Image of the Surrey Art Gallery exhibition titled "Concealed Cultures: Visualizing the Black Vernacular" - photographer: Simone Chnarkis.
Black entrepreneurs in Canada often face systemic racism and other barriers to success, and Black artists are no strangers to these obstacles. Historically, capitalist and anti-black policies have caused an underrepresentation of diasporic perspectives in art spaces. In fact, many minority-owned galleries tend to experience less access to capital and are less connected to exclusive networks of curators, collectors, dealers, and art auctions.
Seeing their community’s need for a Black-led art gallery that is culturally relevant, accessible and youth-centered, Becky Bair and the team at The Black Arts Centre (BLAC) opened the doors of their new – and first ever – space of their own.
Unlike many arts centres, the Vancity-sponsored BLAC is a cooperative, owned and operated by young Black artists. Located in Surrey, the centre’s mission is to address the underrepresentation of Blackness in art by supporting and showcasing the work of multidisciplinary Black creatives.
BLAC is a first-of-its-kind space exhibiting Black-created art and operating as a community space accessible to Black community members. The renovated space comes with ground level access, an accessible washroom, an office and a kitchenette to host local community events.
“We want to be a place where Black folks and others can gather without judgement, in care and reciprocity," says Becky, a local interdisciplinary artist, sessional professor at the Emily Carr and former teaching fellow at Ontario College of Art and Design Universities.
The project for BLAC emerged amid the pandemic in 2020, “but the vision for a space like this has been long in the making.”
After numerous exhibits and performances at the Surrey Art Gallery, the Polygon Gallery and the PuSh Festival, to name a few, the team at the Black Arts Centre has incorporated as a cooperative after support from Vancity member, Solid State.
BLAC currently holds partnerships with organizations like Ethos Labs (another Vancity member) and plans to host after-school workshops for students. They also want to provide training for emerging Black artists and help them answer financial questions like: How do I do my tax return?
“We want to create a space that encourages reciprocal learning and provides young Black people with the tools and resources to succeed,” says Becky.
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