The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. This week features Dwayne Morgan, a spoken word artist and author.
Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?
I have been a full-time spoken word artist since 1993. I am the author of 13 collections and 9 albums of my work. Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to tour and perform in eighteen countries internationally. In 1998, I started Ontario’s first poetry slam, and I have also created or helped to create the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, Toronto International Poetry Slam, When Brothers Speak, When Sisters Speak, and the Toronto Spoken Soul Festival. In 2013, I was inducted into the Scarborough Walk of Fame for my commitment to the arts.
How has the pandemic and social distancing measures affected your work?
The pandemic caused the 20th anniversary of my When Sisters Speak concert to be cancelled the night before the show, which got us started off on the wrong foot, however, since then it has proven to be a blessing, allowing me to get to work on projects that were on the back burner, and really assess what I was doing, and what I want to continue doing moving forward. It has given me ample time to connect with my daughter, which I likely wouldn’t have had otherwise.
What are you up to right now?
There is never a time when I am not creating. I just started on a project that will merge my poetry and photography, I have six collections of poetry written and ready to be published, I have 7 albums recorded on my computer, waiting to be released, I wrote a feature film during the pandemic, and I am co-curating the Scarborough Hub of the City of Toronto’s ArtworxTO project.
Tell me about your projects.
ArtworxTO kicks off the City’s decade of public art, and I will be helping to amplify the work of BIPOC creatives in Scarborough for a year, creating opportunities that are often hard to come by.
How do you envision the future of in-person events such as live music shows and art exhibitions given physical distancing. Is the future digital?
Virtual is here to stay, so I think the future has to be imagined as a hybrid of live and digital events. It will be some time before things look similar to what we remember, but it will never be what it was.
My field will also continue in the digital world. I produced my When Brothers Speak and When Sisters Speak events virtually, I have held open mics, poetry slams, listening parties etc. online, and this will be part of the new normal. I believe we’ll start to see more poetry videos, as people start playing with the digital form, and how it can be used to enhance their writing.
Share a fact about your recent work and its inspiration for your artistic practice, lessons learned, goals etc.
From the beginning of my career, I was pushed to the margins, which while hurtful, was the best thing that could have happened for me, because it made me do for myself and build things that no-one could take from me, and weren’t dependent on other people’s word or budgets. My entire career has cut against the grain and I’ve done things unconventionally, but totally my way.
What do you think companies and collective organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts sector?
Organizations first need to acknowledge how they have failed certain communities before trying to address the issues. They need to create opportunities, not just for BIPOC artists to attend workshops or be a part of events, but to make and learn how to make money from their art. If artists don’t know the business of art, it puts a ceiling on what they are able to do with it. This is the major reason why I started delivering Business of Art workshops.
Any tidbits on what impact you want to make as an artist and advice you would give to a younger you?
I don’t have ideas right now about what impact I would like to make, because I believe I’ve already made a significant impact. From here, it is up to others to determine what my impact is. If I were to speak to my younger self, I would tell him to believe in himself a lot sooner.
In what ways is your work intentional?
Much of my work is tied to the Canadian Black experience, and that is very deliberate, as there is a wealth of stories that are still to be told, and a perspective on Canada that is rich with evolving history.
Follow Dwayne on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and visit his website dwaynemorgan.ca