How five artists plan to revive culture in Toronto
Nearly two years after the pandemic put an end to live performance and artistic and cultural projects of all kinds, five artists are delighted to land a six-month residency with Luminato.
The arts and culture festival, which returns to the in-person experience June 9-19, offers its new residents the opportunity to collaborate with other artists and explore their interests.
For some it is a chance to develop new projects, for others a timely lifeline after a long period of financial difficulties.
Ansley Simpson, an Aboriginal singer-songwriter from Alderville First Nation, calls the residency a “unique opportunity.”
“To have a residency program in the city where I live that allows me to take care of my daughter, that actually pays my bills, and that’s in my traditional territory as an Indigenous person, I really couldn’t ask for more. ,” Simpson said. “There were a lot of tears when I found out I had the spot, good tears.”
After the release of his debut album in 2018, work in the form of live performance with his band came to a shuddering halt. But Simpson used the time to take a long break and work at a studio producing long-form soundtracks as well as film scores.
“The performance brings a lot of joy and fun, but it’s also quite stressful and exhausting. The amount of work it takes to get your band ready, get yourself ready, get on stage, and keep that energy in the space is truly exhausting. What I learned initially (during the pandemic) was that I was exhausted and needed a deep rest,” she said.
Simpson’s next album, She Fell From the Sky – delayed by COVID – comes out in May, with the return to live performance.
“I miss my band, I miss playing and getting feedback from the public. So I’m looking forward to that. Playing outside is where I feel most comfortable,” he said. she stated.
She plans to put the coming months to good use.
“I hope I can afford to be an actual artist without the financial worries weighing me down. So I can go out and explore the city with my sound recording equipment. Six months doesn’t seem like a long time, but it’s “is a luxurious time for an artist. I don’t know many people who have the opportunity to immerse themselves and work on their passion projects.”
Costume designer Candice Dixon grew up in Scarborough and for her and her family, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly known as Caribana, was a joyful annual summer event.
“Carnival has always been a really big thing for me, going with my grandma every year, she was always really excited about it,” Dixon said.
But it wasn’t until after many years of studying fashion and working in the corporate world that Dixon decided to return to her roots and become a full-time costume designer and carnival practitioner.
“I ended up working at a company for a long time, but I never really felt connected to it. I worked for a huge company. There were 3,000 people in the company, and I was probably one of about 20 black people working there, so I never really felt like I belonged,” Dixon recalled.
Dixon said she “fallen” into costume design in 2010 and started her own company, SugaCayne.
” I had never thought about it. I always went to Carnival and loved it, but I never thought it was something I could actually do. I remember that first year in mas camp, where we design and produce the costumes, and the whole community comes in and you just become part of the fabric of the community. I fell where I belong and who I am. I just fell in love with it from there,” Dixon said.
When the pandemic hit, she had to postpone a plan to debut with a band in the carnival parade and find another job to make ends meet.
“It was tough, it put me in a dark place,” said Dixon, who has taken her art to events in Chicago, Miami, Trinidad and elsewhere.
Dixon said the residency gives him “a chance to have a gig and be with creatives again and an opportunity to connect. It’s been so hard to make connections over the past two years.
“Collaborating is always something that means a lot to me. I don’t do the art that I do in a silo. I work with groups of people and we bounce (ideas) off each other. I am so grateful for that,” she said.
For Lisa Pijuan-Nomura of Hamilton, a queer multidisciplinary artist whose interests include storytelling, live performance using movement and sound, and collage art – using vintage materials -.
When the pandemic hit, Pijuan-Nomura was in the hospital recovering from surgery.
“All my work, which is art and performance, disappeared overnight. We kept thinking it was going to be a month, oh it’s going to be three months. Suddenly I realized that I had to pivot. The thing that I learned was that we can do hard things,” she said.
That meant creating a website for the artist (who says she’s not tech-savvy), hosting online arts and crafts shows and art shows for Mighty Braves, a group that she founded, which sells the artwork of young people aged 8 to 18, and even teaches classes online.
“I’m able to do things I never thought I could do. You just keep going,” Piguan-Nomura said, adding that she’s developed a newfound respect for the digital world, including Zoom.
“A lot of people talk about Zoom fatigue. I’m also aware that all of these Zoom events have allowed people to attend events they might not have been able to attend. Even before the pandemic, it was obvious to me that there are people who aren’t at the table who should be at the table. As I get older, I really want to support people of my generation,” said Piguan-Nomura, 50.
As for the residency: “A six-month concert, what a gift! Having six months of support from Luminato is actually life changing. Working together with the Luminato team and the other artists is a gift,” she said.
Adeyemi Adegbesan started making art again ten years ago, deciding to give up his career as a commercial photographer about five years ago to become a full-time artist focused on creating digital art and painting, especially the portrait.
“I had started to feel a bit exhausted in that I didn’t feel like I could really express the ideas and talk about the things I wanted to discuss through this work (the photography). I just decided to re-embrace all the things that excited and inspired me as a kid,” Adegbesan said, citing black culture, comics, fantasy and sports.
“A lot of these things had no place in what I was doing as a commercial photographer,” he added.
For Adegbesan, the pandemic has fueled his innate desire to be “quiet and off the radar”.
“I guess the pandemic gave me a little more time to reflect. It relieved a bit of the pressure to engage and be visible. As an artist, there’s a lot of pressure to be visible and accessible all the time,” he said.
And while Adegbesan’s art – he is entirely self-taught – has begun to provide him with a decent income, the residency presents a chance to mingle with other artists.
“It’s exciting because I see it as an opportunity to learn and expand my horizons. It’s really cool because as an artist, your main goal is to earn an income. Thus, many elements of personal development can be deprioritized. You don’t necessarily have time to step back to expand your knowledge base or try to learn new things,” he said.
As an artist, Adegbesan also wants to make her voice heard on behalf of the black community, those who have struggled to find a place in the world of the arts.
“It’s been a challenge as a black artist, especially when I was just starting out. I haven’t seen a lot of representation in the arts institutions in the city for artists like me. It’s been a challenge to find opportunities to mentorship and people to offer advice and help,” Adegbesan said.
“Now I’m in a position where my practice is continuous and self-sustaining, I want to be able to create opportunities for young black artists who come forward,” added.
Viv Moore, a British immigrant, has been studying dance and movement since she started ballet at the age of 4. She has since studied jazz, tap, modern as well as other more exotic forms like butoh – a form of Japanese dance – along with stage combat, including learning to use a whip and a sword.
“I’ve been really, really eclectic in my creative choices. People can’t stick to me and I like that. I like challenges, I like looking for different ways to improve my movement vocabulary,” Moore said.
“Is it difficult to earn a living as an artist? It’s not difficult, I think it’s practically impossible. I cleaned toilets, I served tables, I erected scaffolding. I’ve done loads and loads of different things while doing gigs. Creativity never stops,” she said.
She performed around the world, worked as a choreographer and taught dance and movement at Humber College for 36 years before retiring last year, fed up with trying to teach via ZOOM.
“Those students were amazing, but how can you see what someone’s body is doing in that tiny little box? Bless their hearts. I loved teaching,” she said.
For Moore, a residency at Luminato is “gold.”
“I’m so, so grateful to be good at this. I could cry, it’s such an opportunity. In my 36 years teaching at Humber, I’ve never had an offer of more than four months. They (only) do four-month deals,” she said.
“The staff are so supportive. I feel like I can just lay down instead of being in this tiny little place I’ve been to. They said ‘dream big’ so I asked to meet Stevie Wonder,” she laughed.
Moore has only recently become comfortable disclosing her age and is determined to lend her voice and talents to create a better understanding of how society often makes older people feel “invisible.”
“I think it’s a rather aging society, especially for women. I realized several months ago that I wanted to talk about so many things but it means saying a date. So I thought oh shit, I’m just gonna come out and say it and it feels good. So I’m 70,” Moore said.
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