Grant for Black women and non-binary artists keeps Charlie Earle’s memory alive

The Charlie Earle Memorial Microgrant is awarded annually to an artist who embodies Earle’s creative legacy. This year’s award will be presented virtually during the Black History Blowout on February 27.

The second annual Charlie Earle Memorial Microgrant will be awarded on February 27. The grant honours the late Charlene Earle, a multidisciplinary artist in Peterborough who was best known for her talent as a singer. Earle, known to friends in Peterborough as Charlie, died suddenly in the summer of 2019, leaving a big hole in the local music community. She was 33.

Black artists who are women or non-binary are eligible for the grant, which was worth $1,000 in 2020 and is worth $1,100 this year. 

Established by the Trent Centre for Women and Trans People (TCWTP) in 2020, the grant “aims to dismantle some of the systemic barriers to pursuing a creative practice,” writes Zoe Easton, TCWTP’s coordinator. TCWTP is continuing to fundraise to ensure the long-term sustainability of the grant.

This year’s grant will be awarded as part of the Black History Blowout, an event showcasing the creative work of local Black and Indigenous artists. The Black History Blowout will be held online this year due to COVID-19. It’s being organized by Black Lives Matter Nogojiwanong with funding from the TCWTP. Learn more about the event here

The Black History Blowout will showcase the creative work of local Black and Indigenous artists and will also feature the presentation of the 2021 Charlie Earle Memorial Microgrant. Tickets available here.

Easton explains that the idea for the grant came up during preparations for last year’s Black History Month events, when “Charlie’s death was still very new.” Many of the people involved with the TCWTP had been friends with Earle, and they wanted to find a way to honour her.

Muna Ahmed, a TCWTP board member and a coordinator with Black Lives Matter Nogojiwanong, was part of those conversations. “When I was getting to know Charlie, we talked a lot about Blackness and identity in our conversations,” Ahmed says. “So for me, it felt very important to find something that honors her as a mixed but also a Black person in our community.”

Ahmed says Earle’s first grants had a big impact on her career as a singer, and that makes the idea of honouring her through a grant even more appropriate.

The Charlie Earle Microgrant is just one of the ways that the Peterborough community has come together to keep Earle’s memory alive since her death. Songs have been written about her, fundraisers have been held in her honour and multiple celebrations of her life have been held. 

Earle’s mother, Tina Earle-Antoine, who lives in Minden, says all this has been a source of comfort over the last year-and-a-half. “Everybody’s open arms” in Peterborough have helped her family to recover from the shock of losing Charlie, she says.

“I don’t know how our family would have gotten along as far as we did if we didn’t have the people in Peterborough,” Earle-Antoine says. “Without the artist community, without the musicians, without the people in Peterborough, we would not have made it through this as well as we did after losing Charlene.”

“They’re still rallying to keep her memory alive and her spirit going. It’s just been phenomenal,” she says.

Earle-Antoine recalls first learning about the grant through Facebook. After she reached out to the organizers, she got involved. She attended last year’s Black History Blowout, where the first recipient was announced. And this year, she’s on the panel that will decide who the next recipient is.

Giving artists a confidence boost

Earle-Antoine remembers her daughter as a “phenomenally talented” young woman who expressed herself in visual, written and musical arts, though “her singing was her greatest gift.” 

But Charlie Earle also had a shy side, her mother says, and she didn’t always believe in herself. “Sometimes I don’t think she really believed that she had the talent that she did. She always just kind of downplayed it.”

Earle-Antoine says she’d love to see the Charlie Earle Microgrant support artists like her daughter — artists who might have more talent than they’re aware of. 

“I think that would give them a little more push to pursue their art or whatever it is they’re pursuing,” she says. “There’s a lot of talent that goes [unnoticed] because people don’t have enough self esteem or don’t believe in themselves.”

Judging by the impact that the grant has had on the inaugural winner, it appears Earle-Antoine’s hopes for the prize are coming to fruition.

The 2020 winner of the grant was Ethel Nalule, a 23-year-old Trent student from Uganda. Like Charlie, she practices many artforms. But her biggest passion is photography.

“When I received the award last year, that was a boost of confidence, it just made me want to be more myself,” Nalule says.

Ethel Nalule receives the 2020 Charlie Earle Memorial Micorgrant at last year’s Black History Blowout event. Left to right: Hannah Collins, Muna Ahmed and Ethel Nalule. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Semugaza.

Nalule says she’s been overly critical of her work in the past. In a world awash in photographs, it can be hard to pursue a vision that’s different from the pictures that usually get shared on social media, the “pretty photos with good colours and good backgrounds and perfect models,” as Nalule describes them.

That’s not what Nalule likes to shoot. “I love to shoot emotion,” she says. “I love to shoot concepts. I love to shoot things that make you think… it’s hard to get that kind of work out there and for it to be seen.” 

“I don’t find that my photos are as appreciated in the photography world because they aren’t ‘elegant,’” Nalule says.

But winning the Charlie Earle Memorial Microgrant changed her perspective. It “reminded me that people do love my photography and they want to keep seeing it,” Nalule says. 

While she didn’t know Earle personally, Nalule says learning about her life and legacy has inspired her to approach her own art with more confidence. She used the money from the grant to buy a new camera, and she says she’s been taking more pictures ever since.

Over the last year, Nalule and Earle-Antoine have struck up a friendship. Earle-Antoine has taken an interest in watching Nalule develop as an artist, and the two check in from time to time.

“It’s really nice to see how engaged she is with my art,” Nalule says. “She’s very encouraging towards my photography.”

Earle-Antoine hopes to stay connected with whoever wins the 2021 grant, as well. “I would love to be a part of their story going on. I want to know what they’ve done with their lives and I’ll be rooting for them.”

Mountain-top memorial delayed by COVID-19

Shortly after Earle died, her mother started a Go-Fund-Me campaign to raise money for a memorial service where she would be “set free” on the top of Mount Albert Edward in British Columbia.

Arrangements were made and plane tickets were booked for July 2020, a year after Earle’s death. But “of course, COVID had other ideas,” Earle-Antoine says. Now, Earle-Antoine says she’s “fighting” with the airline to get a refund for the plane tickets.

In Peterborough, too, the pandemic got in the way of marking the one-year anniversary of Earle’s death, her mother says. “This past July, everybody was like, ‘I don’t feel like this is right. I feel like we should be out there celebrating Char.’”

It was “so hard to not be able to have the celebrations that we were looking forward to,” Earle-Antoine says.

For now though, the grant is one way to continue honouring the memory of Charlie Earle by encouraging the next generation of Black women and non-binary artists in Peterborough.

“I am really thankful,” Earle-Antoine says. “I really hope that this continues for years and years and years to come.”

To make a donation in support of the Charlie Earle Memorial Microgrant, send an e-transfer to [email protected] with “For Charlie” in the memo. 

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