We asked Ella Cooper, founder of Black Women Film! Canada, about building bridges between artists and community organizing, taking creative risks, and being a woman in the film industry.
Ella Cooper, the founder of Black Women Film! Canada, is an award-winning multimedia artist, educator, facilitator, producer and community programmer who has been dedicated to the arts sector for over 19 years. Her transformational projects, programs and networks have created positive social change across our sector while impacting organizations, leaders and new creative communities of support for Black and diverse artists across the city.
What was your inspiration behind the founding of Black Women Film! Canada?
I wanted to create a transformational leadership initiative for the growing body of talented Black women filmmakers and media artists in Toronto and across Canada who were seeking mentorship – a community of support and in-depth professional development experience that goes beyond the typical industry panel or masterclass.
As a media artist myself, I am interested in disrupting the dominant narrative and hiring practices prevalent in the film and media sector. I’m proud to have created a supportive and collaborative network of over 200 Black women-identified creators in collaboration with an incredible roster of industry allies that has become a catalyst for change in our sector.
You are involved in the arts in many ways, including as a filmmaker, educator, facilitator, producer and community programmer. What would say is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I haven’t put limits on myself and what I can do. I am lucky that the arts and culture sector has allowed me to be so multifaceted and work within so many genres. It’s allowed me to create successful networks, facilitate organizational change, create national community-based and multidisciplinary arts projects, lead youth and professional development programs around the world and even launch award-winning documentary and dance film and photography works too.
It might seem like a lot, but to me it all falls under the same umbrella and vision. In many ways, this allows me the opportunity to effect change from many different perspectives, to reach and collaborate with diverse audiences while using the arts as a way to express and validate my experience as a mixed-race woman of Canada’s African diaspora.
What made you take the leap from being an artist to moving into community organizing?
Professionally I was a community organizer first – I’ve always felt more comfortable celebrating and bringing people together than showing my work to the public. It was in my practice of supporting the arts community that I finally felt inspired to create my own work. In the end, we must value our own voices alongside lifting up the work of others.
You’ve said, “When we truly create safe space, we create an even greater invitation to step into that enlivened space of creative risk.” What is the biggest creative risk you have taken?
My biggest creative risk is ongoing – as an artist, I try to create work that is authentic to my experience, that goes beyond trying to fit into a definition or stereotype of what my work should be. This requires vulnerability and a level of literal and metaphorical nakedness to reveal my perspectives, dreams and stories that can broaden the canon of Black and diverse voices in our current Western visual culture.
What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Margo Bindhardt and Rita Davies Award?
It’s a huge honour to be recognized for the work I’ve been doing over the last 19 years – it means a lot to be seen in this way. My work is my passion – it's the way I express myself, give back to the community, and strive for positive social change within the sect