Robert Small looks to expand his Black History Month poster series
It’s hard to miss the painted collages displayed all over the country during Black History Month. Formerly known as the Official Black History Month Poster, in 2006 the series creator, Robert Small, replaced the five-word mouthful with the title, Legacy.
Now, Small is making another change in an effort to ensure Black history is celebrated all year. “I am trying to expand the whole Legacy brand to bring in speakers, call it the Legacy Speaker Series, and compound that branding across different things that are relevant to the African-Canadian community,” he says.
“The original intention of Black History Month was for Black people to come together during February to share what they discussed throughout the whole year. The poster I create stays up in a lot of places the whole year because it doesn’t say Black History Month, so it doesn’t have a date stamp on it.”
For the artwork, Small selects African-Canadians who represent different themes. The 2012 version will include Toronto’s George Dei, a professor in the department of sociology and equity studies in education at University of Toronto; Halifax’s Henry Bishop, chief curator and director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia; Itah Sadu of Toronto independent bookstore A Different Booklist; Dr. Agnes Calliste, retired professor of the sociology department at St. Francis Xavier University; and Bakari Lindsay, co-founder of the Collective of Black Artists.
From painting to promotions and presentation, Small is the one-man army behind Legacy—an idea that sparked 18 years ago when the entrepreneur yearned to flood schools with African-Canadian role models. “The biggest challenge was that people didn’t really know when Black History Month was … [and] they didn’t have an appreciation of it because their knowledge was limited to thinking that it only encompassed slavery and Martin Luther King Jr.,” he says. After pitching his brainchild to schools and businesses and getting many ‘no’s, Small landed his first sale with the City of Toronto. The rest, as they say, is Black history.
Small’s other art projects also promote the Black community’s achievements. This summer, he created banners for the Ontario Public Services Employees Union’s (OPSEU) Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival float. More recently, he was commissioned by the union to create posters commemorating the UN’s International Year for People of African Descent, displayed on the side of the union’s Wellesley Street building.
“For the last decade, the OPSEU has reached out to Black communities, starting with our annual purchase of the Legacy poster, which we distribute to our entire membership,” says Peter Thompson, chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus at OPSEU. “This year, we took an even bigger step by commissioning Robert for other works. It is our plan to continue to promote OPSEU’s important role in these communities on a very grassroots level.”