David Woods

Woods contributed a poem to The Great Black North, and the artwork for the book cover comes from his painting, Landscape #3 acrylic on canvas 2012

David Woods is a multi-disciplinary artist/performer (painter, curator, actor, playwright, storyteller, stage director, arts organizer) from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. As a teenager, Woods was gifted student and initially planned a career in law, but after working with Black youth in Preston (Nova Scotia’s largest Black community), turned his attention to art. His ‘adoption’ by the Fraser family of North Preston and close friendship with family matriarch Rosella ‘Mammay’ Fraser solidified his commitment to the arts and to exploring Nova Scotia Black experience.

Cultural Awareness Youth Group
In 1983, Woods founded the Cultural Awareness Youth Group of Nova Scotia (CAYG)- an agency using cultural approaches to develop leadership among Black youth in Nova Scotia. Woods organized 13 youth groups under CAYG and led these groups to chart a series of youth run independent activities including Black Youth Today a weekly television Broadcast, Quest For Identity- a Black History Quiz Tournament, and Community Interactions- a series of youth exchange trips focusing on developing community programs. Under his leadership, CAYG was awarded The Commonwealth Youth Service Award- recognizing the organization as one of the most innovative youth service agencies in the Commonwealth. CAYG also provided a testing ground (and audience) for Woods first forays in the arts with Woods creating artwork, plays, performances, and literature for various youth group projects.

Arts Events
While still with CAYG, Woods began organizing number of adult arts and cultural organizations and activities promoting African Nova Scotian culture. In 1984, Woods organized the first ever Black History Month program in Nova Scotia for the Halifax City Library. This first program was so successful it led to the development of a larger annual celebration of Black History Month activities across the province which Woods coordinated between 1984-1992. He also helped develop Black History Month celebrations in Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.

Other activities organized by Woods included an annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday celebration (1984-), The Preston Cultural Festival (2000-2004) and Africville House- the first multi-disciplinary presentation of art and culture of Africville (2008).

Arts Organizations
Woods was the founder/organizer of several African Nova Scotian arts and cultural organizations including Black Artists’ Network of Nova Scotia (1990), Black History Month Association (1991), Voices Black Theater Ensemble (1992), African Nova Scotian Quiltmakers Association (1999) and the North Preston Cultural Association (2000),

With his theatre company Voices, Woods began producing contemporary plays exploring African Nova Scotian experience that made him a household name in the province. Some of his notable plays were For Elsie Dorrington (1983), Voices (1984), The Dream Continues… (1985), Nova Scotia Black Reality Song (1990) and Choices In The Skin (1998). Several of his plays were produced by CBC Radio and broadcast nationally including Part of the Deal (1991), Black Journey (1992), The Aunt Jemima Story (1993), Once (1997), Home (2002), and Witness (2004). He has also written stage shows for noted national and international performers including Africville Suite (1996) for jazz composer Joe Sealy, the libretto And Still We Sing for Nathaniel Dett Chorale of Toronto (2000) and The Return for Georgia Sea Island Singers (2002). His musical drama Nova Scotia Suite was selected to represent Nova Scotia in performance at the 1995 Halifax G7 Conference.

Woods is both a noted curator and painter. As a curator, Woods organized groundbreaking exhibitions In This Place: Black Art in Nova Scotia- the first exhibition of Black Nova Scotian art (Anna Leonowens Gallery, 1998), When Black Women Useta Fly- the first exhibition of African Nova Scotian quilts (Dartmouth Heritage Museum, 2002) and Incantation- the first exhibition of art from and about Africville (Seaview Park, 2008). In 2006, Woods was appointed Associate Curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS)- the first African Canadian to earn such an appointment at a provincial art museum. Some of his achievements at the AGNS include organizing the purchase of a painting by Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901)- a New Brunswick born African American art pioneer who became the first artist of African descent to win a major art prize in North America (the Centennial Exhibition First Place medal 1876). He also organized a popular exhibition and provincial tour by the famed Gees Bend quiltmakers of Alabama. His own paintings have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada including at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Harboufront Centre, Toronto and McGill University, Montreal. One of his paintings Seaview graces the cover of Africville Suite- a Juno award-winning jazz recording by Joe Sealy (1996).

David’s first collection of poetry Native Song was published by Pottersfield Press in 1990 and was an immediate success. So far selections from the collection have appeared in over forty literary anthologies, in several school texts and on CD ROM. The book was also a curriculum text for several university and High School English courses in Nova Scotia in the 1990’s. In 2008, Nimbus Publishing of Halifax published Native Song Revised- a second edition of the popular collection. Woods has also written several unpublished collections including Notes From Birmingham Street (1998), Once (2002) and Home (2006).
Spoken Word
Woods was one of the earliest performers of spoken word performance poetry in Nova Scotia and is equally at home in this style of poetry as in traditional free verse poetry. He has written three unpublished spoken word collections In a Minute- a collection of political poems about African Nova Scotian history and experience, Speaking In Tongues- about women issues and African Nova Scotian cultural identity, and Gottingen X- an examination of Halifax northend in the 1990’s. He has performed his spoken word material in the Word Iz Bond Speak Series and on CBC Radio.

Woods is also a storyteller and has headlined storytelling festivals across Canada including the Vancouver Storytellers’ Festival, the Labrador Arts Festival and the Toronto Festival of Storytellers. His Aunt Nellie stories are a favorite with audiences and have been presented on CBC Radio.

Other achievements include directing The Bet- a video depicting Black Loyalist History in Nova Scotia; serving as scriptwriter and production assistant for several documentary films on Black Nova Scotian history including Speak It (NFB) and The Buddy Daye Story (CBC). Woods has also directed several of his own stage plays as well works by other notable playwrights including Harold Pinter (One For the Road) and Athol Fugard (Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Master Harold and The Boys). His acting credits include the lead role in Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Global Village Theatre, Halifax 1981), and the role of Rev. Miner in George Boyd’s Consecrated Ground (Eastern Front Theatre, 1999). He has also acted in numerous CBC radio dramas and appeared in two films.

Prizes, Awards
Arts, Literary
Nova Scotia Poetry Award (1989, B & S Poetry Society)
Poetry/artwork included in CD Africville Suite by Joe Sealy-winner of the 1996 Juno Best Contemporary Jazz Recording.
1st place prize George Elliott Clarke Literary Competition (1997, 1998)
1st place prize National Black Poetry Competition (1998)
Canada Council Millennium Arts Award (2000)
Play excerpt Black Journey featured in National Film Board documentary Speak It: From The Heart of Black Nova Scotia (1994 Gemini Award Best Canadian Documentary)
Shortlisted for Dartmouth Book Award (1990), CBC literary Award for Poetry (1997)

International Education Centre Certificate of Merit (1988)
Black Cultural Centre Certificate of Merit (1992)
George Dixon Community Service Award (1995)
Bahai Community Service Award (1997)
Black History Month Recognition Award (1999)

Website: see David Woods curated art exhibitions www.banns.ca

On YouTube
Performance of spoken word poem The Crazy (The North Preston Chi Chi Mix)

David Woods- Poet- Chi Chi

2 thoughts on “David Woods

  1. David, this was a great performance. You captured the true essenceof who ChiChi is. I remember her when I ministered up home. She got what many are missing: a true reality of what is really going on and the truth of what life is about. CRAZY: Courageous, Real, Authentic, Zeal, Yearning to pass on the truth: That is ChiChi

  2. Just wanted to say hello to David. My brother, Carl, and him were good friends back in Dartmouth High School. I think my Mother gave him his first Parka. Great to see you again David. It’s been about what, 36 years since I saw you last. lol. Looking good. You’ve done so well. Take care.

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