This blog post was written by Claudia Bowen, Manager and Karen Carter, Co-founder, Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue
Established in 2010, Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND) was co-founded by Karen Carter, Julie Crooks, Karen Tyrell, and Maxine Bailey, after they saw a need for an artistic and cultural space to host dialogue about black culture. For over a decade, BAND Gallery and Cultural Centre has been dedicated to supporting, documenting, and showcasing the artistic and cultural contributions of Black artists and cultural workers in Canada and internationally.
As a Black-owned and led organization, BAND gives Black people in the community the opportunity to see themselves both reflected in the artwork we show, and in leadership roles behind the scenes. Toronto is often described as diverse and multicultural, but that representation is often not reflected in the rosters of Toronto’s galleries or in the staff of major cultural institutions.
Carving out space to prioritize and center the work of Black artists, curators, and art professionals not only serves to amplify the voices of Black people in Canada, an important part of the overall narrative of our cultural tapestry but also to challenge the biases in the arts landscape and tokenism we often see in our cultural institutions.
Black-led galleries and organizations operate not only as venues to showcase the work of Black artists and cultural workers, but also as educational and communal spaces for Black creatives and the wider community to gather, experiment, and engage in cross-cultural exchanges.
One of the biggest obstacles that BAND has had to overcome was finding space. Like many other Black organizations, BAND encountered issues with sustainable funding and dealing with landlords who weren’t comfortable with Black artists in their space. It took years to get where we are, but now BAND has a permanent home in an old Victorian house in Parkdale, at 19 Brock Avenue. The layout of this house lends itself kindly to many different uses. Whether it’s hosting a solo exhibition in the main gallery space, offering the smaller vignettes of the upstairs rooms to experiment within, or inviting the community into the backyard for a garden concert, BAND strives to make this space an open resource and gathering place for the community.
It is important we make the most out of this space. As a charitable organization, we have a community-based approach that puts people first. The relationships we have built with artists, curators, cultural workers, and our larger communities are the most important resources that we have. Stories like that of Owen Gordon, an elder who came to BAND looking for support, highlight the need for community-centered spaces that are open to anyone and ready to respond to inquiries with openness and curiosity. Our Director took the time to make a visit to his home studio. She was blown away by his work and we hosted his first solo exhibition in 2020. We connected him with a well known gallery, the Metivier Gallery. He gained representation and had an extremely successful show there later in the year. Part of the work we do is making connections like this and properly preparing artists to work in this type of setting.
In response to our various community’s needs, BAND has created an adaptable Artist in Residence program that we look forward to expanding and growing. Our house may be small, but we have hosted artists like Charles Okah at BAND, taking advantage of the space we have (as pictured below) to create great new work.
This pandemic has increased economic, racial, and social disparity and has also highlighted the value of artists and cultural workers, the work they create offers communities respite from the stresses of living in a pandemic. Art allows us to explore what it means to be human and serves the wider community as a tool to build connections and engage in cultural dialogue.
Having an Artist in Residence space helps us remove some of the barriers Black artists face, which are not just financial. Creating a space devoted to supporting Black artists also removes the need for Black artists to explain their identity, or to justify their practice, so we begin at a place of greater understanding. Within this space, they do not have to contend with outside ideas of what Black art is and should be, but rather can have the room to come to their artistic practice with their whole selves. Opening up opportunities for artists to push creative boundaries, to collaborate, and experiment, makes the Residence an ideal environment for learning and growing.
We are excited to be embarking on plans to renovate the house to create a more ideal artist residency space to meet the wider needs of our Black artists and creatives. We would welcome your support for this program.
BAND provides Black artists and art professionals support to break into the field regardless of formal education or access to cultural institutions support to break into the field. BAND also has a Curator in Residence program that offers coaching and mentorship opportunities to new professionals in the field. Program participants have the opportunity to develop their skills through hands-on experience and work with artists and cultural workers in an established gallery to increase their knowledge of organizing and hosting exhibitions. There is very little that can substitute for real world work experience for the emerging culture professionals. By launching the careers of emerging Black artists and cultural workers, and helping sustain and grow the careers of more established artists, we strive to support an inclusive and diverse arts scene in Toronto.
Your support contributes to maintaining the space for Black artists and cultural workers to connect and showcase their work. Having this type of access to an arts community to develop a professional network is crucial to the development of emerging artists and arts professionals’ practices.