Facing a milestone anniversary, 5 Artists, 1 Love finds a new way to celebrate
As both an artist and a patron, Darren Jordan has spent much of the last 15 years making a masterpiece in Edmonton’s arts community. In the early 2000s, when he was an avid painter, Jordan noticed a distinct lack of diversity and representation, particularly for Black artists, in local art shows and galleries. So when an opportunity arose to show his work at an intimate gallery on 124 Street, Jordan had an idea.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we extend this opportunity to other Black people in the community who are producing work?’” he says. “My mantra at the time was, ‘If you can’t find a scene or there is no scene … make a scene.’”
And so, he did. In February 2006, Jordan curated the first-ever 5 Artists 1 Love visual arts showcase, designed to celebrate Black artists in Edmonton. The show, hosted at the now-defunct Tu Gallery on 124 Street, was a resounding success. It offered participating artists a chance to gain exposure and sell their work, while also connecting with other Black artists in the community.
For the next few years, 5 Artists 1 Love followed its formula for success, filling the gallery each February for Black History Month. Each year, Jordan worked to make the showcase accessible to both art aficionados and those new to the gallery scene. He developed partnerships with local suppliers and caterers to create a polished experience, and personally footed the bill for any additional costs.
The expenses were manageable at first, but when Gilles Hébert, then-executive director of the Art Gallery of Alberta, invited Jordan to bring the show to the AGA’s community gallery, things changed.
“For the first five years, I could pay out-of-pocket to get the event going. I didn’t have kids; it was my passion and I had the opportunity to receive a lot of goodwill from the community,” he says. “When we went to the AGA, everything was different. We needed means to pay for the event and for the rental.”
To cover costs of the growing event, Jordan penned a musical production, working with local Black performers to bring it to life. Just as with the visual arts showcase, the concept was a hit — it promptly sold out, with proceeds from ticket sales going directly to cover the costs of the art show.
During this time, Jordan also began partnering with Autism Edmonton as a way for 5 Artists 1 Love to give back to the community.
In the years that followed, 5 Artists 1 Love became a fixture in Edmonton’s arts and cultural calendar. Each February, the musical production and arts showcase offer audiences the chance to celebrate the rich cultural diversity found in the city’s Black community.
In 2018, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) became a sponsor to support Jordan’s vision and the numerous artists involved in the visual arts and musical programming.
“ECF has a long history of supporting under-represented artists in Edmonton,” Andrew Paul, communications associate at ECF says. “5 Artists 1 Love was a perfect fit for ECF to continue this work and we’ve enjoyed watching Darren and his team grow the event over the years.” Yet, despite the event’s remarkable success, Jordan set his sights higher.
“I wanted to do something outside of Black History Month,” he says. “We’re Black every day, not just in the coldest, shortest month of the year.”
When the AGA approached him with the prospect of bringing 5 Artists 1 Love into the main gallery in March 2021, Jordan was thrilled. With this new offer, he would be able to curate a show as usual in the community gallery space for Black History Month, and in the following month, present a retrospective on the event’s evolution over the past 15 years. He planned to make it a celebration to remember.
Unfortunately, as the extent of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic became clearer, Jordan realized the anniversary event he’d hoped to host was simply not possible.
“It’s bittersweet — 2021 was poised to be really remarkable for us. Sweet because these are dreams that have reached fruition with the gallery … but also bitter because it would have been a huge party, and we just can’t do that now,” he says.
Although the visual arts showcase will go ahead with reduced capacity at the AGA, Jordan has had to pivot with the musical showcase, developing an online event in accordance with ever-evolving public health guidelines. It may not be the event he’d hoped for, but it will undoubtedly still be one to remember.
“Half of what makes 5 Artists 1 Love what it is, is the audience and the energy in the room at our events. COVID-19 took the knees out from us this year,” he says. “But I’m doing my best to make sure it’s still unique and memorable.”