Organizational History

In 2008, Nia Centre for the Arts was born out of an innocent, yet deeply thought-provoking question: why is there no Black Arts Centre in Toronto, such a diverse and world-class city?  From such a simple email, germinated the multidisciplinary city-wide Afro-diasporic arts organization we now know as Nia Centre for the Arts.  Combining art and social service with a focus on the holistic development of our youth, Nia Centre for the Arts was officially launched in June of 2009.  After an exhaustive research and development phase, coupled with an injection of substantial seed funding from the Youth Challenge Fund, Nia Centre for the Arts began programming in the Lawrence Heights community in December of 2009. 


Nia Centre for the Arts incorporated as a registered not-for-profit organization in 2010, and is currently a legacy project of the Youth Challenge Fund (administered by United Way). Since 2010, Nia Centre has built a solid roster of artists and partners, such as the Royal Museum of Ontario, CERLAC at York University, ArtReach, the City of Toronto Culture Division and a various school boards (including Toronto District School Board, Peel District School Board, and the Toronto Catholic District School Board).


Below is a summary of some key benchmarks in the organization’s evolution over the years:

March 2008



April -  May 2008







Aug - Oct 2008







December 2008




June 2009





July 2009




August 2009




Nov - Dec 2009





April - June 2010




Sept - Nov 2010




February 2011




March 2011




April 2011



July 2011





August 2011




August 2011






November 2011



Fall 2011






January 2012






February 2012





February 2012




Mar - Sept 2012





August 2012






September 2012






Sept - Oct 2012





February 2013





March - April 2013







May 2013





June 2013




July - August 2013






August 2013




August 2013






Sept - Oct 2013






July 2014



August 2014



November 2014



March 2015




June 2015




October 2015





Nia Centre began as one simple question: why is there no Black arts institution in Toronto?



After a barrage of email conversations, an application was made to the Youth Challenge Fund, a three-year funding body established to serve youth.  A meeting of community animators and artists was convened to have fruitful conversation around what a Black Arts Centre might look like.  An arts consortium consisting of members from this initial meeting submits an application to the YCF to receive research and development funds to further explore the idea of a Black Arts Centre.



In the summer of 2008 a research and development phase was initiated to determine the feasibility of an arts institution devoted to exploring the various cultures and experiences from the African diaspora.  Nia Centre hired six dynamic staff members and designed a plan to create an Arts Centre. During our research and development phase, our team surveyed community organizations, visited potential locations for the Centre, held focus groups, and developed partnerships for future exploration.



Nia submits an application to the legacy round of YCF funding.  Nia Centre is successful in it's application and is awarded three years of funding to build an Arts Centre dedicated to holistically supporting Afro-diasporic young people.



After researching potential trustees, Nia Centre partners with Microskills to become its fiduciary trustee.  The organization hires its first staff (Executive Director, Program Manager, and Communications Manager). Nia Centre moves into it’s former office space at 720 Bathurst Street.



Nia Centre partners with Schools without Borders to present the ‘Not Far From Home’ photo exhibit from the collection of Ian Kamau Prieto-McTair at Anitaafrika dub theatre.



Nia Centre partners with the annual Summer Arts program in the Lawrence Heights and Weston-Mount Denis communities.



Nia Centre launches the Point of View workshop in the Lawrence Heights community; 12 youth engage the program as they develop soundscapes and short videos to document their community. The workshops are designed to engage neighbourhood interest around creating a virtual tour of Lawrence Heights.



With a focus on organizational development, Nia Centre builds it's infrastructure and capacity-creating policies for each department, and develops a strategic plan to guide the organization’s future direction.



Nia Centre recruits it's first Youth Steering Committee and five youth members join the organization alongside an additional four members that joined the Steering Committee.



Nia Centre launches it's Outside the Lines program--focused on exploring the various artistic outlets and events this city has to offer--beginning with El Anatsui’s "When I last wrote to you about Africa" at the Royal Museum of Ontario.



Nia Centre holds it's first community update event, ensuring our community members remain informed as to our progress and our programming plans for 2011.



Nia Centre launches the Media Arts program in Lawrence Heights, in partnership with the Lady Bugs and D.I.V.A. 



Nia Centre in partnership with CERLAC at York University, Jamaica Youth Theatre, and Woodside Community Development launch Project Groundings in Kingston, Jamaica. Project Groundings was a transnational research project that used the arts to explore the effects of violence on Afro-Diasporic youth in Canada and Jamaica. 



Nia Centre for the Arts hosts several events to kick off a week-long commemoration of the United Nations International Year for Peoples of African Descent.



Nia Centre staff ran the Footsteps to Success summer camp program in partnership with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. The camp operated out of the Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School site, and focused on creating opportunities for youth to engage in various art forms (facilitated by Nia Centre’s artist roster) to enable artistic development, identity development, and positive self-expression. 



Nia Centre for the Arts holds it's first Annual General Meeting in partnership with the OSO (Onyx Society at OCAD).



Nia Centre produces a Community Research Report that identified the needs of Afro-Diasporic youth in Toronto and determined the identity of the demographic of youth that Nia Centre seeks to serve. The results outlined the personal and social service needs of youth, indicated like-minded organizations with which Nia Centre could collaborate, and highlighted gaps in services.



Nia Centre hosts the Project Groundings Youth Forum, a continuation of the transnational research project that uses the arts to explore the effects of violence on Afro-Diasporic youth in Canada and Jamaica. Members of the Jamaican Youth Theater and Woodside Community Development came to Toronto to participate in this citywide forum and photography exhibit.



Word, Sound Purpose, an interactive spoken word program (flashmob), took place at York University on Feb 29th in partnership with Westview Centennial Secondary School, Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, and Uniffect. Financial support for the initiative was provided by Canadian Immigration and Services.



Nia Centre releases its inspirational and motivational video, “What Makes You So Strong,” and it goes viral, receiving more than 60,000 views within in two weeks, and sparking more than 3000 positive comments online. 



As part of our Outside The Lines program, Nia Centre brings 25 young people from Uniffect, Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, YUBSA, and our Youth Steering Committee to experience the Theatre Archipelago production of Obeah Opera. Other Outside the Lines excursions included Da’ Kink in My Hair and AfroChic at Wychwood Barns.



Nia Centre co-presented Learning Beyond The Walls: Education Done Differently with Dr. Carl James. The forum, which included an evening of art and student voices as well as a series of keynote speakers, panels and workshops, was hosted in partnership with TDSB, York University Faculty of Education, Educational Attainment West, and York University.



The first Art of Facilitation workshop series commenced, running over a six-week period, facilitated by Nia Centre’s Program Manager, Letecia Rose. The Art of Facilitation is a train-the-trainer workshops series that infuses programming art education with presentation and facilitation skills need to works with diverse youth audiences. Approximately 30 young artists went through the program.



Nia Centre ran it's Business of Our Art program in partnership with the City of Toronto (Culture Division, Live Arts Program). Through this program, Nia Centre worked with young artists to develop and refine tools to assist them in building and developing business acumen in their art form.



Presented a series of interactive workshops for more than 500 elementary and high school students as part of the Peel District School Board’s Spotlight on Black Heritage programming. The workshops were lead by nine artists who participated in Nia Centre’s Art of Facilitation workshop series in fall 2012.



With support from the Ontario Arts Council, Nia Centre partnered with Onyx Society of OCAD and to showcase T-Dot Pioneers 3.0: The Future Must Be Replenished at Toronto’s elegant SOHO Lobby Gallery from March 7 through April 26, 2013. The exhibit also included a panel discussion featuring established artists such as Mark Stoddart (visual arts), Kevin Ormsby (dance),  Tamla Matthews (dance), Timea Wharton (dance), Camille Turner (multi-disciplinary), and Demuth Flake (graphic designer).



Nia Centre received City Council approval to become a Below Market Rent tenant in the former Toronto Public Health building at 524 Oakwood Avenue, within a designated arts district. Nia Centre undertakes efforts to transform the facility to create public performance space, studios, rehearsal, and exhibition spaces.



Nia Centre selected to provide the official documentation team for Canadian hip hop icon, author, and actor Maestro’s 25th anniversary event.



For the second time, Nia Centre staff ran the Footsteps to Success summer camp program, in partnership with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. The camp operated out of the Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School site, and focused on creating opportunities for youth to engage in various art forms (facilitated by Nia Centre’s artist roster) to enable artistic development, identity development, and positive self-expression.



Nia Centre’s youth leadership group, A.F.R.O. presented a “Meet and Greet” with cast members from the internationally-acclaimed theatrical production AFRICA UMOJA.



Nia Centre established a partnership with Archie Alleyne Scholarship Foundation to expand their arts-based scholarships program to provide financial assistance to young people pursuing post-secondary studies in arts.



Nia Centre partners with ArtReach and Get Schooled to present The Art of Facilitation 2.0. The Art of Facilitation is a train-the-trainer workshops series for youth (13-29 years) that infuses popular education techniques with the presentation and facilitation skills needed to engage diverse youth audiences. These interactive and engaging workshops train in the areas of facilitation, workshop planning, presentation skills, and creating safe and inclusive spaces.




Nia Centre launches its Masters @ Work Series in partnership with OCADU featuring Wendy 'Motion' Braithwaite.



Nia Centre obtains charitable status.



Nia Centre hosts Masters @ Work event featuring Lawrence Hill.



Nia Centre launches it's first curated and juried Exhibition, Exposed 2015 Skin Deep: ReImaging the Portrait is curated by Pamela Edmonds.



Nia Centre launched it's B-Sides Event Series focused on celebrating and promoting black music. Featured artists include hip hop pioneer Michie Mee and photographer Michael Chambers.



Nia Centre hosts its annual Art of Facilitation course in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario

© 2018 Nia Centre for the Arts

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