CELAFI: A BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Canadian Artists Network: Black Artists in Action (CAN:BAIA) was a national, multi-disciplinary organization representing black artists in Canada. In 1988 a group of artists, including Ayanna Black, Glace W. Lawrence, Marva Jackson, Karen Tyrell, David Zapparoli, Adrienne Shadd, Charles Gray, Cameron Bailey, Hazel Da Breo, Chloe Onari, Janis Bragman, Errol Nazareth and Yasmin Newson with the advice and support of art patron, businessman Vernon Eccles came together with a vision to provide information, advocacy and education for African Canadian artists in all disciplines. In the fall of 1990, CAN:BAIA was incorporated as a non-profit organization, with a board of directors and executive committee drawn from representatives across the country. Funding was sought and received from Canada Council, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Ontario Ministry of Culture, Citizenship and Recreation, and the Toronto Arts Council, as well as other agencies and art patrons. Membership grew to include professional artists, cultural workers, curators, art educators and art enthusiasts.
Early CAN:BAIA projects included literary readings and visual arts exhibitions. In 1992, CAN:BAIA coordinated its first major undertaking, a six-day international, multi-disciplinary conference and festival, CELAFI '92.
CELAFI '92 (July 7 - 12), hosted by Toronto's Harbourfront Centre for the Arts with the theme 'Celebrating African Identity: Strategies of Empowerment, Affirmation and Discovery was an un-precedence undertaking which had Canadian Black Artists stand shoulder to shoulder with their international counterparts. Among the participating Canadian Artists were writers Austin Clarke, Cecil Foster and Lawrence Hill. The success of CELAFI '92, which included a tribute to the international filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, and the Harper Collins publication of "Voices" a collection of writings by 15 of Canada's Black writers, edited by Ayanna Black led, five years later to CELAFI '97.
In 1994-1995, CAN:BAIA presented a series of traveling skills development workshops, designed and facilitated by Marva Ollivierre, which offered artists across the country information and training in marketing and presentation of their creative output. The workshops were presented in six provinces. This led to the annual event 'Pelekeana', directed by Len Henry and staged in Toronto and Vancouver, featuring art exhibitions, performances and panel discussions. Another annual event was 'Dance Immersion', directed by Vivine Scarlett and showcasing African Canadian dance artists at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. In 1996, Marva Ollivierre on-behalf of CAN:BAIA initiated the launch of a National Black Artists' Resource Centre and Slide Registry, to record and inventory the works of African Canadian artists, a prelude to CELAFI '97.
CELAFI '97 (July 9 - 13) a multi-venue, international event with the theme 'Celebrating African Identity: Entering the Millennium', provided a greater and even more expansive opportunity for African Canadian artists from across Canada to receive national and international exposure - participating artists from across the country and the international diaspora numbered in the hundreds and audience in the thousands. For these artists and audiences CELAFI '97 city wide events established many important first including: the first exhibitions of works by African Canadian artists featured in the world renown Art Gallery Of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum; the first and only visit to Canada by Rosa Parks, America's Icon and Civil Rights Leader; the first staged reading of “Beatrice Chancy" a new play by the lauded, poet, novelist and playwright George Elliott Clarke; and the international publication of Revue Noire-African Canada - the first bi-lingual, multi-disciplinary, comprehensive and national documentation of African Canada arts and artists at the cusp of the 21st century.
In 1999, CAN:BAIA, a casualty of diminished public funding, ceased operations. The organization records are now housed in the historical records of Canada's National Archives.
CELAFI '25 - THE LEGACY
As Canada commemorates 150 years of Confederation, CELAFI'25 Online, with its comprehensive national archive, creates an accessible resource that permanently imprints on the public record the cultural and artistic body of work contributed by Black Canadians as they neared the 21st century and built a platform on which other artists can thrive.
Twenty-five years later, the CAN:BAIA / CELAFI impact is still being manifested. It has opened doors, served-up inspiration, created pathways for individual CELAFI participants to build art careers, and projects like SuiteLife Arts For Youth & Dance Immersion that were piloted by CAN:BAIA and CELAFI have grown into robust, indispensable creative resources and building blocks within the Canadian arts community.