By Stephen Weir
The Slaight Family Foundation announced a $15-million donation to be spread among 22 Canadian theatre companies that continue to be affected by the pandemic. The money is to be used over the next two years for theatre production and marketing by those receiving this infusion of cash. One of the theatres that is to receive a portion of Wednesday’s surprise announcement is Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre.
Founded in 2008 by the late media mogul and philanthropist John Allan Slaight, the Slaight Family Foundation has donated $185 million to a variety of health care and wellness initiatives, not including the latest arts funding.
Allan Slaight’s son Gary, president and CEO of the Slaight Family Foundation, and a one-time major investor and part-owner of FLOW radio, commented, “We’re very happy to support these organizations so they can focus on the work of creating & bringing back audiences.”
Obsidian, Canada’s first culturally specific theatre company is dedicated to the exploration, development, and production of the Black voice. It has never received a grant from the Slaight Foundation before – their grant is $250,000. With a reported annual budget of about $675,00 a year, this gift (the largest single donation it has ever be given) will be an important boost.
The Globe and Mail interviewed Obsidian artistic director Mumbi Tindyebwa Out shortly after she learned of the donation on Wednesday morning. “This is an answered prayer in terms of all the conversations we’ve been having about how can we grow as an organization; how can we increase our capacity. I’m hoping that this will attract more private funding for Obsidian and other culturally specific organizations because we just don’t have those phone numbers in that contact list. … The hope is that this is just a beginning,” Otu said to the paper.
Mumbi is not a household name in Toronto. She joined the theatre in August 2020 at the height of the Pandemic. She was raised in Kenya and Victoria, BC and has worked in Toronto theatre for some time. Her theatre organization is working towards the March 2023 world premiere of Of The Sea! This will be a ground-breaking new Black Canadian Opera.
Both the Tarragon and Soulpepper theatres currently have Black artistic directors. Weyni Mengesha heads the Soulpepper Theatre Company and
Mike Payette is at the helm of the Tarragon. Both theatres have diversity programming and both also received funding notification from the Slaight Foundation yesterday.