The Halifax Black Film Festival and Halifax Black Summer Festival are two local arts organizations to be the beneficiaries of the newly created National Black Arts Fund.
Created by the Montreal-based Fabienne Colas Foundation, the crowdfunded fundraiser will also support several other Black arts groups under the Foundation’s banner, including its festivals in Montreal, Toronto and elsewhere.
The Fund is in direct response to the difficulty groups like the Fabienne Colas Foundation have encountered in accessing the Canadian government’s $500 million COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for cultural, heritage and sports organizations.
Administered by Canadian Heritage, the emergency support funds have been divided among several agencies including the Canada Council for the Arts, Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada. One of the stipulations in accessing the money requires a previous relationship with one of the funders. It is this prior relationship that has become a significant roadblock for many arts groups, including those operated by the Fabienne Colas Foundation.
“Many black organizations who are not in the system but are doing valuable, impactful work and are deserving, might not have asked for money. And here they are all left out,” explains Foundation president Fabienne Colas.
The second hurdle comes from the different rules established by each of the government agencies to allocate funding.
For example, Colas points to the Halifax Black Film Festival, which is traditionally funded by Canadian Heritage through its community support, multiculturalism and anti-racism initiatives program.
“But here’s the trap,” says Colas. “This program doesn’t qualify you to get funding. And that is the only place the Halifax Black Film Fest has been getting funding. Because we didn’t get money from the other program that was eligible for emergency funding, the festival doesn’t get anything.”
While Colas acknowledges the Foundation itself has received emergency funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, it is not for the festivals it runs.
“Everyone is well-intentioned, but they say their hands are tied because they are following the rules and guidelines that exist right now,” she says. “Our position is when you are facing injustice and inequality, you cannot follow the rules. You need to bend the rules. You need to remove the rules to make things right.”
Colas remains somewhat optimistic and is working with the government funders to make the necessary changes, but the need is immediate.
“In the meantime, the festivals still have a lot of fixed costs, so we had to create the National Black Arts Fund to rescue these festivals,” she says. “This doesn’t replace the government. We are looking to raise $300,000 to help out with six festivals and two major programs. It’s not a lot of money that will go to each of them.”
Should the Fund exceed its goal, Colas says the intent is to spread the funds among other Black arts organizations across the country.
“Imagine other organizations that may be smaller than ours and fighting a lost battle to try to provide service. Its inequity, total inequity,” she says. “You have to take into account that these organizations need more because they have had a history of lack of funding for years.”
Launched last week, the Fund has already raised ten percent of its $300,000 goal. “We hope that audiences will join forces with us as they have always been present and supportive,” says Colas.
Donations to the Fabienne Colas Foundation’s National Black Arts Fund can be made online at gofundme.com.
Established in 2014, the non-profit Fabienne Colas Foundation operates nine arts festivals in Canada and beyond plus a youth and diversity program, which includes the Being Black in Canada Mentorship and Training Program. Over the years, the Foundation has supported over 2,000 artists and welcomed one million festival-goers.