TORONTO (October 16, 2020) — This afternoon, Nia Centre For The Arts unveiled plans for their $7.5-million capital project which will transform their 14,000 square foot facility into Canada’s first multi-disciplinary professional arts space dedicated to showcasing art from the Afro-diaspora.
Located at 524 Oakwood Avenue, just south of Eglinton Avenue West, Nia Centre will house a range of multimedia learning spaces, a performance area, artist studio, co-working space, and a safe, culturally affirming place for Black youth to explore their creative talents. These upgrades to the facility and location in a historic neighbourhood will position Nia Centre as a key destination for Toronto’s Black communities to gather and for Black artists to showcase the full range of their creative expression to audiences year-round.
“Today we start building a legacy for our community. A consistent space to support Black artists and youth — nurturing their talents and sharing their work with new audiences,” said Alica Hall, Executive Director, Nia Centre. “The Centre ensures that Black art and culture is available year-round. Through exhibitions and public programming rooted in modern and traditional Black expression, we will expand our collective understanding of the Black Canadian experience.”
Hosted by Alica Hall, who was joined by supporters and major funders to celebrate the occasion, including Adam Vaughan, MP of Spadina—Fort York, John Tory, Mayor of the City of Toronto, and Nation Cheong, Vice President, Community Opportunities & Mobilization, United Way Toronto and York Region, as well as community members who tuned in through a livestream.
“The building of the Nia Centre for the Arts – Canada’s First Black arts centre – is not only momentous for this city and country, but it is a support system that is much needed. I am pleased that the city is able to support the Nia Centre in bringing this new building to fruition,” said Mayor John Tory. “Through its expansion, the Nia Centre, with the support of the City, will further the work and reach of Black artists and ensure that the sector is not only thriving but that opportunities are provided to Black Torontonians. I want to thank Alica and the Nia Centre for the Arts for their persistence and commitment to bringing this project to life and for seeing it through.”
By Fall 2021, Nia Centre will expand their in-house programs, which range from artist residencies, film screenings, camps, youth engagement, and much more. These programs will take place inside a facility designed for learning, collaboration, and showcasing Black art.
Once renovated, Nia Centre will have expanded capacity to present music, dance, photography, film and theatre. Construction highlights include:
- a multi-purpose performance space with capacity for over 100 seated guests
- multimedia, collaborative artistic spaces including a digital media lab, a recording studio, as well as a collaborative artist studio space
- a youth hub, and private, rentable event space with outdoor recreational use
- a board room and co-working spaces
- hallway galleries on 2 levels
The Centre has also launched their capital campaign to raise $1.5 million which will go towards completing the renovation and purchasing equipment.
“On behalf of the Youth Challenge Fund Partnership Committee, we are elated at this ground-breaking. It has been a labour of love and dedication for young Black leaders to reach this milestone. This space would not be possible without United Way's partnership with the City of Toronto and dedicated community leaders,” said Nation Cheong. “We look forward to experiencing the renovated facility filled with young Black artists learning, creating, and strengthening community.”
Cultural and Geographic Significance:
Nia Centre is located in the heart of the Oakwood-Vaughan Village, steps from the Eglinton West area, which has officially been designated as “Little Jamaica”. With a rich artistic history, this Caribbean neighbourhood is in the midst of its own dramatic transformation based on the installation of the Eglinton Crosstown, and overall community development. Nia Centre’s milestone construction intersects with important and timely investments which will benefit the local Black community in a generational way, promoting positive development for youth, and offering a safe, welcome space for Black artists.
Before Nia Centre opened in 2015, the space, which opened in the early 1920s, has served as a banquet hall, bowling alley, nightclub and Toronto Public Health office. Notable for the Black community, 524 Oakwood was known as Isabella’s Ballroom, which hosted reggae, calypso, or soca shows in the 70s and 80s.