Black Placemaking: United Through Heritage

This story was researched and written by Program Coordinator Selma Elkhazin (2023) under the Equity Heritage Initiative made possible by the generous support of our Tours Program Presenting Sponsor, TD Bank Group through the TD Ready Commitment.

Last updated: January 31, 2024.

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Image of roughly a dozen books about Black history on a red and yellow African patterned tablecloth.

Black Placemaking in Toronto

Placemaking takes on many forms, and manifests in different ways and levels across the Black community.

There are multiple definitions of Black placemaking, including institutional initiatives led by Black people who are trained in land-use professions such as Urban Planning, and multi-disciplinary Black people who are trained in land-use with other specializations, operating within the broader landscape of land-use ecology and how place is allocated. There is also the type of grassroots placemaking that happens with groups like Noha Collective, leading fluid memory-making and storytelling. Peripheral to that, there is the kind of Black placemaking that is about the individual having an opportunity to develop a Black sense of place within an organization or community context that is culturally responsive and supportive, like Nia Centre for the Arts with Apanaki Temitayo. Additionally, there is the kind of placemaking that facilitates economic development and entrepreneurialism within the Black community, with initiatives led by individuals like Imani Dominique Busby through “The Gift Shop”.

The following three pieces that are highlighted are focused on the latter three examples, Apanaki Temitayo and Nia Centre for the Arts, Noha Collective and their collaboration putting on an event with Heritage Toronto, and Imani Dominique Busby and “The Gift Shop”.

Three people talking and looking at a map of Toronto that says "Whats Missing?"

What is Placemaking?

The term placemaking takes its origins from the Urban Planning profession.

The placemaking movement was led by Fred Kent beginning in the 1960s. Kent was critical of top-down Urban Planning practices, which impose colonial values onto society and often both neglect and contribute to the problems facing communities in cities. The Urban Planning profession has historically caused systemic harm to the Black community specifically, creating practices and policies that have displaced and oppressed these groups geographically, spatially, economically, politically, and socially.

The key thing to understand about placemaking is that it is created from the bottom-up, meaning it is the community making place for themselves, rather than planners making place for communities. Kent’s approach was to embrace bottom-up practices and centre communities and their values in city decision-making processes. Professional placemakers and urban planners use their knowledge and technical education to engage communities, centre their lived experiences, and learn from community expertise to inform policy recommendations, initiatives, and projects to reform legislation and make systemic change. 

Building on this general placemaking approach largely advanced by Kent, while also applying a more explicit equity, racial justice and cultural lens that predates Kent’s term, Black placemaking specifically has the power to transform and decolonize public spaces for all communities.

A close up of an artistic piece made out of colourful fabric with two people created using layers of fabric.

Apanaki Temitayo and Nia Centre for the Arts

Nia Centre for the Arts is the first professional Black arts centre in Canada.

Nia Centre for the Arts is a culturally responsive institution that supports artists to develop a strong sense of place. Also, with the help of government partners and public funding, the organization has undertaken an important infrastructure project to create a permanent pysical space which is one of the core tenats of Black placemaking. Nia – a Swahili word that means purpose – is located at 524 Oakwood Avenue within the Little Jamaica Community. Its mandate is to “support, showcase, and promote, an appreciation of arts from across the African Diaspora.” One of the ways that this institution does this is by supporting Black artists themselves.

Apanaki Temitayo, who is currently the Artist in Residence at Nia Centre for the Arts is one such example. She is a pansexual fibre artist from Trinidad based in Toronto. She intertwines her artistic identity with Trinidadian heritage and spirituality. She was featured in Room Magazine’s first Woman of Color Issue (2016). Notable exhibitions include Numb at Workman Arts and international acclaim at the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department’s 9th Annual African American Fiber Art Exhibition.

In the following conversation with Apanaki Temitayo, the former artist in residence at the Nia Centre, one can traverse a compelling journey from being the Center for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) 1st Artist in Wellness (2019-2021) to navigating alienation at the AGO, and finding a sense of belonging with the Nia Centre.

Nia Centre for the Arts Website
Image of 6 young Black women sitting and smiling together.

Noha Collective x Heritage Toronto

Noha Collective exemplifies the tangible impact of intagible cultural heritage, such as collective memory exploration and storytelling.

Heritage Toronto, through this project created by Selma Elkhazin, recently co-created an experiential intangible cultural heritage engagement with grassroots Black placemakers Noha Collective. Noha Collective’s mission is to celebrate and showcase the rich artistic and cultural expressions of the African and Caribbean diaspora, both historical and contemporary, through exhibitions and events that bring together Black communities from across the globe. The United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe event included:

  • Open Decks inviting Black DJs
  • Interactive Community Mapping
  • Pop-up Black History Library
  • Heritage Toronto Black History Plaques
  • Vision Board Making
  • Oral History Storytelling
  • Education and archival materials from citizen historian Kathy Grant

The event with Noha Collective was not only an opportunity to explore and celebrate Black placemaking, but insights from activities at the event were used to inform this digital story. The community is what pilots placemaking, and learning from their lived experiences is integral to understanding how Black culture shapes the city.

The Interactive Community Mapping activity revealed that people have unique and shared experiences with spaces pertaining to Black culture across the GTA. From places of historical significance like Central Technical School and a set of apartments at Victoria Park Ave. and York Mills Rd. known as little Guyana in the 90s and 2000s, to beauty supply stores, shopping malls, and whole cultural communities like Little Jamaica, the Black community makes place in rich and dynamic ways in Toronto.

Attendees were asked questions about how their heritage impacts their identity and their relationship with the city, and were encouraged to share these answers with a partner at the event. These responses revealed and confirmed that regardless of origin, one’s intangible and tangible cultural heritage impacts their relationships with and within their environment, and Black placemaking serves as a conduit of empowerment.

Image of a map with cut-out sticky notes with writing indicating Black spaces on the map, attached with multicoloured push pins.
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe attendee
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe event, December 2023
Image of the back of a girl's head looking at photographs on a white wall.
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe attendee
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe event, December 2023
Image of magazines and craft supplies on a table being used to create vision boards. Two people are sitting at the table cutting magazines.
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe attendee
United Through Heritage: Noha’s Tribe event, December 2023
Image of a person taking a photo of an art piece of Prince out of a bin of other art pieces.

Imani Dominique Busby and “The Gift Shop”

Imani Dominique Busby is an ambitious entrepreneur whose practice includes multifaceted curation and visual art.

Dominique Busby’s entrepreneurial pursuits include “The Gift Shop”, an interactive and immersive art gallery curated by Dominique Busby and inspired by the aesthetics of local record stores. Located at Stackt Market from September 23 – January 27th 2024, this pop-up shop will sell prints from over 30 local QTBIPOC artists and creates an environment that is conducive to art exploration and discovery. In addition to advancing her own entrepreneurial pursuits, Dominique Busby is passionate about advancing economic sustainability for Black artists and creatives.

Dominique Busby aims to use her entrepreneurial and curatorial skills to create engaging, interactive, and community-filled spaces that amplify emerging and mid-career artists. Through the creation of public art, exhibition pop-ups, and print publications, she aims to increase access to the arts for all communities. Additionally, through workshops and accessible resources, she aims to provide artists with business, legal, and professional development opportunities.

In the following audio reflection, Imani Dominique Busby explores Black placemaking and “The Gift Shop”.

Imani Dominique Busby’s website
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