Community Empowerment in Action: Collaborative transformation to amplify the Black Artist community in Toronto

Sun Park Phoenix

Catalyst Voices and the Black Arts Project Program


Catalyst Voices is a monthly convening presented by Voice of Purpose for Roundtable and Artist Circle participants across the Community Arts sector to connect, collaborate, and progress together more intentionally. The first gathering hosted on February 24th 2022  featured Timaj Garad, a diasporic Ethiopian-Canadian artist, artist educator, creative consultant, and EADLE participant from our Arts Funder roundtable.  In this gathering of Catalyst Voices, Timaj shared her experiences spearheading the Black Arts Project Program offered by the Toronto Arts Council, as well as her insights about challenging systemic barriers through creative approaches to stewarding access for artists of colour.

Here are our top 3 key takeaways from the session:

Takeaway # 1: Community & Sector transformation is a collaborative process

In response to the need for more equitable and accessible approaches to community arts funding for Black artists, the Black Arts Project Program (launched in July of 2021) was created in direct collaboration with Black artists through a collective visioning process. 

Timaj and her team not only conducted environmental scans of research studies and initiatives that already exist for Black artists across the sector, such as the Black Arts Funding for a Black Arts Future: Recommendations for Toronto Arts Council; but they also conducted focus groups that provided Black artists with the opportunity to expand on their thoughts around the needs of Black artists in Toronto, as well as have a direct hand in program design and development. 

The Black Arts Project is a great example of a program that has the capacity to be a catalyst for transforming communities and the community arts sector; however, what should be highlighted here is the collective effort of many key stakeholders, the most important being Black artist community members themselves. 

The collective process undertaken by Timaj and her team is a reminder that Community and Sector transformation is not an individual endeavor, but a collaborative process that goes beyond a single person or organization.

Takeaway #2: Perfection is not a requirement for transformation

Perfectionism can stifle progress; it is often one of the things that stops us from starting or following through with an idea or project. In this session, Timaj provided that the Black Arts Project program was not perfect. For example, when implemented she recognized that there are access barriers for blind and/or neurodiverse applicants using their online grant application system. However, she reminds us that improvements can always be made over time; one example being the creation of an access committee to review accessibility processes.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. We always place pressure to do it perfectly the first time, but [The Black Arts Project] is a living program where changes can be made later on”

Timaj Garad.

The point of program implementation isn’t to develop the perfect program but to provide support with the power and resources that we currently have.

We have to remember that the goal of the catalyst should always be progress rather than perfection. 

Takeaway #3: We always have power and agency to empower others and address systemic barriers

When we think about what it means to empower others, we understand the approach taken by Timaj to be the true meaning of the word ‘empowerment’. Oftentimes, empowerment is seen as something that is given from one person to another; however, TRUE empowerment is not something that someone can bestow onto others, whether that be an individual or community.  

Empowerment is something that comes from inside one’s self, and often time requires us to have access to the tools that allow us to step into the fullness of our being. When we have privilege and power, its important for us to leverage it to provide the tools, opportunities and knowledge that allows others to journey down their own path of transformation and empowerment. 

This project is a great example of how an individual or group of individuals can empower others, more specifically Black artists in Toronto, by not only providing a platform for their art but a space for their voices to be heard and amplified throughout the process of development.

As agents of change, when we are rooted and seated in our own power and privilege, we can truly empower others and transform the world around us.


You can watch the recording of our Catalyst Voices session with Timaj, below or by visiting our Youtube Channel here