History museums launch new program to address lack of representation in stories about Toronto

History museums launch new program to address lack of representation in stories about Toronto-Milenio Stadium-Toronto
A scene from A Revolution of Love, filmed at the Fork York National Historic Site. The city says: ‘A Revolution of Love is a digital short film that follows a young Black woman as she grapples with the histories of her ancestors, the present-day violence ravaging her community, and begins to imagine what her future looks like through dance.’ (Submitted by the City of Toronto)


Toronto’s 10 history museums have launched a new program that aims to address the lack of representation in stories about the city.

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The program, called Awakenings, is a virtual series of art projects by artists who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour. The projects will be released in stages over the next couple of years.

This month, the city will release three online art projects, along with behind-the-scenes discussions called Awakenings Reflections.

In a news release on Monday, the city says the program at the Toronto History Museums, a group of 10 museums owned and operated by the city that aim to bring Toronto’s history to life, is part of its attempts to address anti-Black racism.

The art projects will explore stories that haven’t been told, attempt to awaken new perspectives in viewers and invite members of the public to discuss what they are seeing and feeling in response to the artwork, the city says.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in the release that the city is committed to making investments in BIPOC artists not only to show support of their work but also to deepen awareness of untold stories and to create change.

“The Awakenings program at the Toronto History Museums helps to address the gaps identified in programming and representation,” Tory said.

“The time to invest and create change is now as we work toward confronting and eradicating anti-Black racism and all forms of racism within multiple facets of our city.”

The city said in the release that Toronto History Museums have recognized the need to reassess the way in which they develop, deliver and evaluate their programming.

“In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action in the Museum sector, the Toronto History Museums sites are embracing partnerships that embody Indigenous voices, stories and knowledge into programs, collections management and sites,” the city said.

“The Awakenings program begins to address the lack of representation in the stories of Toronto’s history.”

According to the city, more than 80 per cent of people involved in Awakenings art projects are from Black and Indigenous communities as well as people of colour.

‘Film industry is a very white place still,’ director says

Julien Christian Lutz, best known as Director X, said Awakenings will present a more authentic version of Toronto’s history.

“We were always here… Black, Indigenous, multi-generational immigrants and people of colour were always here as were the heritage sites; this will be a true awakening to Toronto’s unseen history and our stories that need to be told,” he said.

A scene from Reverence by Teaunna Gray-Milenio Stadium-Toronto
A scene from Reverence by Teaunna Gray. The city says: ‘While digging deep into the city’s past, Gray’s Reverence challenges what findings are held in reverence. For three days in September 1851, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto was the site of the largest anti-slavery convention in history. On the heels of slavery being abolished in the states and 20 years after its end in Canada, Black leaders and educators joined to discuss one question: ‘What is the future of Black People in North America?” (Submitted by the City of Toronto)

He added that there is talent in Toronto that needs to be cultivated and young Black people don’t get the opportunities they should because the doors are often closed.

“The film industry is a very white place still,” he said.

“Some of the whitest rooms I’ve ever been in are on Canadian sets, Canadian advertising agencies, Canadian television shows. It’s frankly shameful how much they have excluded people of colour.”

Lutz says the situation is different in the music industry. Young people of colour have put Toronto on the map, he says, pointing to Drake and The Weeknd as examples.

“You walk in these boardrooms, and none of that is there. None of the diversity you see on the streets is in the boardroom. The Canadian creative industry should be ashamed of how white these spaces are in a city like this. We need to do the work to change that.”

Esie Mensah, a choreographer, agreed, saying: “Our stories have been left out of the global narrative for centuries. We must move forward by healing and empowering our truths in order to obtain a true sense of equity and most of all unity.”

The launch of Awakenings is a “tremendous day” for the city, according to Cheryl Blackman, director of museums and heritage services for the city.

“It means the world to me and to my colleagues and our partners that Awakenings has come to life for Toronto and that we can begin a journey and a dialogue towards including voices of all community members in our spaces,” she said.

Toronto Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, who represents Scarborough Centre, said Awakenings will bring new perspectives through what he called “diversity-based” art forms.

“The Museums are working with creative people from Black, Indigenous, people of colour, new Canadian and multi-generational immigrant communities to reshape cultural perspectives, encourage self-reflection and promote accountability,” Thompson said.

A scene from A Portrait in Red-Milenio Stadium-Toronto
A scene from A Portrait in Red. The city says: ‘Reflecting on the history and the geography of Todmorden Mills, this experimental short film by Alex Lazarowich explores the relocation of the Don Valley River and the impact of land extraction on the Indigenous peoples of Tkaronto and Kanata.’ (Submitted by the City of Toronto)

The three online art projects released this month are: A Revolution of LoveBehind the Curtain and We Were Always Here.

‘A Revolution of Love’

The city says A Revolution of Love is “a digital short film that follows a young Black woman as she grapples with the histories of her ancestors and the present-day violence ravaging her community, and begins to imagine what her future looks like through dance.”

It was filmed at the Fort York National Historic Site.

‘Behind the Curtain’

Behind the Curtain is a conversation with Roger Mooking, a Food Network host, restaurateur, author and award-winning recording artist.

The city says: “Mooking reflects on the effects of racism on mental health and shares his experiences growing up in the Canadian Prairies and working in the American South.” He speaks with hip-hop recording artist and broadcaster Shad and producer and multidisciplinary artist Byron Kent Wong.

Part one launches on Monday and part two launches on Jan. 12, 2021. It was filmed at Montgomery’s Inn.

‘We Were Always Here’

We Were Always Here sees director Lutz mentoring 10 emerging Toronto-based BlPOC filmmakers to present short films that aim to “disrupt, discover and display colonial narratives,” the city says.

Each filmmaker focuses on one Toronto history museum to bring to light untold stories. Five of these films will launch this month.

Toronto History Museums include Colborne Lodge, Fort York National Historic Site, Gibson House Museum, Mackenzie House, Market Gallery, Montgomery’s Inn, Scarborough Museum, Spadina Museum, Todmorden Mills and Zion Schoolhouse.

In July, the city earmarked more than $1.2 million in cultural and economic funds to confront anti-Black racism.

The city said its Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and its economic development and culture division have been developing opportunities, which including programs such as Awakenings, to increase support for Toronto’s Black creative communities.


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