A new centre for professional Black artists in Toronto officially opened its doors on Thursday.
Alica Hall, executive director of the Nia Centre for the Arts, said the building will be a place where Black artists from across various disciplines will thrive, and will offer theatre space for performances, gallery space for exhibits and work space to create.
At an opening ceremony on Thursday morning, Hall said the centre has built on a foundation of Black art, culture and tradition despite challenges facing the community.
"We know what it's like to be told: 'This stage is not ready for your stories. We don't think our audience will be interested in that. I'll book you next February.' We know what it is to be outside and not at the table. We know what it is to be the tail and not the head. But not in this space," she said.
"Nia Centre is a vessel for our culture, a platform for our music, a gathering place for our artists, a space for us year round."
In an interview, Hall said artists need support to keep creating and that the space will not only bring the community together but also help to provide that support.
The centre, located in Toronto's Little Jamaica neighbourhood, is a 14,000-square foot facility that is said to be 15 years in the making. The building has undergone a $12-million renovation in the past three years, with the funding coming from a number of donors.
Hall said it will offer a wide range of artistic experiences.
"There will be a range of programs for young creatives to build their skills, for Black artists to be able to build their artistic development, and then for our community to enjoy things like film screenings, showcases, clay-making workshops," she said.
"Our efforts are focused on building a creative class that is supported and feels affirmed in creating artwork."
Alica Hall, executive director of the Nia Centre for the Arts, says: 'Nia Centre is a vessel for our culture, a platform for our music, a gathering place for our artists, a space for us year round.' (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)
Inside, the facility has a 150-seat multi-use performance area, a digital media studio, a youth space, spaces for artists, event spaces, and a contemporary art gallery. The centre will showcase a range of arts, from music and literature to visual arts and theatre, often in collaboration with emerging artists and arts organizations.
In a news release, the centre said: "The Nia Centre serves as an opportunity to bring together the uniqueness of Toronto's Black community in a space where stories are told, art is created, and community is brought together."
Space is' dream come true literally,' resident artist says
Apanaki Temitayo Minerve, a mixed media textile collage artist, said she is thrilled to be able to create art at the centre. She is the first artist to take part in the Nia Centre's residency program and is creating a Caribbean themed quilt collection and displaying it on location.
"I'm really, really happy to be able to have this space to explore art quilting and do an art quilt collection," she said.
"To have a space like this, in Little Jamaica, to be run by mostly young Black women who are at the peak of their game, and engaging community is a dream come true literally."
A view of the Nia Centre for the Arts building from the outside. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)
Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Toronto St. Paul's, said at the opening ceremony that the building represents the hard work of many people.
"To each and every one of you, I know that this is a collective achievement in so many different ways," Matlow said.
Matlow said the city needs to ensure that Little Jamaica goes through a renaissance and that the vibrancy of Eglinton West returns. He said he, along with other councillors, is committed to seeing that happen for the sake of residents in the area.
"What you have done here at the Nia Centre is something that will benefit all of us, in Toronto and throughout our country and around the world," he said.
"What you are doing and what Nia is doing is combating hate with love, creating music, performances, art, celebrating culture, defeating violence with wellness, making people happy, making people proud, and creating a space where everyone can come together and celebrate and hear each other and love each other again."
Randell Adjei, Ontario's first poet laureate, says: 'To think and see this building, this vision come to light, is something I know a lot of our ancestors would have been grateful and proud to see come to light.' (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)
Ontario's first poet laureate Randell Adjei asked the audience at the grand opening ceremony to repeat after him: "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams."
"To think and see this building, this vision come to light, is something I know a lot of our ancestors would have been grateful and proud to see come to light."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.