By RON FANFAIR
A Different Booklist made history last week by becoming the first Black-owned entity to win an Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
The popular independent bookstore and literary cultural destination got the nod ahead of several established organizations, including The International Festival of Authors launched in 1974 and Ottawa-based Movement d’implication francophone d’Orléans and Toronto’s Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography which were founded five years later.
Husband and wife, Miguel San Vicente and Itah Sadu, took ownership of A Different Booklist 21 years ago from Dr. Wesley Crichlow, a tenured associate professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who sold academic books that appealed to his Caribbean-Canadian gay and lesbian studies.
“This is an enormous honour when you consider we were vying for this significant prize with major cultural institutions,” said Sadu. “We are honoured to see that the bookstore is recognized as a participant in the cultural industries in the province. To be acknowledged in a sector that employs one-fifth of the people in Ontario is incredibly huge.”
The bookstore shared the spotlight with Metis visual artist, Christi Belcourt who captured the individual artist award.
The winning artist receives $35,000 and selects an emerging artist who is awarded $15,000.
Christian Chapman, an Anishinaabe visual artist and filmmaker, was Belcourt’s choice.
Sadu said the make-up of this year’s winners is noteworthy.
“I hope this is the tipping point in terms of how the province views diversity,” she said. “The winners this year demonstrate that the landscape in Ontario is changing.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Tourism, Culture & Sport Eleanor McMahon, made the presentations.
“Ontario’s art sector reflects the drive, talent and diversity of our province,” said Wynne. “I am honoured to recognize the outstanding winners and finalists of the 10th annual Premier’s Awards for their passion, dedication and commitment to excellence. Thank you for enriching our daily lives and inspiring us all.”
McMahon noted that the winners exemplify the talent, passion and vitality that the Ontario’s arts community is known for.
“Thank you for all you do to inspire us, challenge us and bring beauty to our lives,” she said.
Provincial arts council chair, Rita Davies, said the winners demonstrate how the arts can bring together communities, draw attention to crucial issues and inspire society to see the world from new perspectives.
The winning arts organization is awarded $50,000.
Sadu said part of the winnings will be used to transition the bookstore to a cultural centre.
“Visitors to the bookstore have defined an imagined space,” she said. “Going forward, the bookstore will become part of a bigger vision. We are looking to create a cultural and multi-purpose space where visitors can meet, connect and exchange ideas.”
With redevelopment of Mirvish Village looming, A Different Booklist has to find a new space before the end of January 2017.
A Different Booklist owners have found an ally in Trinity-Spadina councillor, Joe Cressy who supports the creation of affordable housing and a space for Black cultural expression as part of the redevelopment.