- Within the 77 board trustees, 14 were identified as other persons of colour: three were First Nations or Métis and two were Black
- The AGO has no Indigenous representation within its board as of June 2020
- Similarly, the MMFA, the VAG and the NGC have no Black representation on their boards as of June 2020
What makes this discovery even more troubling is that many of these art galleries have publicly aligned themselves with diversity initiatives, but have failed to represent their supposed beliefs in their own business practices. For example, the MMFA claims in their 2018-2019 Annual Report that they hold “values of inclusion and diversity”. However, at the time of O’Neill’s article release (June 2020), the findings indicated that not much had changed between 2018 and 2020 within the operations of the MMFA. There is a clear gap between “on-paper” values and what is occurring in real life.
What are we going to do about it?
Given that these galleries show slow or performative change, it is time to shift our gaze and get to know Black-owned art galleries or shops—specifically, ones that are on the path to transforming the art world through changing what and who gets represented. The Black-owned art spaces below are the future of the art world, as they provide a space for authentic representations of art from around the world.
Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism
Located in downtown Toronto, Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism is an art space that will be the hub of art and activism in the coming years. Wildseed is the new headquarters of Black Lives Matter Canada and it will not separate its art and activist goals. Instead, Wildseed plans to be a “community incubator, gallery, studio” to highlight and promote radically transformative Black artists. Moreover, the Centre plans to host events such as galas, art exhibitions and many exciting activities that Torontonians can look forward to.
Wildseed will also conduct a Black Arts Fellowship program for those who may be seeking galleries or art spaces to develop as an artist and showcase their work. The fellowship is 20 months long and hopes to provide training and a creative space to allow Black artists to flourish. Members of the program will also be able to form key networks which will help build a support system and also a network of like-minded artists to bounce ideas off of. Look forward to seeing Wildseed as an art space that will blossom and become a staple of Toronto.
Areej Artists Centre
Founded in 2013 by Amira Alamary, Areej Artists Centre is a powerhouse for both displaying and supporting local artists in Toronto. The Centre’s gallery 800 sq. foot space showcases artists who face additional barriers due to them being a newcomer or Black newcomer to Canada. The art in the gallery also has a purposeful objective of inspiring action and motivation in those who view it. The gallery not only wants to provoke change, but it also aims to be a space that brings artists with these similar newcomer struggles together to foster new relationships and ideas. When Amira spoke to ByBlacks.com about the purpose behind Areej Artists Centre and about teaching art, Amira stated “the Centre is the answer to the question “Why don’t we collaborate instead of looking for support from outside?”
Areej Artists Centre also has programs such as The Art Lecture Series, Art Open Houses, Workshops, Artist Exchange Initiatives and Community Art Walks that encompass the mission of the Centre. These programs honour and build Black newcomer artists up and foster new connections through the Centre as the hub for interactions.
The Run is a gallery that opened in 2020 but has already gathered beautiful collections of work. Founded and directed by James Hewitt, the name of the gallery explains the type of art found here. Run is an acronym that stands for Radically Underestimated Narratives. During the gallery’s first group show it showcased the works of Black painters who are emergent or mid-career artists. The gallery conducts private viewings of exhibitions which can be booked through email. During the summer of 2021, The Run is hosting an exhibition of paintings from Toronto artist Elicser Elliott, titled Mitigated Dwelling. This will be Elliott’s second exhibition with the Run and is described as “produced in response to current events and the accumulation of introversion; an attempt to lessen the severity of the former.”
Given the lack of representation in the art world, change in what and who gets showcased will take time. Instead of waiting for this to happen, these art spaces are examples of breaking out of the known systems in order to see change. These unique galleries have created their own space that can be an example for others to follow.