Amplifying Melanated Voices
Hey Cabana Club,
At Canna Cabana, we have 36 (and counting) retail locations in communities across Canada. Our team prides itself on being a strong, diverse group of individuals with opinions and values reflective of the many neighbourhoods we serve, and we are especially proud to be among the most diverse cannabis companies in Canada at the leadership level. Alongside our many store managers, employees, operations and marketing staff that are BIPOC, half of our executive team are People Of Colour including our Chief Executive Officer, our Chief Financial Officer, and our Director of Human Resources.
Today many of our customers, staff, and community members are furiously fighting for the rights of BIPOC across Canada, because racism is alive in North America. And because Black Lives Matter. Our Black friends and families should not have to live in fear, and we will not stand by and tolerate racism in our communities.
We’ve thought long and hard about what we, a cannabis retailer in Canada, could do to support the Black community at home. We meet thousands of Canadians every day in our Canna Cabana locations, and we believe that there is an opportunity to stand behind initiatives supporting Black individuals by demonstrating our support in our stores, and amplifying their voices.
This is why we have teamed up with Melissa Falconer, a self-taught visual artist in Canada. As a Black artist, she has identified with the underrepresentation of People of Colour in the art industry. By creating what she calls “Black Pop Art”, she hopes to fill this void by “creating a new source of art from which people like her can use to express themselves.”
We have commissioned Melissa to create a beautiful piece of Black Pop Art highlighting support for black culture, which will be printed on a new collection of stash bags that we will be manufacturing and making available for purchase at all Canna Cabana locations.
100% of the proceeds will be donated to Nia Centre for the Arts, a not-for-profit Canadian organization that supports, showcases and promotes Black artists by providing professional development, youth mentorship & engagement, and spaces for Black Art in our communities.
Through this project, we hope to demonstrate our support for the Black community in our stores, and to our customers. We will entrust our staff to share the message of Melissa’s art, and are grateful for the opportunity to showcase her talent across the country.
We believe that together, we can help to Amplify Melanated Voices. This is just the beginning.
We sat down with Melissa to ask her some questions about her art, and her involvement in the Black Artists community.
Canna Cabana: Hey Melissa! What made you pursue art so passionately and when? Do you have any influences you’d like to share? Why these influences/influencers in particular?
Melissa: I started painting in 2015. My first painting was a portrait of my mom for Mother’s Day. At the time, I was a student in university and I hated my program but I couldn’t switch schools, so painting became my outlet for happiness. I gave all my friends paintings as gifts that year until eventually they started commissioning me for work and that’s how my business started and my passion grew from there. My inspiration was Andy Warhol because I love his style of using large shapes and unconventional colours.
Canna Cabana: What does your work aim to say? Can you tell us a bit about your style and why you chose it?
Melissa: My work aims to represent Black culture and to empower Black people. I call my style “Black Pop Art” because of my use of unconventional shapes and colours similar to traditional pop art. I chose this style because it’s bold, it stands out and easily communicates my message.
Canna Cabana: What role/importance do you think Black art plays in our community/society?
Melissa: Black art is important because Black people are underrepresented in the visual arts and their voices aren’t often heard. Black people should be able to find art and artists that represent them and align with their values, just like everyone else. This fosters a sense of self-love, belonging, community and pride. Supporting Black art empowers the Black community.
Canna Cabana: After connecting with you, we realized that you have an ongoing relationship with Nia. Can you tell us a little more about it and the role you play? What affected your decision/desire to begin collaborating with Nia? What impact have you been able to achieve through it?
Melissa: I wanted to work with the Nia Centre because their mission aligns with my values as an artist. I volunteer as a mentor for their Creative Connect program which helps provide guidance to young Black artists in Toronto. I’m happy to share my knowledge because I know this is a program I would’ve been a part of when I was just starting out and the impact it would’ve had on pointing me in the right direction. So I know there’s a need for this and I want to see more artists pursue their dreams.
Canna Cabana: We wanted to create a means to support the Amplify Melanated Voices movement. As such, we teamed up with yourself, an artist within the community, to wholeheartedly express yourself and give back through your work. This initiative is by the people, for the people. Is there anything you would like to add or share about this project, the Amplify Melanated Voices movement in general?
Melissa: I think it’s important to give a voice to those who have been historically silenced, marginalized and underrepresented in our society. That’s what my art has always been about and I’m thankful that the world is finally waking up to this. However I’m also hoping that we realize that movements like this are just the beginning but they help open up avenues to real change and progress towards equality and justice.
Nia Centre for the Arts is a Toronto-based charitable organization that supports, showcases and promotes an appreciation of arts from across the Afro-Diaspora.
Initially funded through the Youth Challenge Fund in 2008 to address the roots of youth violence and disengagement, early programs focused on helping young people hone their artistic talents, and support positive youth development. Since then, Nia Centre has connected thousands of young people and emerging youth artists to mentors, opportunities to build transferable skills and employment. The Centre has offered programs in music, spoken word, literature, visual arts, theatre, dance and interdisciplinary arts often in partnership with established artists and arts organizations.
Nia Centre always had a vision for a physical space to address the lack of safe spaces for African-Canadian communities.
In 2015, we secured a lease for 524 Oakwood Ave, located just south of Eglinton Ave West, in the heart of a historically Caribbean neighbourhood with a long history of artistic and creative entrepreneurship