The celafi25.com collection was born out of my online search in 2014 for evidence of the mammoth and purposeful undertakings by Canadian Artist Network: Black Artist In Action (CAN: BAIA). Its flagship events, the CELAFI 1992 and CELAFI 1997 Conferences and Festivals, were events whose objectives were to unite and showcase the wealth of Canada's National Black community of artist practitioners and their creations. The events were groundbreaking at the time, and surely, there would be a lasting record of these important events and the works they showcased. Sadly, I found little to nothing of this national/international diaspora’s artistic perspective online, and relatively little reference to the hundreds of Canadians and their International counterparts who participated in these two extraordinary events - How could that be?
CELAFI 1997’s theme celebrated Canadian Black Artists’ and their art on the cusp of the 21st century, with all the promise the century ahead offered, so it was devastating in 2014, fourteen years into this new millennium's accelerated digital age, to realize "Black Canadian Artists" were less than a blip on Canada's recorded national historic arts mosaic.
CELAFI's invisibility pricked my soul, because I was privy to the hard work of over 1500 individuals from across the country who laboured on behalf of both CELAFI 1992 and CELAFI 1997, in particular, CAN:BAIA's President - Ayanna Black, whose incredibly dogged determination made these landmark events in Canada's history a reality, and shone much needed light where there was none. “Put this right” was my next thought-cloud. As one of CELAFI 1992’s event producers and CELAFI 1997’s General Manager, I could take on the responsibility to make it so from my own personal archives. “Could” quickly turned to “will” when, as if by magic, community activist/Staples Copy Center Manager Sandra Andrews entered my orbit and offered to digitize my collection and just as unexpectedly Betty (Reynolds-Clarke), a close friend and long-standing “art-culture advocate” and audience participant in both CELAFI events, supplied un-wavering encouragement and her own collection of artifacts.
The impetus to build a CELAFI'25 Archive, a dynamic and ever evolving collection of Black Canadian Artists and their creations then and now, and do so with support from CELAFI 1997’s Alumnus Orla Garriques is driven by our sense of "Loss": Loss of history; Loss of an education/mentorship resource; Loss of community and caused an immense tear in our cultural fabric.“Putting it right” is an act of reconnection and creative healing. The work will be dedicated to Looking Back preserving and honouring the past, and Move Forward documenting the now, and laying the ground for future innovation, experimentation, education and celebrations. This collection of artifacts starts the journey toward that goal
What follows is a historical sketch of my CELAFI journey
As a practicing artist (maskmaker/writer/film+TV producer), management accountant and 'Making Your Art Your Business' workshop designer and facilitator, I continue to be driven, even after 30-plus years, to mentoring fellow artists/clients.
Hence in 1991, I understood the argument for a CELAFI platform that used mentorship as a community-building and preparation tool. That understanding made my recruitment easy and it came via an introduction by an old friend, Howard Matthews, to the persuasive Ayanna Black during their dinner meeting at my family-owned restaurant 'StingRays'. That meeting later evolved into my volunteering and bringing along for the ride many of my business clients, friends, and colleagues. With their support, we produced and staged the Pre-CELAFI'92 celebration event for the publication launch of "VOICES Canadian Writers of African Descent" Editor Ayanna Black, Published by HarperCollins. We staged the CELAFI'92 celebratory set in the street window of Pages Book Store - (then a Toronto Queen Street West institution and destination for Canadian artists). We got CELAFI'92 on to the cover of Now Magazine, and produced, staged and set- dressed CELAFI'92’s Opening Invocation ceremony at Harbourfront. We even created and produced, for CELAFI'92, Toronto's first 'jerk chicken in a pita sandwich', as an overnight emergency stand-in for a no-show Harbourfront food vendor!
The creativity under the spotlight at CELAFI’92 was of such high caliber, and the feedback of participants and audience alike was so positive, I supported CAN:BAIA’s push to maintain the momentum of our accomplishments. In 1992-1993, on behalf of CAN:BAIA, I wrote and published the 'Artist' Proposal Development Seminar Resource Manual' ISBN 0-9696217-1-X (a seminal Artist Skills Resource), and in 1994-1995, with the resource manual as a leave-behind textbook reference, I designed, developed and facilitated for CAN: BAIA, a series of traveling skills development workshops which offered artists across the country (six provinces) information and training in marketing and presentation of their creative output. In each province, I was greeted by black artists who viewed the outreach and workshop content like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It was obvious to us that there was a wide range of artistry in Canada’s provincial communities, with a yearning to connect and a a need for exposure. Later in 1995, the CAN:BAIA board asked me to present them with an evaluation report on the outcome of CELAFI'92, with a programming and production strategy for the realization of CELAFI'97. The insights gained by traveling to provinces other than Ontario and meeting other Black Canadian Artists allowed me to incorporate strategies to address their sense of isolation and invisibility from each other, and their feelings of exclusion from the broader national arts community..
In November 1995 I accepted the role of CELAFI'97 GM, and hit the road once again with another series of traveling skills development workshops - this time with the specific purpose of introducing the up-coming CELAFI'97 Conference and Festival and preparing our far-flung Black-artist communities for participation. The quality of the talent across the country was truly humbling.
CAN: BAIA's National Black Artists' Resource Centre and Slide Registry, created to record the works of Black Canadian artists starting with our visual artists, launched in 1996 as a lead-in to their participation in CELAFI'97 - a task accomplished by sending Artist/Curator Scott Marsden from province to province, with a camera in his knapsack. The registry became a much-used resource for Publishing Houses in search of cover art for their writers’ books, including the acclaimed Austin Clarke’s "Pig Tails 'n' Breadfruit" cover art by Vancouver artist Sherman Jones
Then we launched CELAFI’97. A personal and profound highlight for me in 1997’s incarnation of CELAFI was my meeting with Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon - who arrived in Toronto un-announced and without fanfare as a special surprise gift to her friend, Canadian sculptor Artis Lane, on the major homing-coming exhibition of her sculptures at the Royal Ontario Museum. (Artis Lane's bust of Rosa Parks graces the Smithsonian Institute). She departed just as quickly and as quietly as she came, leaving most Torontonians un-aware she ever visited the city in her lifetime.
CELAFI 1997 was an ambitious undertaking. Many of our aspirations were fulfilled, and shone their light on all, allowing us to experience a true blossoming and the recognition of the Black Canadian Artist. Unfortunately, the cross-Canada links cultivated and forged in 1988 with the promising formation of CAN:BAIA; nourished with the production and presentation of CELAFI 1992; further enhanced with the formation of the 1996 national resource centre and slide registry; followed by the un-precedent exposure of CELAFI 1997, were weakened and fractured when, in 1999, CAN:BAIA ceased operation.
The current contents of the celafi25.com collection are drawn from Marva Ollivierre’s personal records with contributions from Orla Garriques and Betty Reynolds Clarke.The site was created to demonstrate the depth of incredible artistic wealth that awaits discovery by our next generation of artists, cultural workers, and educators, and why we must Look Back and appreciate the achievements of our past as we Move Forward building lost connections.
We encourage you to keep the collection dynamic and evolving by contributing your own memories and/or archive of your personal art practice then and now, so making the invisible visible and our art history vital and connected in all its configurations