Arts award finalists honoured for creating access to culture

Sponsored feature: presented by Toronto Arts Foundation

Toronto is home to an incredibly diverse arts scene, and many prominent artists make meaningful, inclusive access to this community a core feature of their work. “Access” may refer to recognizing and actively challenging any economic, cultural, gender-based or racial barriers as experienced by individuals seeking ways to participate in the arts.

Toronto Arts Foundation’s annual TD Arts Diversity Award highlights a number of Toronto’s arts and culture standouts who are directly making an impact in the struggle for greater access and inclusivity.

In a private ceremony on September 20, a winner will be selected from three finalists (showcased below) and awarded $10,000 in cash. This award represents formal, city-wide recognition that the work and activism from these Torontonians are highly valued in our cultural scene.

Last year’s winner was the Regent Park Film Festival – a free community festival now in its 15th year of celebrating films that focus on sharing stories from artists within low-income or public housing environments. The Executive Director of the festival, Ananya Ohri, said in her acceptance speech last year that if we choose to see diversity as something we practice, “it no longer becomes something we do for the marginalized, stigmatized, disadvantaged ‘diverse’ person, but becomes a practice based in equity in which we all have equal stake.”

The three finalists for 2017 all demonstrate an intimate understanding of how relationships between Toronto’s various communities can be both inspiring and complicated, and how that interconnectivity can also serve as a driving force for artists who are passionate about making spaces for inclusive, creative expression.

Update: The winner of the TD Arts Diversity Award is Syrus Marcus Ware!

The Finalists


Mahlikah Aweri

Motivated by what she describes as the rematriation of Indigenous futurism, Mahlikah Awe:ri sees her art as a way to better understand the interconnectedness of her cultural traditions and contemporary art forms. With roots in African-American/Mohawk (Kahnaw:ke) and Mi’kmaw (Bear River) heritage, she performs with the hip hop band, Red Slam Collective, and also participates in a variety of educational programs – most recently as the Deputy Executive Director of the Toronto Centre for Community Learning & Development.

“Diversity is powerful and it is meant to be shared and is enriched by our intersectionalities,” says Awe:ri. “We are in the time of the 8th Fire Prophecy art is the spark which lights the flame of common ground so we may begin collaborating together in order to collectively reimagine a better future on the land for all.”

Website: Red Slam Collective, Facebook: Mahlikah Awe:ri


Sheena D. Robertson

Sheena D. Robertson is a multidisciplinary film artist and educator. She directed the SummerWorks production of Lizard Boy, which won the festival’s 2014 NOW Audience Choice Award. Lately she’s been focusing on the Regent Park Project, which is a collaboration between professional artists and youth in an effort to share the art and practice of storytelling. She is the Artistic Director of Kick Start Arts and was also the founding course director for the Royal Conservatory’s artist education certification program.

“As a life-long citizen of the most diverse city in the world, I can feel the promise of Toronto – the possibilities inherent in our diversity,” says Robertson. “The arts connect us deeply in thought, conversation and creation – engaging us in social change.”

Website:, Twitter: @KickStartArtss, Facebook: Kick Start Arts


Syrus Marcus Ware

Artist, educator and curator, Syrus Marcus Ware identifies as a person of colour, trans, queer and disabled. He is a core team member of Black Lives Matter – Toronto and has exhibited or performed his work across the country. Currently, Ware is also a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

“My commitment to diversity in the arts is rooted in my desire for the liberation of all people,” says Ware. “We will witness a time wherein we are all committed to supporting QTBIPOC, disabled, Deaf, Mad and otherwise marginalized artists and arts administrators in our work creating, thinking, collaborating, teaching and most of all fighting to win!”

Website:, Twitter: @syrusmarcusware, Facebook: Syrus Marcus Ware 

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