by Lisa Mackay
Since January 2022, the Rozsa Foundation staff has grown by 20%. Samuel Obadero joined the foundation as Arts Leadership Associate at the beginning of the year, working closely with Arts Leadership Director Geraldine Ysselstein, and bringing the number of staff at the foundation to six.
Sam immigrated to Calgary in 2018, and immediately caught the eye of the arts community. Although his professional degrees are in Information Technology, when the people at Calgary Catholic Immigration Services (CCIS) saw his photographs, they were astonished. “They immediately wanted to see more work, and asked if they could send some to Calgary Arts Development (CADA),” recalls Sam. “Of course I was happy to share my photography work.”
The result of this exchange happened in 2019, when Sam was awarded the CCIS New Canadian Artist Award at the Mayor’s Lunch for Arts Champions. This award, in turn, introduced Sam to a whole new community of Black artists in Calgary. “I was approached by Lanre Ajayi, who told me congratulations, and that he had won the same award in the previous year,” said Sam. “Through Lanre, I met Toyin Oladele, and so many more talented and enthusiastic artists in the Black community. It is really such a strong and talented community, and I feel very passionate about supporting and strengthening it.”
Sam was working in IT when he received the award, and was part of the team that set up the IT infrastructure for the largest YMCA in the world in Seton. However, he knew his heart was in the arts, and in 2021, he turned to photography full time, opening the first Black-owned photography studio in the city.
"I have a good feeling about the things that are going to happen in the next twelve months.” Sam Obadero
Sam is intent on making his studio successful, and not just for himself. He is keenly aware that he is leading the way for Black artists in Calgary, and feels immense pressure to be a solid role model. “When you don’t see examples of successful Black artist entrepreneurs, it creates the illusion that to become one is impossible,” he said. “There are so many messages built in to the system we live in that Black art isn’t as good; that Black artists aren’t as good. Almost every Black artist I know is doing their art on the side of a day job, and charging too little for it.”
“I want to be successful to be that example that tells people it is possible. I want to be the mentor that lets Black and immigrant artists know that they are worth a higher price tag – their work is worth it!”
It was this drive and desire that brought him to work at the Rozsa Foundation. He was first introduced to the Rozsa Foundation's Arts Leadership Programs by Toyin, and completed both the Rozsa Arts Fundamentals Training (RAFT) and the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP), which is presented in partnership with the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, in 2020. When he saw the IBPOC Arts Leaders Residency Grant on the Rozsa Foundation website, he reached out to Simon and Geraldine to find out if there could be an way to create a similar residency at the Rozsa Foundation. “We hadn't thought of hosting a residency ourselves,” laughed Geraldine, “but Sam showed us how well his goals aligned with daily functions of the Foundation, especially in the area of Arts Leadership. He noticed the way we have been moving our programs forward, and wanted to both learn and contribute.”
Sam is hoping that this new role will help him learn the administrative side of running an arts business, while also learning how to be an effective arts mentor. “I am hoping it will help me learn the lingo,” Sam chuckled. “I want to be able to secure funding that puts my studio on solid footing, so I can turn my attention to building up the Black and Immigrant arts community. I can also see the many ways the Black and immigrants communities can benefit from the programs the Rozsa Foundation offers, and I want to make sure they are aware of them and can use them to develop their arts management skills.”
But where does this leave his artistic pursuits? What about all that talent that CCIS and CADA saw immediately? This is a struggle that Sam has not yet found his way around. “Yes, this is something I think about a lot, and I haven’t yet figured it out,” he admitted. “My artistic photography feeds my soul, and gives me energy for everything else. Ideally, I want to be able to pay the bills, and create great work that I am proud to share with the world. By achieving this, I hope it will show others that this life is possible, and being successful at it is something they can also aim for and achieve. That is what I am working towards, and I have a good feeling about the things that are going to happen in the next twelve months.”
While we have worked remotely with Sam for only a short time, we are completely certain that he will achieve his goals, and so many more beyond what he can see now. He brings many gifts to the Foundation, and the impact he is going to have on all of us and the way we work will no doubt be enormous. We are very excited about working with him and also have a good feeling about the things that will happen in the year ahead!
Photography by Sam Obadero. See more here: https://client.motifphotography.ca/art/artgallery.