Black History Month is in full swing. For people like me, it’s a time of reflection, immense joy, and celebration of my roots and the past and present accomplishments of Black individuals. Emphasis on the present, though! While it’s vital to acknowledge the abundance of past achievements and contributions made by African and Caribbean individuals, it is equally essential to celebrate history in the making, accomplishments, and talent in the here and now.
This month is not only for us; it’s meant for everyone of all racial backgrounds to learn about and appreciate the rich African and Caribbean culture among us. It’s a time of honouring and uplifting Black individuals and cultivating healthy conversations around anti-racism. Most importantly, it is a time of genuine unity.
One of the best ways to commemorate Black History Month is to actively spotlight and provide a stage for Black individuals in our community to show off their excellence. Talent exists right in our backyard and deserves proper praise. Darren Jordan, MacEwan University graduate and curator/producer of 5 Artists 1 Love (5A1L), is doing just that.
Celebrating its 17th anniversary this month, 5 Artists 1 Love is an organization that promotes and uplifts the diverse talents of Black creatives in Edmonton under the canopy of one unified love for arts of all mediums. Since 2006, the organization has brought artistic skills of all mediums under one roof during their annual event, which is a celebration of art, music, dance, and poetry, highlighting five artistic individuals, including Jordan. Before the birth of 5A1L, it was rare to stumble upon an event where art and music made by Black people was so proudly — and loudly — celebrated and displayed. “It was born out of what I felt was a void,” says Jordan. “I didn’t feel that (something like this) was going on.”
Jordan has always been a visual artist and was an avid painter in the early 2000s. As he worked on his craft, he noticed the deep lack of representation in the Edmonton arts community. “Anybody who knew me knew I always griped and complained that I didn’t see any representation of Black artists in the city,” he says. “I saw that particularly problematic in February because it’s an opportunity to celebrate what we do, who we are, our history, and our accomplishments in the present day.”
Eventually, Jordan’s discontentment got all the way to 124 St. Tu Gallery owner Alex Patterson. The Tu Gallery — now home to Duchess Bakery — was a studio space Patterson had for emerging artists to utilize. Jordan and Patterson connected. “Patterson invited me to do a show for Black History Month,” Jordan recollects. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to see if there is a community of Black artists in Edmonton.” There was.
They put out a call for artists to participate in the art show that would later prove to be a huge success. The criteria for being an artist in the show was that you had to be Black and live in the Edmonton area. The aim was to provide local artists an opportunity to showcase their craft.
“I wanted to make sure that people were connected and that people had the opportunity to learn how to work with a gallery,” he says. “I wanted (the show) to be accessible so that people who would never venture into a gallery would see this event and feel comfortable; it wouldn’t be this sense that they don’t belong.” Every 20 minutes during the art show, there is some form of live entertainment, from a solo saxophone player to a choir to spoken word. Music plays from their curated playlist between the performances to keep the good vibes going.
Although Jordan has a core group of diverse artists who display their work, the goal is to provide a platform for emerging artists to shine. “The Wall,” which is a collection of submitted art works, was created to encourage community engagement in the show. The art is based on a different theme each year. This year’s theme is “Some Of My Best Friends Are Black.” Through this theme, Jordan hopes to answer the question: Is it a simple statement of fact or racially charged language? The audience experiences the answer through the artist’s interpretation.
Thanks to 5 Artists 1 Love, for 17 years, Black individuals living in Edmonton have had a place to gather under one unified love for culturally diverse art. “Every year, I have the opportunity to hear how people didn’t realize that there was such a community that was so diverse in their own backyard,” Jordan exclaims.
Opportunities amidst uncertainty
Established in 2010, the music concert is an addition to 5A1L that provides a stage for the diverse talent the Black community of Edmonton has to offer. During their last show before the pandemic hit, the CEO of the Winspear Centre and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Annemarie Petrov, paid Jordan and his team of artists a visit.
“She saw the elation and the commitment of the beautiful people that were involved in that project, and afterward, she extended the invitation to having us at the Winspear Centre for the next year,” Jordan explains. “We were poised to have this event in the next year and then COVID hit, so that dream got shelved.”
Fortunately, having forged this relationship with the Winspear Centre, the venue hosted 5A1L for their 2021 music concert. The restrictions were still very strict, so everything was pre-filmed and virtual. In May of 2022, 5A1L finally had the chance to throw its annual music concert in person. The show was fittingly called “Reunited.” “People were just really glad to be back,” Jordan recounts. “It was the first time we’d ever done a show outside of Black History Month.”
We need to hold space for these types of events outside of Black History Month. We should be gathering under one roof more than once a year. We should have Black talent, accomplishments, and stories on display for longer than that. We deserve more than that. “We’re Black every day,” says Jordan. “Not just on the shortest and coldest month of the year.”
Tell your own story, or someone else will tell it for you.
During Black History Month, the common themes are often “struggle” and “trauma.” Many corporate Black History Month events (those organized by non Black people) focus primarily on slavery and the hardships of my ancestors. While it is crucial to our healing in Canada as a “cultural mosaic” to contemplate and acknowledge the role the past plays in shaping our present, it is just as important to witness history in the making by amplifying Black talent and voices in the now.
“That trauma is definitely part of our story. Slavery happened, and Jim Crow happened. Struggle and trauma is real and is part of who we are, but it’s not all we are,” says Jordan. “There’s so much more there. Centuries before slavery, we were kings, queens, and masters of industry.”
Through his work with 5A1L, Jordan strives to create and nurture a space where Black artists feel comfortable and empowered to tell their own stories instead of it being told for them. The danger of letting someone else tell your story is it won’t always be accurate. There’s often an agenda attached, and the storytelling is no longer for the Black community but it serves to fulfill a quota, minimize guilty consciences, or satisfy another group’s saviour complex. Jordan encourages Black people in Edmonton and surrounding communities to take charge of their own stories. Through 5A1L, he gives the Black community the opportunity to do exactly that.
Jordan hopes to hold space for more cultural events outside of the month of February, but he has received pushback from venues on holding these types of events that celebrate Black culture outside of the “typical” time frame in February. Our Blackness and all it encompasses cannot be confined and reduced to a single month.
“It’s easy to relegate a time or a date to acknowledge the accomplishments of people that have been historically oppressed and having the experience of having their stories reduced, altered, or erased,” he expresses. “There’s value in having a date set aside for that. I think as a community, it’s incumbent on us to keep that narrative moving forward throughout the year.”
It is so imperative that all minority groups are afforded the time throughout the year to take up space and speak their truth. Only when Edmonton venues begin to recognize this as a fact can this city claim to be a diverse cultural mosaic that cares for all of its citizens. No more performative inclusivity bullshit.
Jordan dedicates his work to allowing Black individuals, whose voices and bodies have been historically and presently oppressed, to take up space inside and outside Black History Month. “If you’re not telling your stories, somebody else will,” he says. “I don’t want to be confined to a particular month.”
What does the Black community of Edmonton have to say about Black joy?
I took to Instagram and asked my Black followers what Black joy meant to them. To some, Black joy means being able to exist in their skin without fear of condemnation. To others, it feels like a space to exist without explanation and anywhere where they can be embraced unconditionally. Others define Black joy as a feeling of belonging and being enough by simply being themselves.
Black joy is a revolutionary act in a world that works to maintain systems of oppression that keep marginalized groups silenced and low on the socioeconomic and political hierarchy. Black joy is resistance to the limiting stereotypes of Black struggle and pain perpetuated by systems and groups who uphold and practice white supremacy. The term “Black joy” is not meant to minimize other forms of joy experienced by other groups. Rather, its intended purpose is to make an empowering and safe space for joy and self-expression, no matter the existence of historical and present discrimination against them.
5 Artists 1 Love is hosting their annual all-black wear gallery affair on Feb. 4, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Art Gallery of Alberta. The music show is in the works and is expected to take place sometime in June as a recognition and celebration of Juneteenth (Emancipation Day in the U.S.).
Jordan’s ultimate goal for 5 artists 1 Love is to make it a sustainable, long-anticipated, and staple event in Edmonton. Recently, Jordan was asked to sit on the board of directors for the Winspear Centre and Edmonton Symphony Society. “This potentially puts me in a position where I can open up doors and opportunities for diversity and inclusion on a larger scale,” he explains.
5 Artists 1 Love looks forward to future collaborations with one of their sponsors, the Edmonton Arts Council, in throwing fun and culture-infused events for the city.
How can MacEwan nurture a healthy space for Black students all year round? This can be done by cultivating physical safe spaces in accessible locations on campus for students of colour to experience a welcoming community of people who look like them. This safe space would give them the opportunity to debrief and build reliable connections with other students of colour.
Don’t let this month go by without learning something new about Black culture. Read, Google, or listen to podcasts. Learn about it until you no longer fear it. Better yet, actually attend a cultural event like 5 artists 1 Love to be in a space full of Black excellence. Know that being anti-racist does not just mean “not being racist” but radically being against racism in everything you do. This takes a lot of unlearning of subconscious biases and stereotyping. This is an especially crucial mindset to nurture as students in a racially diverse educational institution. Choosing love, appreciation, and empathy over fear will lead us toward a path of healing and a better understanding of each other in the long haul.
Why attend this year’s art 5 Artists 1 Love art show? Jordan says it best: “There’s free entertainment, refreshments, a very unique and infectious vibe with Black excellence on parade.”
The submission date to be a part of The Wall 2023 has passed, but for future submissions, email email@example.com. Visit 5artists1love.com for more information about tickets, upcoming events, and this year’s artists.
No comment yet, add your voice below!