Black History Month 2017: Your cross-country guide to arts and culture

What's happening in your community? Amanda Parris shares her picks.

What's happening in your community? Amanda Parris shares her picks

A scene from the Toronto production of Passing Strange. (Courtesy of Racheal McCaig Photography)

I have frequently debated the pros and cons of Black History Month — but this year, certain events have made me realize how necessary it is to put a focused spotlight on often-forgotten communities.

Earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump made remarks about abolitionist Frederick Douglass that made many wonder if he even knew who the national hero was.

Here in Canada, where we've recognized Black History Month since 1995, this is the first year that it has been officially acknowledged by Alberta — even though the province has the third-largest black population in the country. And the recent tragedy of the terrorist attack in Quebec has rudely awakened many from the dream of Canada's diverse utopia, revealing the racism and Islamophobia that exists here.

With that said, I wanted to share a roundup of arts events happening across the country for Black History Month. They're celebrating rarely-heard stories, creating a platform for brilliant artists and providing an opportunity for the public to recognize what many of us already know: these moments should extend beyond the shortest month of the year.

This list is not comprehensive, so please feel free to add more events that I've missed in the comments below.


Guyleigh Johnson: Expect the Unexpected. A Performance of Poetry and Spoken Word

Feb. 4 at Cole Harbour Public Library

North Dartmouth poet Guyleigh Johnson will be presenting a reading of her new collection of spoken word poetry inspired by the lives of inner city youth.

NFB Film Club Presents: Ninth Floor

Feb. 5 at Halifax Central Library

The 2015 documentary Ninth Floor tells the story of the most explosive student uprising in Canadian history: the infamous Sir George Williams Riot, which was a watershed moment in Canadian race relations.

A still from Tell Them We Are Rising. (Courtesy of Clutch PR)


Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

Feb. 25 at Concordia University Theatre

Fresh from the Sundance Film Festival, this new documentary film by Stanley Nelson traces the 150-year history of historically black colleges and universities.


Father and Son, Dueling Pianos

Feb. 3 at Carleton University

Juno winner Eddie Bullen and his son Quincy are both jazz musicians, and this show celebrates the relationship between an immigrant father and his young son as he passes on family — and musical — traditions.

Quentin VerCetty. Olamina Restitution, 2016. (Courtesy of Quentin VerCetty)

The Northern Griots Present: Visual17e

Feb. 17 at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts

A group exhibition featuring work by Kalkidan Assefa, Komi Olaf, Quentin VerCetty and more. Stick around, because the artists will be speaking in a panel discussion called "Afrofuturism and the NeoGriot."

Kallaloo Afro-Caribbean Dance Festival

Feb. 25 at Hintonburg Community Center

Learn Afro-Salsa dancing, or join an Afro-Caribbean drum circle. This event boasts workshops for all dance levels and ages, plus an Afrocentric marketplace.


Passing Strange

To Feb. 5 at The Opera House

Starring Jahlen Barnes and Divine Brown, this Tony Award-winning musical is a coming-of-age story set in the '70s — one that fuses punk rock, R&B and soul.

Attica USA 1971: Images and Sounds of a Rebellion (installation view), 2017. (James Morley, Ryerson Image Centre)

Power to the People: Photography and Video of Repression and Black Protest

To Feb. 26 at Ryerson Image Centre and Gladstone Hotel

Through archival and contemporary photographs, Power to the People takes a look at the ongoing struggle between people of colour and police. In addition to programming at the Ryerson Image Centre, the Gladstone Hotel hosts "No Justice, No Peace: From Ferguson to Toronto" — a collection of photos from the frontlines of recent protests.

Freedom Singer

To Feb. 11 at Crow's Theatre

Singer-songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland stars in this "documentary theatre piece" based on the story of his great-great-grandmother's escape from slavery. The show, which also features Tanika Charles and Noah Walker, will be touring to Regina, Calgary and Winnipeg later this year.

Friday Night Live: Afro Fête

Feb. 3 at Royal Ontario Museum

The ROM's monthly Friday night party celebrates Black History Month. Femi Lawson hosts this edition, which features plenty of live music, including a live performance by Juno-winning reggae act Exco Levi & High Priest. While you're there, check out the museum's current featured exhibit, Art, Honour and Ridicule: Asafo Flags from Southern Ghana

The Royal Ontario Museum's "Afro Fete" event is back for 2017. (Courtesy of Electricity Events)

Kuumba Festival

Feb. 3-4, 10-11 at Harbourfront Centre

The long-running festival (20+ years) spans over two weekends packed with events. Among the highlights: a celebration of calypso music, stand-up comedy with Trixx and performances from Raz Fresco and Shi Wisdom at the hip-hop and soul showcase.

Before the 6ix: And Now the Legacy Begins

Feb. 6 at Toronto Reference Library

Explore Toronto's hip-hop history with the pioneering artists themselves. CBC Music's Del Cowie moderates a discussion of classic rap albums with the likes of The Dream Warriors, John Bronski, K-Cut and DJ Agile.

Black Canadian Trailblazers - Then and Now

Feb. 8 at Royal Conservatory of Music

An evening of storytelling with Dwayne Morgan, Measha Brueggergosman, Dr. Afua Cooper, JoJo Chintoh and more.

TEN, a work by ACE dance and music, is at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre Feb. 10 and 11. (Danilo Moroni/Courtesy of DW Communications)


Feb. 10-11 at Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre

ACE Dance and Music, a black-led company from the UK, brings TEN to Toronto for its Canadian premiere. The production tells 10 stories linked by a universal theme: the desire to understand our heritage.

Toronto Black Film Festival

Feb. 15 - 19 at various locations

Featuring 40 films from 20 different countries — plus workshops, conferences and master classes — this year's special guests include Louis Gossett Jr., Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness.

Black Art and Liberation: A Panel Discussion

Feb. 16 at The Centre for Social Innovation - Regent Park

Can art set you free? The topic of liberation is up for discussion, as artists Dainty Smith, Ekow Nimako, Samson Brown and Rania El Mugammar talk about how that theme comes up in their own work.

Toronto artist Ekow Nimako. (Photo by Janick Laurent)

Black Lives, Black Words

Feb. 24 and 25 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 

A theatre project that's already hit the U.S. and U.K., Black Lives, Black Words gets local playwrights (in this case, artists from Toronto!) to create new 10-minute works addressing the same important question: "Do Black Lives Matter Today?"


The Art of Black Lives Matter

Feb. 23 at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

In this talk about the link between art and activism, members of Black Lives Matter Toronto and the Durham Black Artists Collective share their thoughts.


The Spirit of Harriet Tubman

Feb. 4 at Lincoln Alexander Centre

Leslie McCurdy stars in this one-woman play, based on the life of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Measha Brueggergosman performs in the q studio. (Cathy Irving/CBC)


Measha Brueggergosman, "Songs of Freedom"

Feb. 21 at Conexus Arts Centre

The soprano performs music from her new album, Songs of Freedom, at a concert that also features local artists Sharon-Ann Brown, Matt Rapley and Camille Munro.


5 Artists, 1 Love Music Concert

Feb. 18 at Citadel Theatre

This concert explores the evolution of black music, incorporating soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, reggae, country, folk and classical styles.

Esie Mensah and the Black Stars plays the Kuumba festival at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. (Courtesy of Flip Publicity)

African Fashion Week

Feb. 24 and 25 at The Sutton Place Hotel

African culture and fashion — in all its diversity — will be on the runway.


Black History Month Art Showcase

Feb. 7-10 at SAMRU Council Chambers (Wyckham House)

The Students' Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) has put together a group exhibition featuring artists from Calgary's black community, just one item on their Black History Month events calendar — which also features guest speakers and film screenings.

10at10: Black History Month Edition

Feb. 9 at Commonwealth Bar and Stage

The local hip-hop showcase is throwing a multi-genre night for Black History Month. There'll be artists playing R&B/soul (Rondel Roberts and Rome), Afrobeat (DJ Deemaks), dancehall (C Plus) and more.

Soul singer Tanika Charles has been gaining traction with her 2016 debut release, Soul Run. (Tanika Charles/Artist website)

The Revolution Will Be Televised II: A Black History Month Event

Feb. 15 at Festival Hall

Hosted by comic Adora Nwofor, this concert features performances from Tanika Charles, Munya Mataruse and Khari Wendell McClelland.


The Mystery of Grafton Tyler Brown: Race, Art and Landscape in 19th Century British Columbia

Jan. 21-April 1 at Legacy Art Gallery Downtown

Grafton Tyler Brown was one of the first professional landscape artists in B.C. — but many of his contemporaries did not know that he was black. This exhibit explores his life and legacy.

Tayo Aluko stars in Just an Ordinary Lawyer. (Facebook/Just an Ordinary Lawyer)

Just an Ordinary Lawyer

Feb. 2 at Metro Theatre

Written by Tayo Aluko, this play tells the story of the first black judge in the U.K., Tunji Sowande.

Ann-Bernice Thomas and Maureen Washington

Feb. 27 at The Belfry and Intrepid Theatre

A concert featuring the talents of Victoria's 2016 youth poet laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas and award-winning jazz singer Maureen Washington.


Black Space 2.0: Art Night

Feb. 18 at Another Space

Join people of all ages and create an original work of art. At this event, organized by Black Lives Matter Vancouver, you'll share skills — and maybe pick up some new ones — as folks come together and heal through creativity. 


Jillian Christmas - Black History Celebration

Feb. 2 at Antoinette's Restaurant

The Hidden Histories Society Yukon recruited poet Jillian Christmas to create an original piece inspired by the region. In this special event, also featuring local musicians Becky Law and Michael Oliphant, the Vancouver-based artist premieres her new work.

What arts events are happening in your community for Black History Month? Share your picks in the comments.


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