d’bi.young anitafrika, Selected as 1 of 18 Fellows in The Inaugural Banff Centre/ ‘TAC Cultural Leaders Lab’


d'bi smile by wade hudson high res


d’bi.young anitafrika has been selected as 1 of 18 Fellows in the inaugural Banff Centre/ ‘TAC Cultural Leaders Lab.’ The news comes on the heels of d’bi. starting up her brand new social enterprise The Sorplusi Institute which focuses on national and global leadership training using The Sorplusi Method, a compliment to Watah Theatre Institute (aka The Watah School) where she offers year-long tuition-free performance training to emerging Black and racialized artists. Read below for more details…


FEBRUARY 24, 2015      


Toronto – Toronto Arts Council (TAC) is pleased to announce the 18 inaugural Fellows selected to participate in the 2015 TAC Cultural Leaders Lab.  The program is a unique partnership with The Banff Centre that will kick off with a one-week intensive leadership retreat in Banff, followed by scheduled programmed activities in Toronto.  The goal of the program is to mobilize Toronto’s extensive pool of arts leadership talent to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the sector, and the City.

The inaugural cohort is an accomplished and diverse group of leaders from across arts disciplines whose experiences range from leadership roles in large institutions and festivals to grassroots and local initiatives.  Collectively, their work addresses some of Toronto’s key challenges, using arts strategies and approaches to increase civic-engagement, animate public spaces and create a more inclusive, accessible and culturally rich society.

The knowledge and creativity of Toronto’s arts leaders can be harnessed for the benefit of the entire City,” says Claire Hopkinson, Toronto Arts Council’s Director and CEO.  “Over a three- to five-year period, TAC’s Cultural Leaders Lab will have seeded a powerful force for change across the various sectors of Toronto’s arts and culture industry, and across the city. I look forward to seeing this innovation at work.”

TAC and The Banff Centre are developing the Leaders Lab program over the next three to five years in response to the need for increased opportunities for cross-sector learning and collaboration among Toronto’s arts and cultural leaders.  TAC and The Banff Centre are designing a hands-on program that provides current leaders with the motivation and tools needed to redefine leadership and its role in building the creative city.  The program will create the space for a deep examination of Toronto’s arts ecology, and the refinement of the skill sets needed to support a vibrant future for the arts, and for our City.

“We are incredibly excited by the possibilities for the inaugural Leaders Lab, given the extraordinary calibre and range of experiences represented by this group of Fellows,” says Jerry McGrath, Director of Innovation and Program Partnerships at The Banff Centre. “A strong and innovative arts sector gives us more choice and diversity in creative and cultural product and new ideas to fuel economic and social impact.”

The program will kick off in April 2015 with an intensive one-week retreat at The Banff Centre, followed by bi-monthly events in Toronto in collaboration with local partners over a one-year period.  The deadline for applications to participate in Year Two of the TAC Cultural Leaders Lab is October 15th, 2015.

2015 TAC Leaders Lab Fellows:

  • David Abel, Executive Director, Art of Time Ensemble
  • Mahlikah Awe:ri, Independent Artist/Educator, Music and Literary Arts
  • Franco Boni, General and Artistic Director, The Theatre Centre
  • Menon Dwarka, Managing Director, 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media + Education
  • Liz Forsberg, Managing Director, Art Starts
  • Brendan Healy, Artistic Director, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
  • Christine Jackson, Program Coordinator for the Arts, Toronto District School Board (TDSB)
  • Heather Kelly, Director of Marketing, Performing Arts Division, The Royal Conservatory of Music
  • Natalie Lue, Vice President, Production and Visitor Experience, TIFF
  • Joel McConvey, Independent Artist, Media Arts and Literary Arts
  • Scott Miller Berry, Executive Director, Images Festival
  • Natasha Mytnowych, Managing Director, Artscape Youngplace
  • Jacob Niedzwiecki, Independent Artist, Dance, Media Arts
  • Phyllis Novak, Artistic Director, SKETCH Working Arts
  • Kevin A. Ormsby, Artistic Director, KasheDance
  • Tim Whalley, Associate Director, Government Relations and Community Engagement, Luminato
  • Gein Wong, Independent Artist, Interdisciplinary
  • d’bi young anitafrika, Independent Artist/Educator, Transdisciplinary

Kerry Swanson, Partnerships and Evaluation Officer, Toronto Arts Council
416 392 6802 x209         kerry@torontoartscouncil.org


d’bi.young anitafrika shines…

d'bi.young anitafrika with words


d’bi.young anitafrika — artist & humanist
Canadian Poet of Honor d’bi.young anitafrika was recently featured as a top ten poet on CNN and awarded a Vital People accolade by Toronto Foundation for her relentless commitment to social justice through the arts. Founder & Artistic Director of Canada’s Watah Theatre Institute where she hosts artist-residencies for emerging to established practitioners, anitafrika is an internationally celebrated African-Jamaican-Canadian dub-artist, arts-educator and theatre director, whose Pan-African trans-disciplinary explorations of identity, gender, sexuality, class and the human experience, continue to make an indelible mark upon the Canadian & global cultural landscape.

Published author of eleven plays, two collections of poetry, six dubpoetry albums and numerous anthologized publications, anitafrika has worked extensively across Africa, the Caribbean, Europe & North America, lectured at national and international institutions and addressed the United Nations. Over the last decade she has meticulously worked on originating a human-development anti-oppressive framework called the Sorplusi Method which is rapidly becoming a reference point for young national and global change-makers. Women’s College Hospital awarded anitafrika a $15000 Women’s Xchange Grant to conduct research using the Sorplusi Method as a health intervention in the lives of young Black Women. She was invited by The Stephen Lewis Foundation to design The Arts Activism & AIDS Academy grounded in Sorplusi.

Heavily lauded, anitafrika is the recipient of the Women’s Resiliency Award, two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for her feminist play Bloodclaat, the KM Hunter Theatre Award, and the Mayor’s Arts Council Award. Her latest solo performance piece is She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt on gender, sexuality and divinity. It runs March 24-28, 2015 in Watah Theatre Institute’s Audre Lorde Works-In-Progress Theatre Festival at DanceMakers Centre For Creation in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District.

d’bi.young anitafrika Teams Up With Brilliant Emerging Photographer Anthony Gebrehiwot For She Mama Wata Photoshoot

d’bi.young anitafrika, Artistic Director of The Watah School, is an internationally celebrated African-Jamaican-Canadian dub-artist, arts-educator and emerging theatre director, whose Pan-African trans-disciplinary explorations of identity, gender, sexuality, class and the human experience, continue to make an indelible mark upon the Canadian & global cultural landscape. Her travels have taken her to Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, North America, Europe & the United Nations, providing her with a world-wide lab to experiment with and expand upon her Sorplusi Methodology. d’bi. is the published author of eleven plays, two collections of poetry, six dub poetry albums and is anthologized in numerous publications worldwide. Heavily lauded for her work as an artist and leader, she is the recipient of the Toronto Vital People award, Canadian Poet of Honor accolade, two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the KM Hunter Theatre Award, and the Mayor’s Arts Council Award. d’bi. is the Artistic Director of YEMOYA International Artist Residency & the program designer-facilitator of the Arts Academy of The Stephen Lewis Foundation. Her latest artistic creation is the monodrama She Mami Wata & The Pussy WitchHunt directed and dramaturged by Owen Blakka Ellis.

Ssshe Mami Wata & The Pussy Witch/Hunt is a modern adult fable that speaks to gender, sexuality, divinity and their connection to the erotic snake dance of the ancient African God/dess Mami Wata. The monodrama chronicles the life of a queer-church-going-erotic-dancer living in present day Jamaica who is touched by the ancient African God/dess Mami Wata. Ssshe Mami Wata premieres March 2015 in The Audre Lorde Works-In-Progress Festival at Dancemakers Centre For Creation. Purchase Tickets In Advance Here

The production is delightful and disturbing as it dances delicately between the irreverent interrogation of established narratives and the passionate celebration of the feminine sacred. And it’s fun! says director Owen Blakka Ellis.

Anthony Gebrehiwot is a professional photographer and community leader based in Scarborough Ontario. He works under two emerging social enterprises, RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) and XvXy Photo. At the age of 25, Anthony has helped put on several empowering events for thousands of youth over the past two years and has worked with some of Toronto’s most powerful and well rounded artists (Che Kothari, Kardinal Offishal, Jalani Morgan, Emmanuel Jal and many more)

CNN Features d’bi.young anitafrika As One Of Top 10 African Poets

d'bi masai warior princess by wade hudson high res



(CNN)Linda Kaoma is on the hunt in East Africa. Her tour of the region will see her travel to Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Not in search of lions, rhinos or other big game. Rather she’s on a quest for a much more elusive creature — the African poet.

“We have a rich oral tradition and it’s important that we document what is happening in history poetry-wise,” she explains. “Africa has a history of a lack of documentation and we really didn’t want this to happen to our poets.”

Kaoma, 29, is part of the team behind the Badilisha Poetry X-Change, the largest online archive of African poetry, accessible via mobile phone, in the world.

The Badilisha project was originally conceived as an annual poetry festival overseen by the Africa Centre, a pan-African organization based in Cape Town in 2008. Over the following years it grew to become a powerful mouthpiece for showcasing African wordsmiths. And by 2012, the institution decided to move online in an effort to break down geographical borders and open up their diverse anthology to a wider audience in Africa.

Poetry in your phone

Following an overhaul of the site last year, Badilisha relaunched in September, making its immersive archive accessible to a broader international following through a “mobile-first” site.

It’s a shrewd move on a continent where mobile phones have revolutionized critical sectors such as education, healthcare and agriculture. Adoption of mobile phone use has been prolific in Africa with mobile data services going from strength to strength. Seven out of 10 mobile users in sub-Saharan Africa use their phones to browse the web, according to a recent report from Ericsson. Elsewhere, a study by analyst firm Ovum predicted in November that“mobile broadband connections in Africa are set to rise from 96 million in 2013 to 950 million to cover 77.3% of all mobile subscriptions in the continent by the end of 2019.”

Kaoma adds: “A lot of Africans use their mobiles to go on the Internet and because they are own main target audience, we had to cater for them and make it easy for them to access this content.”

To date, the project has collected almost 400 African poets from 31 countries in Africa and across the diaspora, in 14 different languages. Since the relaunch, users are able to navigate the site through a myriad of options including by theme, poet, country, language, emotion or by their “Top 10″ list, a popular feature curated by a guest poet each month.

And it seems their following has embraced the organization’s decision to go forward on mobile with an average of 3,000 visitors to the site monthly.

“We want the archive to be a place where people can come and get educated about what other African poets are saying. A place for them to interact with one another,” says Kaoma. “There is great value in a Kenyan interacting with a Nigerian. A Nigerian interacting with a South African…

“Also the archive has now reached an international status and it has become a global stage. Poets can get the exposure that they usually do not get.”

Cape Town-based poet Toni Stuart, who compiled this month’s “Top 10″ list, says: “I don’t think the importance of an archive like this can be overstated. It is the first ‘living archive’ focusing solely on poets from Africa and the diaspora.

“The archive serves a number of purposes: it makes poets available to an international audience — and for less known poets, this is a chance to be heard beyond their own community, city or country. It raises the the profile of poetry from and of the continent, while allowing people to engage with the words through hearing and reading them.”

Hot on the trail of poets

Two poets are introduced to the platform weekly and each poet profile features a short biography, two text poems, a photograph and audio podcast recordings of the wordsmith reading their works.

Kaoma, a poet and writer herself, says: “It adds so much value to actually hear the poet’s voice recite their work. It adds a different dimension, it adds a texture. We really want to give our audience a holistic experience of poetry.

“If some people just choose to read it, that’s fine. But if others want to hear it, (the podcast) really brings the work to life.”

Meanwhile, Stuart, who also runs poetry and performance workshops, says the multi-layered format “democratizes poetry” by “offering an equal platform to poets working in all languages on the continent, and to established and emerging poets.”

Poets can supply their work directly to the organization via the project’s submissions page. It is then evaluated by a rolling judging panel who determine whether the work is suitable for Badilisha.

“At any given time we have two or three poets sitting on the panel,” says Kaoma. “We try to have a mix of people so we will invite poets to come curate for us. It keeps the selection process exciting and diverse.”

Conversely, the team also approach poets directly to inquire if they are interested in adding their work to the collection. Additionally, they travel to various nations in search of poets to connect with.

“We write to publishers or anybody who has access to these poets and build those profiles. We do, from time to time, have to travel to a specific country. We really have to do a lot of ploughing and digging of the poetry scene and that space.”

One such voice on the platform is Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes. Having first encountered Badilisha while visiting Cape Town several years ago, he is thrilled to see how the organization has created a burgeoning poetry scene online.

“I had the chance to visit their studios and to learn more about what they intended to do. It was exciting to see this fledgling idea blossom into what is simply one of the best things to happen to African poetry in a long time.

“The concept is simple, but the impact is massive.”

Existing in an online space

Dawes, who is also a distinguished actor, documentary writer and founder of the prestigious African Poetry Book Fund, has not only curated content for the site but he’s also featured in this month’s “Top 10,” compiled by South Africa’s Toni Stuart.

He adds: “Of course it feels good to see that other poets are engaged by my work. I am not sure what it means really (to be included in the Top 10), but I have to think that the few poems on the site resonate with people in positive ways. I am in good company, frankly, and I find that an honor.”

It’s a sentiment project manager Kaoma says many poets share about their inclusion in Badilisha.

“When we first started there was obviously a bit of resistance. People not understanding how being online works. Now as a society, we are more accustomed to being online, a lot of our activities are based online — we shop online — so as society becomes more comfortable with the idea of the web, so do poets,” explains the curator.

“Poets are very open to it and they appreciate having such a space there they can engage with one another.”

Badilisha is principally funded by Spier, a South African wine estate, with additional financing from applications to the government and other private institutions. And in a time when traditional publishers are shying away from printing poetry due to lack of sales, the project offers poets a new outlet for presenting their work in a digital age. But Kaoma is quick to clarify Badilisha’s position as an alternative literary publisher.

“A lot of publishers right now aren’t publishing a lot of poetry, (and) we don’t want that to be what stops us as poets from having thriving careers. I think we can exist online and maybe when people see how popular poetry really is, they can start increasing the number of books being published. I think we can coexist and work with one another.”



d’bi.young anitafrika Just Awarded A Vital Person Accolade By Toronto Foundation For Her Leadership Work @ The Watah School

d'bi. by anthony gebrehewot

10 years. 100 people.

Toronto Foundation names recipients of its 2015 Vital People grants
Toronto Foundation, one of Canada’s largest community foundations, has named the recipients of its Vital People grants, bringing the total number of recipients since 2004 to 106 – an investment of nearly $510,000. Vital People grants support valued leaders who are making outstanding contributions working at not-for-profit organizations. Grants are awarded in support of continued training and professional development of the selected leaders. This year, 13 recipients have been selected.“In this milestone year for our Vital People grant program, we are very pleased with the diversity of leadership we were able to support,” said Rahul K. Bhardwaj, Toronto Foundation, President & CEO. “The issues faced by our communities can be quite complex and are often interconnected. There are rarely any simple solutions. We need leaders who understand the lived experiences of the communities they work in, who take initiative, and make innovative contributions that support our city’s well-being and vitality.”

Visit each profile on the 13 recipients listed below:

“The Vital People grant from the Toronto Foundation provided me with the opportunity to be in spaces and trainings that I would not have ordinarily been able to access. With new networks created, I can now increase Nia’s collective knowledge base and expand our community impact,” Letecia Rose, Programs and Partnerships Manager, Nia Centre for the Arts.Rose received the grant in 2014 to participate in three professional development opportunities, including workshops on leadership and facilitation, along with a fellowship work exchange at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Arts in New York. She created a video to document her learning experiences.

Over the past 10 years, the Foundation has recognized “vital” leaders such as Jane Farrow, Che Kothari, Dave Meslin, and Lekan Olawoye.

Vital People grants are made from the Toronto Foundation’s own community endowment called the Vital Toronto Fund. Grants are also supported by Fundholders and donors at the Foundation. This year additional contributions were received from the Erica Shuttleworth Fund, the Griggs Family Foundation, the Patricia J. Fleming Fund, and the Angela Longo Leadership Fund at the Toronto Foundation.

About the Toronto Foundation
Established in 1981, the Toronto Foundation is one of 191 Community Foundations in Canada. We are a leading independent charitable foundation that connects philanthropy to community needs and opportunities.  Our individual and family Fundholders support causes they care about in Toronto and across Canada, through grants to any registered Canadian charity. We currently have more than 500 active Funds, including endowments and assets under administration of more than $300 million. A growing number of Torontonians support the Vital Toronto Fund, our community endowment that helps mobilize people and resources to tackle community challenges in innovative and inspiring ways. To find out more, please visit www.torontofoundation.ca.About the Vital People grant program

Grants of up to $5,000 are funded through the Foundation’s community endowment called the Vital Toronto Fund and awarded to support the formal training or other informal development opportunities that best enable not-for-profit leaders to build their skills and knowledge or apply their experience in different ways to enhance their leadership contributions. The grants are available to those just taking on new leadership challenges as well as those with many years of experience. To find out more, please visit https://torontofoundation.ca/vital-people.