ON Topic: An Ontario Culture Days Speaker Series, 2023-24

This series of talks and workshops brings together arts and culture workers from across the province to discuss timely societal and economic issues impacting their sector, and to provide opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

We will cover a wide range of questions related to: sustainable development, the impact of AI technologies, the role of the tourism sector, and growing capacity for the production of inclusive arts programming.


Brave Space, Third Space: Creative Spaces Centring Community Connection, Healing and Resiliency

March 21, 2024, 6:00 pm

Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism

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Debbie Owusu Akyeeah, Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity
Heather George, Woodland Cultural Centre
Jessica Kirk, Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism


Date: Thursday March 21, 2024

Location: Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism, 24 Cecil St, Toronto, ON M5T 1N2

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This panel will feature a conversation from leadership of two brave spaces in Ontario: the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford and the newly opened Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism in downtown Toronto. Moderated by Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah from the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, this conversation will consider the politics of space in the arts and culture sector, and how gathering spaces can facilitate community connection, healing, and resiliency.

Topics Include:

  • What are the politics of space for your community?
  • Why is it important to forefront the politics of space?
  • How can we work towards equitable access to space?
  • Why is it crucial to recognize the historical exclusion of communities from certain spaces?

Refreshments and light snacks will be provided.


  • Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Executive Director, The Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity


  • Heather George, Executive Director, Woodland Cultural Centre
  • Jessica Kirk, Executive Director, Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism


Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah

Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) and has been instrumental in advancing the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ youth and communities. Since taking on the role in 2020, CCGSD has grown to become one of the most influential 2SLGBTQ+ organizations in Canada, providing advocacy and education to schools, organizations, and communities across the country. Debbie is an accomplished community educator, activist, and social justice advocate who is driven by the mission of creating a more inclusive, equitable, and safe world. She has spoken at parliamentary standing committees and has appeared in numerous media outlets. She has held several advocacy and policy-oriented positions in government and non-profit organizations, including Oxfam Canada and Global Affairs Canada.


Heather George

Heather is a mother, gardener, beader, curator and PhD Candidate. As a scholar of Euro-Canadian and Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) descent who grew up off reserve, much of Heather’s personal and professional work has been directed at gaining a better understanding of the culture and history of her nation. Her current PhD research through University of Waterloo examines the historical and philosophical underpinnings of contemporary museum practices across Haudenosaunee communities. She seeks to better understand how material culture can be used to heal trauma and make space for cross-cultural dialogues. In 2019 Heather was awarded the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship for her research. Heather has spent over a decade working for urban and reserve based Indigenous organizations in the Six Nations of the Grand River territory focused on cultural preservation, heritage, and youth resiliency. Heather also recently took on the role of Executive Director of the Woodland Cultural Center in Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.


Jessica Kirk

Jessica Kirk (she/her) is a cultural worker, multidisciplinary artist, and organizer based in Toronto, which is covered by the Dish with One Spoon Treaty. She is the Executive Director of Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism and member of Black Lives Matter–Canada. Wildseed Centre and BLMCA are two pillars of one organization that serves as fertile ground for resourcing and supporting an array of Black liberation efforts in the city and across Turtle Island. Kirk is also co-founder of Way Past Kennedy Road, a grassroots art collective supporting artists living on the margins. Jess holds a Masters of Arts in Social Justice Education from the University of Toronto, and her creative, scholarly and professional interests are each anchored by a curiosity around expressions of community care.

Photo credit Angelyn Francis.

Past Sessions


Date: Wed, Sept 27, 2023, 1- 5 pm

Location: 401 Richmond ST W, Suite 303, Toronto, ON M5V 3A8

This half-day workshop is designed for arts programmers and managers. Its focus is on capacity and skill building related to Reconciliation, working with Indigenous artists, understanding cultural protocol, and proactively consulting with artists for the creation of safer spaces.

In this half day session, participants will have the opportunity to sit with artist Lindsey Lickers, Mushkiiki Nibi, to deepen their understanding of Indigenous arts, history, traditional storytelling, ceremony, appropriation vs appreciation, allyship, cultural safety & protocol and moving beyond the land acknowledgment into meaningful ‘ReconciliAction’ efforts. The session will be presented in a hybrid approach, infusing western methods with Indigenous methods of learning and ending in a traditional sharing circle.


Lindsey Lickers

Lindsey is an Onkwehon:we (Kanien’kéha)/ Anishinaabe (Ojibwe- Mississauga’s) artist & community developer originally from Six Nations of the Grand River with ancestral roots to the Mississauga’s of Credit First Nation. She specializes in painting & beading as well as Indigenous arts and culture facilitation, governance, community and program development. Her traditional name is ‘Mushkiiki Nibi’, which translates to ‘Medicine Water’, she is turtle clan.

Lindsey also received an International Women’s Day – Leadership in the Arts award in 2019 from the City of Toronto.  Lindsey has been a Oshkabewis (ceremonial helper) for 12 years and is a co-founder of ‘Wayeshadewin,’ a helper led, land-based organization aiming to increase access to land-based knowledge and healing for urban Indigenous populations in Ontario. She is currently the Community Safety Liaison for the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA), providing advocacy, awareness and capacity building supports for Indigenous women & families, as well as service providers.


Date: October 11, 2024, 11 am – 12:30 pm

October 11, 2024, 11 am – 12:30 pm

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are used by governments and organizations, within Canada and around the world, as a blueprint for peace, prosperity and sustainability. Significantly, ‘culture’ – as a top-level category – has been excluded from this framework. This presentation will consider work being undertaken by The British Council to call attention to the role of Culture, or lack thereof, within the SDGs. What recommendations is the British Council making, and how are they applicable to the Ontario context? How can the SDGs be more accessible to the cultural sector, and how can they be embedded in the delivery of local cultural initiatives?


  • Rosanna Lewis, Culture & Development and Climate Creative Commissions lead, British Council (Presenter)
  • Paolo Granata, Associate Professor, Book & Media Studies Program Coordinator, University of Toronto; Faculty Affiliate, Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society (Respondent)


Rosanna Lewis

Rosanna has ten years’ experience working for the British Council on Culture and Sustainable Development. She has managed global and regional programmes (e.g. Creative Commissions for Climate Action) and strategic partnerships (e.g. UNESCO and EUNIC), as well as advanced policy, strategy, research and practice in this field. Rosanna is editor of ‘The Missing Pillar: Culture’s contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ (2020) and author of ‘Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth’ (2018).

Paolo Granata

Paolo Granata is an Associate Professor in Book and Media Studies at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. As an educator, an innovator, and a cross-disciplinary media scholar – nurtured by the centuries-old tradition of his Alma Mater, the University of Bologna – his research and teaching interests lie broadly in the areas of media ecology, media ethics, semiotics, print culture, and visual studies.


Date: November 16, 2023, 1 – 4:30 pm

Location: Sault Ste Marie. This half-day summit will be a part of the Destination Northern Ontario Conference.

The Ontario arts and tourism sectors are undeniably intertwined, as well as key drivers of and contributors to Northern Ontario’s economy. These three afternoon sessions at the Destination Northern Ontario conference will center around cultural tourism in Ontario, touching on leadership considerations and post-pandemic opportunities and trends. The sessions will also highlight insights from a recent cultural tourism report, providing a comprehensive view of the sector, and spotlight exemplary arts destinations in Northern Ontario.


1 pm: Cultural Tourism in Ontario: Challenges and Opportunities from Inclusion to Participation
Frederic Dimanche and Shawn Newman

2:30 pm: Building Arts Destinations in Northern Ontario: A Spotlight on the Thunder Bay Art Gallery and Greater Sudbury’s Place-des-Arts

3:30 pm: Why you REALLY want to attract the Cultural Tourist: A Conversation on the OAC’s 2023 Cultural Tourism Report
Michael Murray, Ontario Arts Council, in conversation with Kathleen Sharpe, Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund

Matthew R. Hills


Frederic Dimanche

Frederic Dimanche is Director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Toronto Metropolitan University. He worked in the USA and France before coming to Canada. He has published numerous tourism-related research articles on hospitality and tourism management. Frederic is a past President of the Travel and Tourism Research Association Europe and a fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism.

Shawn Newman

Shawn is an arts and culture researcher, educator, and consultant. His work spans many fields including cultural tourism, creative practice, and program design and evaluation. He has worked in both the non-profit and commercial arts and culture sectors, and his teaching at Queen’s and York universities ranges from film and media to dance to gender studies.

Michael Murray

Michael Murray was appointed CEO of the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) in July 2022. He brings wide-ranging leadership experience in the professional not-for-profit arts sector and cultural industries provincially, nationally and internationally.

Previously, Michael was director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Performer’s Rights Society. He also served as executive director for the Toronto Musicians’ Association, Local 149 of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (2015-2021), and as the OAC’s popular and world music and arts service organizations officer (2007-2015).

Michael began his career as a professional musician, producer and songwriter in Montréal. Later, he was named executive director of UrbanArts, a community arts council in Toronto engages youth facing socioeconomic barriers in community building through the arts.

Michael holds an MBA with a specialization in Arts and Media Management from the Schulich School of Business (York University). He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and holds an Honours Bachelor of Music from McGill University.

Kathleen Sharpe

Kathleen Sharpe is a senior manager in government and the cultural sector. She has been Executive Director of the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund since its inception in 1999. The Fund, a unique program established to support cultural tourism attractions through a combination of grants and loans, has committed over $80 million to more than 800 cultural tourism projects around Ontario. Prior to OCAF, Kathleen was Director of the Culture Division of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, a post she held from 1991 until amalgamation of the municipality into the City of Toronto in 1998. Kathleen has also held management positions at the Ontario College of Art and Design and The Banff Centre. Kathleen has been chair and president of a number of boards including the Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Artscape and the Canadian Conference of the Arts. She sits on many advisory committees including Nuit Blanche.

Matthew Hills

Matthew Hills is the current Executive Director of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. An art historian and curator with extensive experience working with collections, Matthew (he/him/they) has a proven track record of leadership having served in administrative and curatorial positions with visual arts organizations in British Columbia, Alberta and Atlantic Canada over the last 15 years. Most recently, he served as Director and Curator for Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell Art Gallery for the past 6 years. He has an MA in Critical and Curatorial Studies (Art History) from the University of British Columbia. Matthew grew up in Muskoka.


Date: Wed, Jan 31, 2024
Time: 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Generative AI has the potential to change the creative landscape. But what does this mean for artists and cultural producers? As the Federal Government conducts copyright consultations on Generative AI, we’re gathering to look at the issues and concerns from the arts community. Together, we’ll consider key factors to anticipate and understand in the coming months and years, examining their implications for the arts and culture sector, and the specific impacts of Generative AI on Indigenous creators and communities.

This webinar is a co-production of CARFAC Ontario and Ontario Culture Days

• Scott Benesiinaabandan, Intermedia artist, contributing author, Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper (speaker)
• Valentine Goddard, Lawyer, Founder of AI Impact Alliance, Member of the Canadian National Advisory Council on AI, and petitioner, Join the Art Impact AI Coalition & Support Artists Voices on the Future of AI (speaker)
• Jason Samilski, literary artist, musician, and the Managing Director of CARFAC Ontario (respondent)

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Scott Benesiinaabandan

Scott Benesiinaabandan is Anishinaabe, a member of Obishkkokaang/Lac Seul First Nations. Scott is an intermedia artist that currently works in experimental image-making and sonic materials. Scott has completed a MFA in photography from Concordia University and currently resides in WInnipeg in Treaty 1 territory. Scott’s current research interests are intersections of artificial-intelligence, philosophy, sound and Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibway language). Scott has completed international residencies at Parramatta Artist Studios in Australia, Context Gallery in Derry, North of Ireland, and University Lethbridge/Royal Institute of Technology iAIR residency, along with international collaborative projects in both the U.K and Ireland. Scott has recently completed residencies with Initiative for Indigenous Futures and AbTec in Montreal.

Valentine Goddard

Valentine is the founder and executive director of AI Impact Alliance. Lawyer, certified mediator, and inter-arts curator, she is a member of the AI Advisory Council of Canada, and a United Nations expert on AI policy and governance. She is currently leading the Art Impact AI Coalition, a petition signed by almost 2000 artists and experts.

Jason Samilski

Jason Samilski

Jason is a Toronto-based literary artist and musician who currently works as Managing Director of CARFAC Ontario. He previously served as a Creative Director of CUE Art Projects, a Toronto-based arts initiative that, for 15 years, provided high-access grants and exhibition opportunities for new generation artists who experience social, cultural, and economic marginalization.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

The ON Topic Speaker Series is supported by Arterra Wines Canada.