Barrie city hall exhibit explores the lives and experiences of local black women

A new photo exhibit on display in the rotunda, called Our Mosaic Lives, celebrates the lives of local black women and girls.

New project showcasing local black women and girls opens at Barrie city hall

Michelle Newton's Our Mosaic Lives will be on display in the rotunda at Barrie city hall until the end of January. (Courtesty of

There's a good reason to visit city hall in Barrie this month. 

A new photo exhibit on display in the rotunda, called Our Mosaic Lives, celebrates the lives of local black women and girls.

Through a series of photographs, poems and motivational graphics, the creator of the show, Michelle Newton, is hoping to spark dialogue between women of all backgrounds in Barrie and surrounding areas.

"It's interesting because I didn't know that I wasn't white until I was around 5 years old ... and it was pointed out to me by my peers," Newton explained in an interview with CBC Radio's Ontario Morning this week. 

Newton is mixed-race and was raised in an all-white family. 

"I've always been different looking than my family and it's never been an issue, but in a community where your minority population is very small, I was always identified as a black person," she said. 

Newton started what she calls her "back to black journey" during Back History Month in February last year. She interviewed and photographed local black women with the idea of showing their diversity and shared similarities as well as exposing people in the community to those who may not look like them.

"They really opened their hearts. They shared their ideas and opinions about what Black History Month and being black in Canada meant to them," Newton said. 

"They felt that it was good to have a month, but the idea that perhaps celebrating diversity and differences isn't limited to a month was a theme that I heard come through."

And so Our Mosaic Lives was born.

Although Barrie has become increasingly diverse in recent years, Newton said she hopes this display will help the city become a more inclusive place to live. She recalled an incident at a recent event where an older woman made a comment about her skin tone, asking if she had been on vacation and had gotten a tan. 

"She said, 'Oh your skin tone is so lovely/' And I just thought, okay, this is my skin. I explained that one parent of mine is white, one is black," said Newton.

 "The woman thought on it for a minute, and the thing she said next was, 'Well you must have been excited about Barack Obama.' I just feel that that's a disconnect in an environment where minorities are so few," she added.

The Our Mosaic Lives exhibit will also feature several portraits of black girls with "dream statements" made possible through a collaborative partnership with artist Ellie Arscott of the organization Girls Stand Tall.

The exhibit can be viewed at Barrie city hall until January 31.