How You Can Support the Protesters in Iran – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

How You Can Support the Protesters in Iran – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

One of the most beautiful things I have experienced since the start of the protests in Iran, is the solidarity my non-Iranian friends have shown from the beginning of the woman, life, freedom movement. It is absolutely wonderful to witness so many people supporting, empathizing and genuinely wanting to help Iranian protesters in their fight for freedom. 

I have been asked multiple times and have seen countless comments all over social media of non-Iranians asking: “How can we help?”, and so I wanted to share some of the ways that you can help below: 

  1. Stay engaged and share the news about Iran
  2. Write to your representatives and ask them to support Iranian protesters 
  3. Sign petitions in support of the Iranian protesters
  4. Attend protests in your area 
  5. Help Iranians overcoming internet blackouts and filtering

At this link, you will find a comprehensive list of resources and action items, such as how to help protesters with the internet blackouts and filtering, that is updated on a regular basis. 

If you would like to stay up-to-date on the Iran news, information and real-time developments, here are some accounts you can follow on Instagram: 


Thank you again to North York Arts for giving me this opportunity to amplify the voices of the protesters in Iran.

Iranian Protesters at Risk of Execution – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

Iranian Protesters at Risk of Execution – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

Since the beginning of the protests in Iran in September 2022, more than 500 protesters have been killed and more than 10,000 protesters have been arrested.  Yet the protesters are still fighting for freedom, whether on the streets all over Iran or by various acts of civil disobedience. 

In an attempt to get the protests under control and inspire fear, the Islamic Republic has charged many innocent protesters with “Moharebeh” which translates to “Waging war against God”. A crime that is punishable by death in Iran. 

At least 4 protesters (Mohesen Shekari (23), Majidreza Rahnavard (23), Mohammad Mehdi Karami (22) and Mohammad Hosseini (39)) have been executed after giving false confessions under extreme physical and psychological pressure. At least another 41 protesters have received death sentences and are at risk of execution. 

False confessions in Iran are a widely reported phenomenon, especially amongst the political prisoners. These confessions are often used as evidence in sham trials, resulting in expedited convictions.

Physical and psychological torture, as well as threats against the prisoner and their family or loved ones are among the methods wherein these false confessions are extracted. It’s also important to note that Iran’s legal system lacks many of the protections and due process that are guaranteed in democratic countries. 

Due to the limitations on the Internet in Iran and lack of freedom of speech, Iranians in diaspora have started an online campaign to raise awareness on the executions in Iran, and get the support of the international community in hopes of getting the death sentences overturned. 

If you would like to join the campaign: 

  1. Grab a pen and paper and write #StopExecutionsinIran 
  2. Take a photo of or with the sign 
  3. Post it. Hashtag it! 

Or simply share a post or protest art and use the hashtag #StopExecutionsinIran

You might think posting on social media and hashtags don’t help in any way. For better or worse, we live in an extremely online world where trending hashtags and social media campaigns have an incredible effect in raising awareness on a topic and in turn will have news media reporting more on the said topic. 

This is how Iranians in Iran and all over the world brought attention to the death of #MahsaAmini and the #WomanLifeFreedom movement, by using the hashtags to educate, shed a light on what was happening in real-time and demand attention from the international community. 

By getting the hashtags trending, we got the attention of the news media, brands, politicians, celebrities and people around the world which started a larger conversation regarding policies against the Islamic Republic and limiting their power to suppress their own people. 

This is what we are hoping to achieve with the #StopExecutionsinIran and we hope that you will join us in raising your voice and supporting the people who are so bravely fighting for freedom.  

The Significance of Protest Art in Iran – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

The Significance of Protest Art in Iran – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

If you are on social media or have attended protests in person, you might have seen the amount of art that is being produced in support of the protests in Iran. You might be wondering why creating art is so significant in the fight for a free Iran.

For context, It is important to know that Iran has a rich history of art, poetry and music that dates back thousands of years. For the past 43 years, all forms of art have been policed, censored, repressed or blocked by the Islamic Republic government. Artists living in Iran cannot freely express themselves through art or any other means. You will find a lot of symbolism, metaphors, or other clever tools artists utilize to express what is forbidden under the Islamic Republic rules and regulations. Iranian artists living outside of Iran who create political art or feely criticize the regime, risk going to prison or worse if they ever decide to go back to Iran. 

In a society where freedom of choice and freedom of expression is against the rules, to freely create art and speak your mind becomes a form of protest. This is why protest art has become so important for Iranians.

Now what is protest art? Protest art or Activist art is the creative works produced by artists and activists that reflect social movements or bring awareness to a political issue. It is a traditional means of communication for citizens, as well as protesting totalitarian regimes where freedom of expression can be seen as a form of civil disobedience. Protest art comes in many forms and mediums such as: illustration, animation, video art, music, anthems, poems, performance art, installation and more. 

Many Iranian artists, myself included, feel that it is our responsibility to use our voice, platform and skills to show solidarity with the protesters, help amplify their voices through art and hopefully bring positive change to the movement. 

Over the past 3 months, a large number of non-Iranian artists and musicians have also joined in on creating protest art in support of the protesters which has brought worldwide attention to the protests. 

If you are an artist who is inspired by the Iranians’ fight for freedom, please use your voice and skills to amplify the Iranian voices. Create portraits, videos, posters, music or any other way that feels authentic to you, to raise your voice in support of the protesters in Iran. 


Mahsa (Jina) Amini and the Origin of the Woman, Life Freedom – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

Mahsa (Jina) Amini and the Origin of the Woman, Life Freedom – Anna Kavehmehr/Grow North

I am very grateful to North York Arts for giving me this opportunity to bring awareness to what is happening in Iran and the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. 

By now you have probably heard the name, Mahsa (Jina) Amini, how she became a symbol of a freedom movement in Iran, and the protests that have been ongoing since her brutal death 3 days after being in custody of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s “morality police”. You might have also heard the various chants from videos on social media or from the protests in your city. 

Iranians in diaspora have made it their mission to amplify the voices of the protesters in Iran on as many platforms as we can. Since the start of the protests, the government has limited access to the internet to avoid videos or news of the protests coming out. Despite the government’s efforts, Iranians have found different ways to connect to the internet and have risked their lives to get information, photos, and videos out and get the world’s attention. Most Iranians in diaspora are getting messages from their friends and family members which is a simple ask and it is: “Don’t forget about us.” “Please continue to let the world know what is happening in Iran” Or in short: “BE OUR VOICE”.

If you have an Iranian friend or colleague, you probably are seeing them posting news and information about Iran, attend rallies, sign petitions, and ask non-Iranians to stand in solidarity with the protesters in their fight for freedom. It is because of how loud Iranians have been on social media, that we started getting media attention from major news outlets, artists, musicians, celebrities, brands, politicians, human rights organizations, and activists all over the world. 

One of the most popular slogans you might have heard everyone repeating to show their support is “Woman, Life, Freedom” which has now become the battle cry of the whole movement. It is very important to highlight the history behind the slogan, its Kurdish origins, and how it mirrors protesters demands for freedom. 

For context, it is important to note that Mahsa (Jina) Amini was a Kurdish Iranian woman. Kurdish people in Iran are an oppressed minority. The Kurdish slogan, Jin Jîyan Azadî (ژن، ژیان، ئازادی) was first chanted at Mahsa (Jina) Amini’s funeral in Kurdistan. The videos of her funeral went viral, and the slogan quickly became popular in both Kurdish and the Farsi translation Zan, Zendegi, Azadi (زن، زندگی. آزادی) all over Iran. The slogan encompasses everything the protesters want in 3 simple words.

Jin, Zan or Woman: 

The protest was started by young Iranian women. Women in Iran have had their rights taken away and every aspect of their lives controlled by the government for the past 43 years. By starting the slogan with “Woman”, Iranians are demanding equal rights for women. 

Jîyan, Zendegi or Life:

Protesters are demanding a normal life. To live life as authentically as possible in a society that offers safety and stability to its citizens. 

Azadî, Azadi or Freedom:

Protesters are demanding freedom of choice in how they dress, the freedom to consume the art and media they choose, freedom to live their lives or practice the religion of their choice, freedom of expression, and in short to live as freely as possible in a society under democratic law.

Kurdish Origin of the Slogan: 

Jin, Jîyan, Azadî  (ژن، ژیان، ئازادی) is a popular political Kurdish slogan, which originated in Kurdish resistance movement, specifically with the Kurdish women’s movement within it. The Kurdish resistance movement was founded in response to the oppression and persecution of Kurds across the divided land of Kurdistan; in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The slogan was popularized further and by the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan in his anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal writings and ideologies.

The slogan marked the political activities of Kurdish women in the 2000 and was considered attractive because of its spelling, rhythm and connotational significance. It was also used among Kurdish men and women in their war against ISIS. 

 Woman, Life, Freedom movement is now known around the world as the first female-led revolution in the world that has demonstrated the bravery of the youth of Iran, especially the young Iranian women, fighting for their basic human rights. 

Here’s some simple ways that you can show your support to the people of Iran: 

  1. Amplify Iranian voices by sharing the news about Iran on your social media platforms  
  2. Use our hashtags on your social posts: #MahsaAmini #OpIran #FreeIran #WomanLifeFreedom #مهسا_امینی #ژن_ژیان_ئازادی #زن_زندگی_آزادی 
  3. Write to your representatives and demand they take meaningful action to support protesters in Iran. 
  4. Attend a protest near you 
  5. Art is a great tool to raise awareness. If you are an artist or are simply inspired by the movement, create art, design posters, write poems, create videos and animations, or simply use your voice to create positive change. 


Sunday Serenades 2022

Sunday Serenades 2022

A photo of Mel Lastman Square presenting Sunday Serenades in 2018. There is music on the stage and a happy crowd.

Regrettably, Sunday Serenades will not take place in 2022 due to staffing shortages in the events industry. Please direct questions to

Please see below for other Jazz related events happening at Mel Lastman Square during the summer of 2022.

Cultura – July 15, 2022: Cultura Festival is teaming up with Toronto Downtown Jazz to bring you fantastic live jazz music as part of the Cultura Festival, for FREE! Mel Lastman Square, music on from 6:30-9pm. Click here for details.

Toronto Underground Jazz Festival, weekend of Sept. 3. Click here for details.

Photo by Elle Choi

Let’s Dance at Downsview Park

Let’s Dance at Downsview Park

On Sunday May 15th and 22nd, we kicked off our series of Around Art and Land activations with Let’s Dance.

It was such a thrill to see and dance with all of our participants in four dance workshops at the Orchard Pavillion of Downsview Park. Our morning workshops were led by Mafa Makhubalo of Mafa Dance Village, and our afternoon sessions were led by Capoeira Bamba and Bamba Mississauga.
There was so much joy and excitement from participants of all ages, abilities and skill levels as we danced, moved, stretched, and laughed by the blooming apple trees of Downsview Park.
Mafa Dance Village led participants through a warm-up, introduced us to the basics of South African dance, then led us through a story creation through movement using the steps and choreography we learned in the first part of the workshop.
Mafa leads 15 participants in a dance class. This photo captures everyone with their arms up and walking forward.
Photo by Celeste Cole
The workshop was concluded and celebrated with a freestyle dance circle, and every participant had their chance to shine.
Participants dancing in a circle with one in the middle and others cheering in the background.
Photo by Celeste Cole
Capoeira Bamba and Capoeira Mississauga taught participants the fundamentals of Capoeira, and explained the history of the Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts and dance. We learned the basics of Capoeira like the Ginga (pronounced jeen-gah) and practiced kicks, and double kicks, and cartwheels with two hands, one hand, and no hands!
Instructor teaching a group of participants the ginga, a rocking move in triangle formation.
Photo by Celeste Cole
We were lucky to be joined by a few seasoned Capoeira students, and the workshops were concluded with impressive solos loaded with kicks, spins, and cartwheels.
A young participants mid-jump with both hands and feet off the ground.
Photo by Celeste Cole
Of course our participants also had the chance to practice with the pros and we crowned two winners for enthusiasm and excitement.
A child and instructor in the middle of the circle practicing Capoeira.
Photo by Celeste Cole
Thank you to everyone who joined us for these workshops, even in the cold and rain on the second Sunday! A huge thank you as well to all of our incredible instructors who brought us together in dance, movement, and excitement. View all the wonderful pictures by Celeste Cole and Radha Radcha in our Facebook Album.
Our next activation for Around Art and Land is happening on June 4th and 18th, What is Around is Alive invites participants on a walking tour of Downsview Park with Alan Colley. We hope to see you there!
How to be a Professional Artist who creates Great Art – Patrick Walters/Grow North

How to be a Professional Artist who creates Great Art – Patrick Walters/Grow North

There is no singular “Correct” way to create great art or be a professional artist. Regardless of your artistic discipline, what works for one artist, may not necessarily work for the other and therefore the ideas and “advice” that I will be sharing in this column, will be subjective, based on my (6+ years of ) professional experience and prefaced with many “I” statements. HAVING SAID THAT, “I” do believe that these ideas and practices can be applied and moulded to many artistic disciplines in ways that will achieve results and success. So let’s get into it!


Habitual Creative Time vs Genuine Inspiration 

I think as we begin this conversation, it is important to note that the very nature of being a “Professional” artist is somewhat antithetical to the idea of creating amazing art. How can you continuously create the best art of your life with a deadline and a budget and oftentimes confounding stipulations put on you by someone who may not necessarily understand your artwork or artistic practice? For me, this is a question I often ask myself. The conclusion I’ve come to is this; Find the balance between creating structured time in your day for intentional and consistent creative time while also nurturing and then capitalising on moments of genuine inspiration. The reality of the situation I find myself in, is that if I just sit around and do nothing until I feel a moment of genuine inspiration, I may create beautiful and masterful art over time, but I will never be able to earn a living, let alone achieve financial and career success for myself. While I often find myself raging against this harsh reality, I have also been fortunate enough to see the benefits of having structured work and creative time in my career. In addition to that, I also truly believe that my best work comes from moments of pure inspiration where I am able to set everything else aside, and become completely enveloped in the process of doing what I was put on this earth to do; my art. I would never want to lose that. So the full picture for me is to schedule enough time in my day to complete the “must-do” art (Social media engagements, Grant proposals, emails, workshops, speaking or writing engagements, commissions etc) , while still providing room for my mind to wonder and stumble into moments of genuine inspiration and creativity (creating new poetry and music).

But, how?

 Is It the Habit of Creation or Creating Good Habits?

There was never a specific point in time where I thought to myself, “Boom! Now I got it all figured out”. In fact I think many professional artists will tell you that there is NEVER a point where you have it all figured out because the balance of what is required from you is always changing from month to month and year to year. Some weeks I have all the work in the world lined up and I have to set aside much more structured time for myself because “Money affi mek!” In those moments I will naturally be more focused on worldly ideas of money, deadlines and networks and be less open to a moment where the universe will speak to you in such a way that you experience a brilliant idea for an artwork or have the strong desire to create something. Trust me, that is okay! I create a schedule for all my “Must dos” and capitalise on that because I am trying to understand that I am earning money and resources, in order to have more time and money to finance my truly artistic endeavours. Some other weeks, I may find myself with more time and space to create and it is equally important to seize those moments to the fullest because I understand that these moments are fleeting and I was the 1-in-7,000,000,000 that the Universe chose to put that artwork out to the world. In these times, I will naturally find it more difficult to cross off the “must dos” and they may oftentimes feel like even more of a chore than they already can sometimes feel like for me. Trust me, that is okay!
Ideally, in my week, I will be able to balance between the two ideas and that is actually quite a large metric by which I define “Success” for myself as a professional artist. My modus operandi is this: I want to be in the habit of being able to seamlessly switch between completing my “must do” tasks and seizing on random moments of inspiration in my day to day. If I have a good idea or a beautiful line pops into my head, I WRITE IT DOWN. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have gone back into my Google doc of ideas and found UNCUT DIAMONDS in the form of an idea that I can turn into a bar, a turn of phrase, a whole poem or even an entire project. None of those would have been available if I didn’t write it down at the time, knowing that I would return to it after my “must dos” were completed. You don’t get to decide when a moment of inspiration or creation will hit you, but you can do everything in your power to take full advantage when it does and also cultivate healthy conditions for it to occur.


In the end, experience and discipline will be your best teachers. You cannot create great art or be a professional artist without getting into the habit of being comfortable working on deadlines, within budgets and inside stipulations of your contracted employer. However, this does not mean that you forgo moments of genuine inspiration because you need that to feel complete and to create truly stunning pieces of art. Balancing both is the ever changing mission, and it is my privilege and my responsibility to execute that mission, to the best of my ability, on a day to day basis. This column has only scratched the surface of the iceberg in terms of this topic but I would be happy to go even more in depth on examples and personal anecdotes to give more context in the future. Thank you for reading and all the best in your mission.

Graphic Illustration of a traditional scale


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Celebrating Earth Day with Upcycled Art

Celebrating Earth Day with Upcycled Art

On Sunday April 24th, North York Arts was thrilled to be joined by Orfelina of @orfeecoart for our first in-person event since the start of the pandemic. In collaboration with our friends at Downsview Park, we engaged with many families who came to participate and enjoy the festivities for Earth Day at Downsview Park. 

An image of a man playing the accordion in the park       Orfelina standing behind a cutout of a cardboard guitar

Our lead artist Orfelina created a guitar using upcycled cardboard including shipping boxes, cereal packages, milk cartons, and paper towel rolls. These materials were decorated by our many participants of all ages, and each addition to the guitar held a message for the planet. Throughout the event, participants learned about the importance of taking care of the planet, and brainstormed ways that they can help and make an impact.

Orfelina is pasting a decoration that reads clean up our oceans to a cardboard guitar     a cardboard piece of art that reads I want to save the trees and flowers and animals

The goal of this activation was to create a piece of art with as little waste as possible. Often the creation of art can have a negative impact on the environment, and we were very happy to use upcycled materials and create a final product that applied all three “R’s” (reduce, reuse, recycle).

the top of a cardboard guitar with messages for the environment

the middle of a cardboard guitar with messages for the planet

Orfelina is an environmental artist and creator/facilitator of an eco-friendly community art program for children. Her passion for art, environmentalism, and community engagement, along with her art education experience with the TCDSB and the TDSB, have strengthened her motivation to engage young people in protecting the earth through participatory community arts.

Our next event with Orfelina and @orfeecoart will be during Doors Open Toronto at the Meridian Arts Centre. We will be creating kites once again using upcycled materials and containing messages for the planet and all flying creatures. Join us for “Elevating My Dreams” on May 28th and May 29th. We hope to see you there!

Building a Creative Practice – Tasneem Dairywala/Grow North

Building a Creative Practice – Tasneem Dairywala/Grow North

Building a Creative Practice

By Expecting the Unexpected

We’re all born artists, but for most of us, creativity gets buried under the pressure of heavy responsibilities, busy schedules, and rigid social structures. For those of us who are able to make room for our creativity, we still often manage to stifle it through our own expectations. So here are some dos and don’ts to build and sustain a creative practice based on my own experience!


Do expect your creativity to reward you, to create an additional layer of meaning in every part of your life. A tearful hug from an audience member, a homemade cake from a participant, a balloon of happiness expanding within your heart… These are the unexpected gifts your creativity will sprinkle upon you.


Don’t expect your creativity to reward you with money and fame. These goals are just a reflection of what society considers ‘successful’. If these are your end goals, there are easier ways to get to them. Our creations sew together the torn fragments of the world. What we create is valuable, even if it doesn’t meet the standard definition of success.


Do expect your creativity to stun and surprise you. Bring down ‘art’ from its pedestal so your creativity can have free reign. Trust in the unknown. Encourage yourself. Your creativity will bloom when you play, experiment and let loose!


Don’t expect your creativity to bring you perfection. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. We can only make imperfect things. Be careful of the narrative you tell yourself.  If you start creating to achieve perfection instead of joy, your creativity will go into hiding, quietly withdrawing until the pressure lifts off.


Do expect your creativity to want excitement and change. Go to shows, take classes, read books. Reach out to other artists and art organisations, such as NYA! Taking the first step is scary but necessary. Seek knowledge. Build connections.


Don’t expect creativity to always be around. Creativity doesn’t like being alone all the time, and it certainly doesn’t like being bored. Pretty much anything other than sitting at home and stewing about its absence will bring it back to you.

And that’s all I’ve got! Creativity is elusive and slippery. Expect too much, and it’ll flee. Let it breathe, and it’ll seep through the cracks of the ordinary in the most wonderful ways. I wish you the best of luck!

Tasneem Dairywala is an Artist, Writer and Illustrator. To read more of her writing, sign up for her newsletter at