Nia Centre is building Canada’s first Black arts centre

A photo of Alicia Hall speaking at a podium in Toronto.
Alica Hall speaking at a podium. Photo courtesy of Nia Centre.
Sam Dharmasena - - TorontoON | 28-10-2020

Since 2008, Nia Centre has supported, showcased and promoted Toronto’s Black artistic community. The charitable organization recently announced a renovation project that will completely transform their Little Jamaica facility into the first professional, multi-disciplinary centre for Afro-diasporic art in Canada. Alica Hall, executive director of Nia Centre, tells CJRU about the significance of this project and what the community can expect once it’s complete.

Nia Centre has been based at 524 Oakwood Ave. since 2015. The building predates the arts organization and was previously a Toronto Public Health facility. For five years, Nia Centre has been presenting artwork at this location as well as other venues across the city. Hall says that the new facility will allow Nia Centre to do more of this work in-house.

“It's going to be completely gutted in order to create space for a performance space, an artist studio, gallery exhibition space, a digital media lab, a space for young people to study and hang out,” she explains.

Rendering for Nia Centre's future space

Photo courtesy of Nia Centre

 

Acquiring a physical location has been a goal since Nia Centre’s inception. Hall says Torontonians might engage with Black art during Black History Month, but their renovated space will create more opportunities for a year-long conversation.

“The ability to support, promote, and showcase art from Black artists all year round shifts the landscape immediately,” she explains.

She says that their renovation project is also important given the context of anti-Black racism in the Toronto arts scene. She explains that countless Black event producers and promoters in the city are running events at venues that are not interested in welcoming Black communities. Not only does it hinder the event’s success, Hall adds that it has an emotional toll on organizers. By hosting events in Nia Centre’s newly-renovated space, Hall hopes that Black creatives feel supported and celebrated for their artistic endeavours.

The new space will be exciting not only for Black talent, but for the wider Black community. Hall says that space anchors people, creating a sense of belonging and community that is difficult to sustain when their events are spread out across the city. The opportunity to do this work in Little Jamaica, a historically Black neighbourhood that has been developed by cultural leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, is another exciting element to the project.

“To now be able to build on that legacy and create a home for Black arts is amazing… We’re grateful to be able to build on what folks in the city have been doing for decades and bring that energy into the neighbourhood,” she says.

To learn more about Nia Centre and contribute to their fundraising efforts, visit their website.
To hear more from Alica Hall of Nia Centre, listen to the interview below.