Community Arts Award offers invaluable support
In anticipation of Neighbourhood Arts Network’s 10th anniversary and Toronto Arts Foundation’s 25th anniversary coming up in January 2020, we spoke with Syrus Marcus Ware, the 2017 recipient of the Community Arts Award (formerly known as the TD Diversity Award) about community arts, being recognized for his work, and what he’s up to now.
Syrus is a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, activist, curator and educator. Syrus uses painting, installation and performance to explore social justice frameworks and black activist culture. His work has been shown widely, including in a solo show at Grunt Gallery, Vancouver (2068: Touch Change) and in group shows at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Art Gallery of York University, the Art Gallery of Windsor and as part of the curated content at Nuit Blanche 2017 (The Stolen People; Won’t Back Down). His performance works have been part of festivals across Canada, including at Cripping The Stage (Harbourfront Centre, 2016, 2019), Complex Social Change (University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, 2015) and Decolonizing and Decriminalizing Trans Genres (University of Winnipeg, 2015).
He is part of the PDA (Performance Disability Art) Collective and co-programmed Crip Your World: An Intergalactic Queer/POC Sick and Disabled Extravaganza as part of Mayworks 2014. Syrus' recent curatorial projects include That’s So Gay (Gladstone Hotel, 2016-2019), Re:Purpose (Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2014) and The Church Street Mural Project (Church-Wellesley Village, 2013). Syrus is also co-curator of The Cycle, a two-year disability arts performance initiative of the National Arts Centre.
Syrus is a core team member of Black Lives MatterToronto and a co-curator of Blackness Yes!/Blockorama. Syrus has won several awards, including the TD Diversity Award in 2017. Syrus was voted “Best Queer Activist” by NOW Magazine (2005) and was awarded the Steinert and Ferreiro Award (2012). Syrus is a PhD candidate at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies.
TAF: How has receiving the TD Diversity Award impacted your career?
SMW: This award gave me the support and recognition I needed at that crucial moment moving between emerging and mid-career. The support was invaluable and allowed me to create new and exciting work around diversity in the city.
TAF: How did receiving the award impact your community?
SMW: To see black trans disabled people being recognized is a special moment. For everyone who’s on the margins, this award is for all of us.
TAF: Why do you think the award is important?
SMW: We need awards that support unsung heroes of activism and arts in the city! We need this incredible work of organizing and creating to be supported and recognized for what it is – incredible labour designed to make the world a better place.
TAF: Why do you feel it’s necessary to support community arts?
SMW: Artistic processes that start with community are rooted in history, archives and memories of generations. We need to support community-involved processes to keep artistic practices in the hands of the people, for the people!
TAF: What new projects do you have coming up?
SMW: I have two shows at Summerworks (running August 8-17): burn, burned, a dance and textile exploration with Rodney Diverlus, and Antarctica, a speculative fiction play performed in an immersive environment. I’m also working on a massive project for the Toronto Biennial that will expand the Antarctica project significantly (Sept-Dec at 254 Lakeshore).