Grow North Awards

Grow North Awards

NYA Website grow north awards

NYA Grow North Awards

North York Arts’ Grow North Awards (GNA) acknowledges the significant contribution that North York based artists make to the vibrancy and livability of North York. The awards competition offers the opportunity to receive city-wide recognition from a jury of artistic visionaries.

The NYA Grow North Awards program acknowledges and celebrates those who are helping to improve communities by creating publicly accessible artistic works or publicly available community programs and recognizes the significant contribution that artists make to the vibrancy and livability of North York.

The awards provide a snapshot of what has been accomplished and enables us to reflect on how we can best contribute to the growth of artistic excellence in the community.

The Grow North Awards awards are dedicated specifically to artists based in North York from a variety of disciplines including, but not limited to: Indigenous arts, Disability arts, dance, literature, media arts, multi and inter-arts, music, theatre, visual arts, film. 

The primary criteria for assessing the merit of all entries will be:

  • Positive contribution to the community through past artistic endeavors and plans of future artistic endeavors 
  • Precedent setting for an activity of its type through artistic excellence
  • Incorporation of low barrier access into past and future projects 
  • Positive contribution to a community building and/or well-being through the arts

Jury members will give special consideration to submissions that demonstrate an alignment to North York Arts’ Strategic Plan  and  support NYA’s values of equity, collaboration, community and innovation. Successful submissions will take into consideration North York Arts’ expectations for high-quality and accessible projects that align with the NYA’s mission and vision.

Artists can apply to one of the following award categories: 

Public art:

Past work and the proposal of a future artistic project* that is accessible to the public, with a goal to develop the public’s appreciation of art. This can include art in the public realm or artistic productions that the public can attend (paid productions included).

Public art programming:

Past work and the proposal of a future  arts-based* workshop or series of workshops open to the public to promote the appreciation of art through creation of art together with the community.

* At NYA professional artworks and arts-based workshops can include, but not limited to the following disciplines: performing arts, visual arts, digital arts, Indigenous arts, Disability arts, film, etc.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Be an individual artist or unincorporated group/ collective based in North York.
    • For groups/collectives: at least 50% of the group/collective must be living in North York and a resident of North York must be the one applying on behalf of the collective/group
  • **Be a qualified artist
    • Definition: A qualified artist is someone who has developed their craft through formal training and/or equivalent practice; actively practices and pursues their art; may seek payment for their work; and has a history of presentation of their work, whether that be to the public or in post-secondary institutions
  • Be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada
  • Have a Canadian bank account 
  • Applicants can be students enrolled in post-secondary education
  • Past award recipients are ineligible for the Award.

Where is “North York”?

North York Arts defines North York as the following Wards & postal codes:

  • 6-York Centre
  • 8-Eglinton-Lawrence
  • 15-Don Valley West
  • 16-Don Valley East
  • 17-Don Valley North
  • 18-Willowdale
  • and M3N postal codes

Historically, North York included M3N postal codes, but now they fall under the Community Council of Etobicoke. We wish to honour the relationships we have built while this part of the city was previously served by North York Arts.

You can check if you reside in these Wards by visiting this link

 Requirements to Apply for an Award:

  • Artists are required to determine which stream they are applying for; public art or public art programming.
  • Artists must present at least 2 past projects, demonstrating how their art contributes to the vibrancy of the community
  • Artists must provide a description and plans of a future  public artwork or public art programming (the Activity)  and demonstrate how it will continue to enhance the public’s appreciate of art in the community

Juried Award Review Process

  • Award applications will be reviewed by a jury of professional artistic peers and North York Arts representatives. 
  • Jury members will be announced once the award applications are open
  • Applications will be assessed on the basis of:
    • Positive contribution to the community through past artistic endeavors
    • Sensitivity to existing public art and/or community programming and the recognition the activity fills a gap
    •  Innovation and feasibility of the activity proposed
    • Precedent setting for an activity of its type through artistic excellence
    • Incorporation of low barrier access into past work and activity plans
    • Positive contribution to a community building and/or well-being through the arts
  • The rubric can be found here
  • Award recipients will be contacted within 2-4 months of the application deadline.
  • Award recipients will be publicly recognized on North York Arts’ platforms and other media outlets. 

***Stay tuned for when applications will be open.

Meet our 2023 Recipients!

Brian Jiang

Discipline: Visual Arts

Meet Brian

Brian Jiang (they/she) is a queer trans multi-disciplinary artist of Chinese-descent based in Tkaronto. Their practice comprises of animation, illustration, painting, graphic design and beyond. As an artist collaborator working within the cultural sector, their arts-practice is informed by the love for their communities. Brian’s work draws upon mythology, the natural world, and lived experiences to explore the ties between identity, diasporic migration, kinship, and ecological connections. They have been commissioned by Pride Toronto, Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, Inside Out Film Festival, Maisonneauve Magazine, LinkedIn StreetARToronto and more. Their work can be found at @_brianjiang.

This microgrant will be used to create a series of paintings that explore the implications of “passing” through my lens as a trans racialized individual.

Jay-Marie Phillips: pothound

Discipline: Music

Meet pothound

Jay-Marie Phillips, known as pothound, is a Trinidadian-Canadian musician, producer, and artist. Her music spans electro-pop and acoustic indie soul, exploring themes of identity, solitude, and the clash of cultures. pothound’s debut record, Video Garden is a concept album, drawing on visual themes of neon noir, solarpunk, and urban jungles.

Jay’s practice is intertwined with identity and belonging as a queer, trans, Scarborough-born, Trinidadian-raised artist and organizer living in Toronto. Her work strives to find meaning in being an outcast. In 2020, Jay co-founded Cooler Fete, a queer Caribbean diaspora party, and is one of the resident DJs.

This microgrant will be used to help aid in the creation and development of visual elements for my debut project, Video Garden, using 3D animation and illustration.

Nailah Renuka

Discipline: Circus and Dance

Meet Nailah

Nailah Renuka is a circus and dance artist celebrated for her exceptional athleticism, curious spirit, and captivating stage presence. Her creative approach prioritizes interdisciplinary collaborations among diverse visual, musical, and movement-based art disciplines as well as between various circus disciplines like contortion, pole, and lyra. She weaves transitional patterns and evocative imagery into her work, channelling the full spectrum of human physicality and the intricacies of musicality in her explorations of what it means to be human. Most recently Nailah has worked with Les 7 Doigts as a pole artist in the creation of a new show.

This microgrant will fund 8-month contortion, hand-balancing, and acrodance training with Samantha Halas and Katelyn Ettinger to enhance skills, artistry, and receive mentorship in the circus industry.

Natalie Paton

Discipline: Writing and Filmmaking

Meet Natalie

Natalie Paton is a writer and filmmaker who tells stories about womanhood, immigration, generational relationships, Western society, and power dynamics. She loves calling the multicultural city of Toronto her home and is continuously inspired by her experiences and the experiences of those around her. Her work focuses on a mix of fiction and documentary with the goal of contextualizing the systems around us through character-driven stories.

This microgrant will be used largely to pay for location-based filming in North York, interviewing local residents, and renting equipment for filming dates (est. 4 days).

Yago Mesquita

Discipline: Theatre

Meet Yago

Yago Mesquita is an emerging, queer Brazilian-Canadian theatre artist from Toronto, ON. He is a playwright, performer, and producer with values of authenticity, care, connection, creativity, and fun grounding his artistic practice.

Yago creates character-driven work from a young, queer, first-generation Canadian lens, heavily informed by his experience and that of friends, family, and fellow artists. Yago is keen to push the boundaries of theatrical storytelling through highly imaginative, poetic, sensitive, and revealing multidisciplinary work that uses stylistic surreal elements that divorce itself from realism.

This microgrant will support a self-directed experimentation process within the context of ABfe47 to better understand its theatrical form, which is essential to ABfe47’s development.

Meet our 2022 Recipients!


Discipline: Pottery and Ceramics

Meet Aalyaland

Aalyaland is a Pottery and ceramics Artist that will use the Grow North Micro Grant to create a ceramic art installation entitled “Vigilaunties” depicting tea cups with red flags –spilling the tea on toxic aunties that perpetuate patriarchal mindsets and societal norms through their behaviours towards people of all genders.

“First and foremost, my goal is to make people laugh because of how relatable and unfiltered this project is. Most South Asian womxn and non-binary folks I know have experienced toxic aunty behaviour. My hope is to create an art installation that people capture, share, and send to aunties via WhatsApp (the App that they most use to send forwards on to their peers).” – Aalyaland


Anaiah Lebreton

Discipline: Multimedia

Meet Anaiah

Anaiah Lebreton is a Multimedia Artist that will use the Grow North Micro Grant to create a music video – merging graphic design with music production and videography to an original song highlighting queer love. On the second slide, you can find examples of Anaiah’s past work featuring snippets from a collaborative zine “Youth In Revolt, Rookies With Friends.”

“This project is important to me because I see it as an opportunity to actualize a vision of powerful rebellious Queer people I often see missing from media spaces” – Anaiah Lebreton

Miguel Caba

Discipline: Visual Arts

Meet Miguel

Miguel Caba is a visual artist/painter that will use the Grow North Micro Grant towards research on the demolition of apartment housing in North York and the stories of the people that live there and then produce art objects based on that research.

“This subject is important to me because I have also experienced displacement in North York as the building I have lived in for my whole life was demolished to build new condos. I know that this is not an isolated experience since many buildings are pending demolition or have already been demolished in North York and in each of those buildings resides hundreds of people all with their own stories similar to mine about navigating displacement.” – Miguel Caba

Pierre Poussin

Discipline: Sculpture

Meet Pierre

Pierre Poussin is a large-scale sculptor that will use the Grow North Micro Grant to learn and refine his skills of digital-hand-sculpting, helping his concept development and fabrication processes become much more efficient.

“This activity is very important to me because it would allow me to bring my digital art-making processes and public art skills to the next level. I want to take the time to learn digital sculpting, because I will be able to use this newly-acquired skill within my public art practice. I will hopefully be able to digitally-sculpt just as effectively and efficiently as sculpting with clay.” – Pierre Poussin

Shan Fernando

Discipline: Theatre

Meet Shan

Shan Fernando is a theatre artist, who will use the Grow North Micro Grant to fund research and writing of a new play, in addition to paying for a playwriting workshop.

“My play is about an affluent Toronto family, the Austins, as they navigate mental health, addiction, and the acceptance of one’s sexuality”- Shan Fernando

Shanika Lewis Waddell

Discipline: Music

Meet Shanika

Musician Shanika Lewis-Waddel will use the Grow North Micro Grant to fund the creation of a new work mixing electronic/ambient/experimental music with steelpan.

“I am curious to incorporate styles/instruments/sounds that aren’t commonly heard together. With a goal of play, exploration, curiosity to see what new things can expand from these often separated genres…I plan to interview my 94 year old maternal grandfather who lived the majority of his life in Trinidad. I want to incorporate some of his stories into the music and let that guide the creation. I want this to be a project that allows me to learn more about him and Trinidad through his eyes.”- Shanika Lewis-Waddel

This program is supported by:

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With Love, North York

With Love, North York

With Love, North York

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Six Community Centres. Six Artists. Lots of Love.


With Love, North York is a community art project produced by North York Arts.

Throughout Winter 2022 and Spring 2023, six new visual arts pieces were created across six community centres in North York, by local North York-based artists.

Artists engaged with their respective community centres to create an artwork that channels the values, members, and essence of each community. This project was designed to acknowledge the land we are privileged to live, work, and create on, as well as to celebrate 100 years of the incorporation of the Township of North York. North York Arts is lucky to serve and honour this community through public art.

We acknowledge the millenia-long history of these lands, its peoples and its history. We are honoured to foster arts and culture on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River, or what is known today by many as North York.

Community Builders
Bryan Taguba
Acrylic Paint on Stretch Canvas

Roding Community Centre
600 Roding St – M3M 2A5
York Centre, Ward 6

About Community Builders

The piece aims to portray the interconnectedness of our cultures, our past, and our current realities through the usage of communication lines borrowed from the Woodland Style of Native Canadian Art. As part of a diverse and multicultural community largely being made up of working class families and people, we have a collective role in creating and sustaining a culture of care, inclusivity, decolonization and empowerment. ‘Community Builders’ is inspired by everyday working people who serve our communities, the promise of the future generation and the idea that together we can shape a future that is truly equitable and cognizant of our wants and needs.
– Bryan Taguba

Windows of Opportunity
Marg Cresswell – Murals by Marg
Acrylic Paint on Bending Plywood

North Toronto Memorial Community Centre
200 Eglinton Ave West – M4R 1A7
Eglinton Lawrence, Ward 8

About Windows of Opportunity

The illusion of trompe l’oeil offers the chance of discovery, to perceive all the details inside and escaping the illusion in my murals. I aim not to deceive, but to reveal the illusion. This meeting place, between the real thing and the painted thing, brings the viewer to the edge of illusionism, only to assert that the reality is the paint.

Although the deception may appear only momentarily, it is an instant of being deceived. And once the illusion has dissolved, what remains will be the painting all on its own and draw in the viewer to spend time exploring all the details and visual delights each mural has to offer.
– Marg Cresswell

Community Love
Yasaman Mehrsa
Digital Artwork printed on Vinyl Banner

Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre
48 Thorncliffe Park Drive – M4H1J7
Don Valley West, Ward 15

About Community Love

Inspired by the theme of community, this vibrant mural showcases love, support, and a sense of belonging between the community members, the neighbourhood, and the Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre. People of all gender, ages, and backgrounds come together, share their interests, and interact with others. This mural is a representation of the people of a community that live, work, study, play, and grow together.
-Yasaman Mehrsa

Melisa Sofi
Digital Artwork printed on Vinyl Banner

Dennis R Timbrell Resource and Community Centre
29 St Dennis Dr – M3C 3J3
Don Valley East, Ward 16

About Dreamers

This portraits series showcases a group of kids with diverse interests and styles.They all carry birds with them that can be interpreted as companions, symbolic of those who have found a home among the generosity of others.
– Melisa Sofi

Window into Oriole
Serene Chan – Serene Illustrations
Digital Artwork printed on Vinyl Banner

Oriole Community Centre
2975 Don Mills Road – M2J 3B7
Don Valley North, Ward 17

About Window into Oriole

This painting depicts a brick wall with 4 arches acting as windows looking into some of the community’s favorite activities. Each image showcases a different scenery that slightly reaches outside of the arch frame, portraying the activity almost coming to life. All four windows are connected with a white banner written with words that the community members used to describe the Oriole community centre: Diversity, Creativity, Teamwork, Community, Passion, and Family. This image ties together the heart of what Oriole represents: a community that prioritizes physical and creative activities in a family friendly environment.

– Serene Chan

Community Vibe
Laura Yang
Digital Artwork printed on Vinyl Banner

Edithvale Community Centre
131 Finch Ave W – M2N 2H8
Willowdale, Ward 18

About Community Vibe

This mural design is a colorful and lively representation of the diverse cultures and ages that make up our community. It celebrates the different ethnic groups and the wide range of activities that take place within the center, including pottery, music, basketball, snooker, etc. This design conveys the passion and vibrancy of the community, showcasing the many ways people come together to create a home for everyone. Overall, the mural will be a testament to the power of community and how it can help people flourish and thrive.
-Laura Yang

Meet the Artists

Bryan Taguba

York Centre - Roding Community Centre

Meet Bryan

Bryan Taguba is a painter, photographer, community organizer and activist with the Magkaisa Centre. He was born in the Philippines and came to Canada at age 9. His mother worked as a caregiver in Toronto. He works as an artist facilitator and teacher in various programs for “at-risk” youth in Toronto. He has worked on several city funded mural projects across Ontario and has led facilitation and advising for Magkaisa Centre’s “Maleta Stories” Arts and Culture Project, exhibited in 2010, 2012 and 2015. Inspired by the pedagogical framework outlined by Paolo Freire that centres the perspectives of everyday working people, Bryan strives to use the visual arts as a tool for consciousness building, community building, and social transformation.

Laura Yang

Willowdale - Edithvale Community Centre

Meet Laura

Laura is a Chinese-Canadian illustrator and designer who loves to use colorful aesthetics and compelling storytelling to convey messages and ideas. Her work explores human emotions, feminist values, and cultural diversity, with the hope of establishing personal connections with audiences and fostering community building. As a multidisciplinary artist, she is passionate about using dynamic figures and creative forms to cherish all the meaningful things and moments in her life.

Margaret Cresswell

Eglinton Lawrence - North Toronto Memorial Community Centre

Meet Margaret

Marg is an award-winning muralist who spent her final year of study in Florence, Italy and graduated from the Ontario College of Art, in 1994. Over 20 years ago she began working as a muralist and, after requests for commissions, she opened her own studio, Murals By Marg, in 2001. In 2007, Marg was invited to exhibit her large-scale paintings at the Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contempranea in Florence, Italy. Since 2015, she has painted over three dozen public art murals in the City of Toronto. In 2017, she was awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the House of Commons for her mural in Richmond Hill as part of Canada’s 150th Anniversary. Marg continues to exhibit her paintings and has works in private and public collections in Canada, the USA and France.

Melisa Sofi

Don Valley East - Dennis R Timbrell Resource and Community Centre

Meet Melisa

Melisa Sofi is an Albanian-Canadian cross disciplinary artist based in North York. She is a recent Illustration graduate from OCAD University. Inspired by themes of identity, interpersonal relationships and the creative process, her work often blurs the line between narrative and documentary.

Yasaman Mehrsa

Don Valley West - Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre

Meet Yasaman

Yasaman Mehrsa is a Toronto-based visual artist. Born and raised in Tehran/Iran, she got exposed to art from a young age. She completed her studies with a Bachelor of Visual Communication in Iran and later achieved Bachelor with honours in Visual Arts from Brock University in St. Catharines/Canada. Yasaman uses both digital and traditional mediums.

Yasaman’s work is often representative of awareness of the human-nature relationship. She believes that nature is both all around us and deep within us. Inspiring by nature, she creates storytelling arts and expresses different emotions in each of them to inspire her audiences to discover their imagination, feeling, and interaction with the natural environment.

Serene Chan

Don Valley North - Oriole Community Centre

Meet Serene

I am a Chinese-Canadian creative and an expert daydreamer, who utilizes my passion in storytelling to produce digital and traditional imagery that provokes child-like wonder and captures nostalgia. My work draws on my interest in mental health, East Asian history and mythology, and all things fantasy. I strive to create awareness in the beauty of Asian cultures and otherwise marginalized communities. Alongside my art, my versatile background includes my academic education in business and years of entrepreneurial experience exemplified in three of my start-up businesses. When I’m not painting, you can find me working with my hands- sewing, making resin crafts, and thrift flipping.

Proudly supported by:

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About Us

North York Arts (NYA)  collaborates with artists, arts organizations, and partners to develop, strengthen, and promote cultural programming and initiatives for North York communities

Contact us 

North York Arts
5040 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON, M2N 6R8


Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm

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Grow North – Creative Residencies

Grow North – Creative Residencies

NYA Creative Residencies

The Grow North Creative Residency is an initiative by North York Arts to “pass the mic” to artists in our community. Local artists living in North York are given the opportunity to share information, teachings, and their artistic practice with our audience, and engage with the North York Arts community in meaningful ways.

Embark on a creative journey with our Grow North Creative Residency, extending up to 2 months for each artist. Throughout this immersive experience, we’re passing you the mic – and invite you to showcase and share your work on the North York Arts platform, through social media and blog posts. Chosen residents will also have access to the North York Arts office space, located at 5040 Yonge Street – on a schedule that works for you and North York Arts, and will determined collaboratively.

The Grow North Creative Residency consists of the creation of 4 new and engaging social media posts, and 2 written, visual or audio blog posts, to be posted to our social media platforms and website. We want you to have the freedom to express your artistic journey, and we encourage your creativity!

We’re looking for content about you as an artist, your artistic journey, your arts practice, teachings, art tips and tricks you’d like to share, and any other topics related to your work as an artist living in North York! This residency is open to all art disciplines, as long as they are shareable via social media and blog posts.

Your artistic voice is at the forefront of this residency, and we look forward to witnessing the diverse and captivating content you choose to share.

Artist Fee: $500

Eligibility: Emerging and Established artists living in North York
Artists who need use of the space will be prioritized

Residency Scope:

2 blog posts – written/audio/visual, up to 500 words each (exact length and format is flexible)
4 social media posts – 1080p x1080p visual/graphics with captions
Access to North York Arts office space, located at Meridian Arts Centre, 5040 Yonge Street
All content must be submitted and posted within 2 months, artists will have up to 1 month notice ahead of their residency.

During your residency, and extending one year after the start date of it you will have access to the North York Arts office. You are welcome to use this space as is suitable for you, and we encourage you to take advantage of the space for the creative residency or any current projects. Unfortunately, the North York Arts office space is not accessible at this time, and can only be reached via a flight of stairs. Please let us know if this is a barrier, it will not affect your eligibility or prioritization.

*Note: Candidates will be chosen and notified on a rolling basis. We aim to host 6-8 Creative Residencies each year, with many opportunities for diverse voices and talents to flourish. If you are chosen for this opportunity, North York Arts will contact you directly.

Take a look at our past creative residencies: 

Spring/Summer 2023 Creative Resident: Arlette Ngung

Fall/Winter 2022 Creative Resident: Anna Kavehmehr

Summer 2022 Creative Resident: Patrick Walters

Winter/Spring 2022 Creative Resident: Tasneem Dairywala

Scroll down to see their work! 


Arlette Ngung – Spring/Summer 2023

NYA is pleased to share that our Spring/Summer 2023 Creative Resident is Arlette Ngung. Stay tuned for her series of social media and blog posts over the next two months.

Arlette Ngung is a textile artist/pattern maker inspired by tradition and sustainability. Her credentials include a degree in Fashion Design/Patternmaking from the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York, USA and a Certificate in CAD from Formamod, Paris, FRANCE.

Arlette’s focus is devoted to the preservation and reinterpretation of traditional African Textile. She was profiled in interviews with CBC Radio Canada and Selvedge Magazine UK for her vegan approach to art.

The Wagenya fishing technique


As a textile artist, my goal and vision is to offer more cultural and educational contents to make learning through art accessible to all. I revisit archival documents and imagery to re-evaluate the way stories are being shared to bridge cultural and generational lines to help break down social barriers. For this residency, I drew my inspiration from my country of origin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, taking this opportunity to share a part of my culture through art.

The Wagenya fishing technique

In the Northern Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be found the Wagenia or Wagenya people who partake in a fishing technique not found anywhere else in the world named Enya. The Wagenia people reside near the Congo River, the deepest river in the world and the second largest river in Africa.

This vast river is not easily navigable by boats due to its changing currents and strong tides caused by its rocky terrain. Travelling down the river is not an easy or possible task. Therefore the Wagenya people had to adapt and change their way of fishing and created a technique named Enya.

The sand painting technique can either be done dry or fixed. In this case it is fixed. The use of sand as a medium of painting can be seen as a representation of how the Wagenya people are one with nature so much so that they tell their stories with nature and its resources. Instead of fishing nets or fishing rods they create huge cone-esqe baskets and insert it into the water in a particular manner to trap the fishes and maximize their catch. What they usually do is check the baskets twice a day to see if they got any catches. Once they see they’ve got a catch someone swims in and retrieves the fish. This selective fishing technique focuses on catching bigger fish. Which is a more sustainable way of fishing for the environment limiting fishermen from overfishing and allows the Wagenya people to only fish what they require to sustain their communities.



Congolese Rumba - bridging cultural andgenerational lines of a colonial past

a drawing of a cartoon

This beautiful painting inspired me to write about the Congolese Rumba and it’s affluence to the world.


Music is a form of art that is very mainstream as it elicits a myriad of emotions. Music also allow people to come together and build core memories.

Growing up, my father used to listen to Tabu Ley Rochereau on relaxing weekends, he would sing along and create beautiful melodies.



Rochereau performing at the Paris Olympia in 1970 Tabu Ley Rochereau, a leading African rumba singer-songwriter from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was the leader of Orchestre Afrisa International, as well as one of Africa’s most influential vocalists and prolific songwriters.

Born and growing up in Ethiopia, I enjoyed seeing my father in this light and would often tell my daughter about my memories of my father’s beautiful voice. It was a great way for me and my siblings to connect with our country of origin the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Congolese Rumba is a popular genre of music style that originated in the Congo Basin in the early 1940s, around the time of my father’s birth.

Congolese Rumba is derived from Son Cubano, which is a genre of music and dance that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba during the late 19th century. It is a syncretic genre that blends elements of Spanish and African origin.
Its characteristic clave rhythm, call and response structure and percussion section (with bongo, maracas instruments) are all rooted in traditions of Bantu origin.

Bongos (derived from the Bantu words mgombo or ngoma , meaning drum) are an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument. “The bongo entered Cuban popular music as a key instrument of early son ensembles, quickly becoming—due to the increasing popularity of the son—”the first instrument with an undeniable African past to be accepted in Cuban “society” circles

Bongos are mainly employed in the rhythm section of son cubano and salsa ensembles, often alongside other drums such as the larger congas and the stick-struck timbales.

Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga (hence their name believed to be derived from the word Congo) and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum.

Although the exact origins of the conga drum are unknown, researchers agree that it was developed by Cuban people of African descent during the late 19th century or early 20th century. Its direct ancestors are thought to be the yuka and makuta (of Bantu origin)


Map of the major Bantu languages shown within the Niger- Congo language family, with nonBantu languages in greyscale.

Historically, Brazil and Congo have very strong cultural ties due to their colonial past. What Congolese people know as Rumba, Brazilians know as Samba which is more prevalent in the Northeastern state of Bahia.

The rumba appeared in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century, when the slave trade was thriving there; slavery continued in Cuba until 1886, a generation after emancipation in the United States. In Cuba, unlike most parts of the United States, slaves were allowed to play drums, and they held on to sacred African songs and dances. They also developed secular songs for drums, percussion and voices that bemoaned problems — romantic, social, philosophical — and held on to community pride. African languages were replaced by the Spanish of Cuba’s colonial rulers, and the melody lines adapted scales and contours from Spanish songs. ”It was the first moment of synthesis in Cuban music,” said Alessandra Basso, a music researcher.

Indépendance Cha Cha” (was a song performed by Joseph Kabasele (best known by his stage name Le Grand Kallé) from the group L’African Jazz in the popular African Rumba style. The song has been described as “Kabasele’s most memorable song” and one of the first Pan-African hits.



The song was composed and first performed in 1960, the so-called Year of Africa, to celebrate the imminent independence of the Belgian Congo (the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). The song achieved considerable successes and remains the most internationally best-known examples of Congolese Rumba.

UNESCO Included Congolese Rumba in recent years after different activists from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo came together to express that Rumba was an important part of their heritage and liberation history.


Mutuashi/Mutwashi - “a shout of encouragement for dancers to gyrate with more vigour”

 Mutuashi was originally a Tshiluba word (language spoken in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo), which is a shout of encouragement for dancers to gyrate with more vigour. The word eventually became synonymous with the dance form with Tshala Muana who was considered the queen of Mutuashi.
 Élisabeth Tshala Muana Muidikay (13 March 1958 – 10 December 2022), known professionally as Tshala Muana, was a singer and dancer from Congo- Kinshass. Considered the “Queen of Mutuashi”, a traditional dance music from her native Kasai region, she is often called “Mamu National”


The Mutuashi a traditional dance of the Luba people who reside in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Kasai region is a region in the central southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It shares its name with the Kasai River.



Kasaï is one of the 26 new province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo adopted in 2006. Kasaï was formed from the Kasai district and the independently administered city of Tshikapa which became the capital of the new province.

The word Mutuashi derives from Mutua, which means ‘to poke”. It is danced by both women and men usually with a wrap around the hips to accentuate the movement, the Luba would gyrate sensually like they were invoking fertility gods. It was danced to celebrate the birth of a child, especially twins. Parents and elders would gather around a fire and dance to thank God and congratulate the parents.

Sand painting by Batubenga illustrating three dancing women. ( A painting purchase in the market in Congo)

This colourful play of music and movements reminds me of the mutuashi lascivious dances and songs that honour fertility.

As colours play a big role at eliciting feelings, to those who see art certain colours express anger, joy, happiness, sadness etc…

This painting in particular illustrates what seems to be three women together dancing and singing holding musical instruments through the sound of vibrant colours giving the painting a jovial aura.

The use of the colours red can represent passion and love which can be seen in these women with their exaggerated dance moves, enjoying being in the moment with their seemingly closed eyes.

Yellow and orange can also be observed in the background of the picture which represents happiness, shared between themselves at the sound and rhythms of traditional songs

A little bit of blue is seen at the bottom left of the painting expressing the feeling of calmness, wisdom such as a legend being told being and past on form generation to generation.

Their bodies embellished with white lines of accessories or tribal makeup reiterating the traditional aspect of the dance.

Their waists adorned by raffia skirts (a natural fibre from a tree that people sometimes use for basket making), enhancing their hip movements to the sound of the folkloric Mutuashi songs.


Sand painting by Basukila illustrating a woman carrying a baby in a babywearing. ( A painting purchase in the market in Congo)
In a lot of historic or artistic depictions of Africans, mothers are often seen performing tasks whilst carrying a child on their back. This practice called babywearing, is a tradition that has been passed down for an immeasurable amount of generations. Though babywearing has recently made its way to the west, studies have already observed many benefits.
The origin of babywearing in a global aspect is not yet confirmed but it is suspected that baby wearing may have been one of the first human creations. Due to the fact that African traditions and practices were not often written down it is hard to find the origin of many African creations but, many elders claim that baby carrying was invented in Africa.
Sand painting by Basukila illustrating a woman caring a baby in a babywearing. ( A painting purchase in the market in Congo)
This method of babywearing was very important for nomadic women who could continue to perform other task while carrying their child. Babywearing cloth: In Africa, colourful printed non stretch cotton cloths are used to wrap little ones to their caregivers. There are different techniques of tying the cloth based on climate and tradition. Some might have the cloth over one shoulder, some tie it under the armpits towards the front and others carry the baby in the front on their chests.
 Even though slings and baby carriers seam to be a new invention in the West, this ancestral practice existed in Asia, South America, South Pacific Islands and notably Africa long before it was popularized in the West


Benefits From the few studies done, it is proven that mother-infant contact predicts high levels of maternal responsiveness to the infant. Compared to mothers that carry their baby in their arms and mothers who push their babies in strollers, babywearing mothers are more likely to know what their baby needs. Studies show that there are many benefits that come from babywearing. . The skin to skin contact was confirmed to be extremely beneficial in the 1970s through tests run in Bogotà, Colombia. Scientists have been able to infer that it decreases stress in both parents and the infant, it stabilizes the baby’s body temperature, heartbeat, breathing and blood oxygen levels. . Benefits for the mother such as promoting bonding and breastfeeding, allowing the mother to produce a stronger milk supply and can reduce postpartum bleeding in moms. . Encourages breastfeeding due to its close physical contact, it mimics a womb environment for the baby, it can help prevent colic (incessant and constant crying), . Prevents Flat Head Syndrome and it promotes attachment and bonding between baby and parents.


Babywearing commercialized in the West

While on a trip in Togo, Africa in the late 1960s, Ann Moore was inspired by the way African women carried their children. Shortly after she came back to the United States, she gave birth to her daughter. Inspired by the Togolese women babywearing, she decided to create the Snugli baby carrier a knock-off version of the African babywearing.

Her idea grew from a basic desire to experience the same calm closeness with her newborn daughter that she had witnessed African mothers enjoy while serving as a Peace Corps nurse in Togo.

Ann Moore created the original Snugli baby carrier so she could remain active and still be physically close with her daughter, Mandela. Her inspiration came from watching mothers in West Africa while in the Peace Corps.


 The Snugli brought more media awareness to babywearing and its benefits.





Anna Kavehmehr – Fall/Winter 2022

NYA is pleased to share that our Fall/Winter 2022 Creative Resident is Anna Kavehmehr. Stay tuned for her series of social media and blog posts over the next two months.

Anna Kavehmehr is an Iranian-Canadian Illustrator with a master’s in digital media and a bachelor’s in graphic design.

Her art is largely based on internal conflicts, poems, music and literature. Telling stories through art has been her lifelong passion. She is constantly inspired by people, their struggles and relationships with one another, with nature and society.

In recent years, Anna’s work has been exhibited in Tehran, Kuala Lumpur and Toronto.

Mahsa (Jina) Amini and the Origin of the Woman, Life Freedom

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:

Amplify Iranian voices by sharing the news about Iran on your social media platforms
Use our hashtags on your social posts: #MahsaAmini #OpIran #FreeIran #WomanLifeFreedom #مهسا_امینی #ژن_ژیان_ئازادی #زن_زندگی_آزادی
Write to your representatives and demand they take meaningful action to support protesters in Iran.
Attend a protest near you
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.

The Significance of Protest Art in Iran

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. 

Iranian Protesters at Risk of Execution

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.  

How You Can Support the Protesters in Iran

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.


Patrick Walters – Spring 2022

NYA is so excited to share that our Spring 2022 Creative Resident is Patrick Walters. Stay tuned for his series of social media and blog posts over the next two months.

Patrick Walters is a spoken word artist/public speaker and arts educator who has spent over six years professionally using poetry to place emphasis on mental wellness and deconstructing the systems which negatively affect us – a simple message, but one of paramount importance in today’s society. Through the execution of workshops and showcases, this message is passed on to the hearts and minds of his growing audience.

How to be a professional artist who creates great art

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. 


Photograph of Patrick WaltersGraphic Illustration of a traditional scale

How to be a professional artist who creates great art - audio

Listen to the audio of Patrick’s blog post:



Article on independent album distribution

The art of producing and distributing an album has changed drastically in the past 20 years. Gone are the days of ‘Bad Boy’ street teams and CDs for $10 being sold out the back of a cadillac. Nowadays, almost everything about the product of music is digital and ownership of the actual music is very loosely defined. So in this new day and age, the question of how to put out an album as an independent artist is one which is both easier and more complicated at the same time. In this article, I will break down the ways in which it is both and explain to you how I have done it (twice now) for myself. 

Firstly, I think there is something very important that I must discuss before I delve any deeper into this topic. That is the fact that Albums and music in general is no longer the end product of the chain of production. Up to about 2010, album sales were one of the best and most tangible ways for artists to make money. Even if you only sold a few thousand units at $10 each, that would be enough to pay everyone who helped make the album and still have a decent profit for yourself. Nowadays however, an album is merely a marketing tool, made in order to sell the actual product which is the artist themselves. Due to the advent of streaming and technology companies becoming the “middle men” between the artist and the listener, the amount that any artist can make off the purchase of an album is literally cents on the dollar. To be precise, for most streaming companies, 1 stream equals $0.005 to the artist themselves. That means that even 1,000,000 streams is a mere $5,000 to the artists who can achieve that and most artists do not average anywhere near that number of streams, even for their whole albums. 

The question then becomes, ”Why make an album if there’s no direct money to be made?” The answer to this question is twofold. Firstly, if you are an independent artist, like myself, putting out an album is as simple as recording it, and signing up with one of the many distribution companies that you can pay to put your music on all streaming platforms. You don’t need to be signed to a label, you don’t need to be able to print CDs and you definitely don’t need to be super famous or super rich (although recording in studio quality can sometimes start to add up in cost). This option makes it easier than ever to put out an album and you are responsible for all your own marketing and promotion. This means that with the right information and a minimal budget, you can put your album out to the world and receive recognition that can spur your career forward and put you on the map for bigger and better opportunities down the line. 

The second reason that more established artists still make albums is as I mentioned before; albums are the best promotion for the other products that major artists actually sell. Behind every major artist, is a product selling machine that is designed to be constantly churning out things for their audience to purchase, whether that be Shirts, pins, tickets to a show, commemorative memorabilia and in many high value cases exclusive access to the artists themselves. These are the things that now exist at the end of the production chain. Albums are now used to market everything else that an artist wants to sell their audience, rather than being the product itself. 

As you can see there are still many good reasons to make an album, even as an independent artist. My advice to you as someone who has produced and distributed two albums so far is this;

  1. Find a good producer who you can work with that won’t charge you an arm and a leg for studio time. 
  2. Follow through! Even if it takes a year or two, (My first album took two and a half years from start to finish) still follow through and put it out. 
  3. Research the distribution company that works best for your budget and your goals. Companies like Distrokid and Tunecore are some of the ones I have used in the past and they have served me well. 

Even if you are only able to put out an EP or an album with a minimum amount of songs, you won’t regret it!

If you are someone who is not an artist and merely interested in this area, I hope I have been able to feed your curiosity and show how artists put out albums. If you are an artist yourself, I hope this information serves as a guide on your way to success and also encourages you to do it!

Article on independent album distribution - audio


Tasneem Dairywala – Winter 2022

NYA is thrilled to announce that our Winter 2022 Creative Resident is Tasneem Dairywala. Tasneem will be curating a series of social media and blog posts over the next two months.

Tasneem believes that art can illuminate all the nitty-gritty corners of the expected, the ordinary, and the sane. Creating art empowers her to change the unease from facing any crisis into the pleasure of unraveling it. She loves to create worlds full of magic and warmth, focusing on themes of resilience, empathy, and love.

Outside of her personal art practice, Tasneem works as the Executive Director of Art Ignite. and brings inclusive visual arts programs to the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood. Her workshops are designed to connect people from disparate backgrounds by using the arts as a tool for knowledge and understanding.


Building a Creative Practice


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

Attending Art School

Based on: Girl, By Jamaica Kincaid

Wash your brushes immediately and put them to dry hanging upside down; Wash the acrylic ones separately and never mix them with oils; don’t leave your paintings to dry in the hot sun; they’ll cook and crack; wash your palettes as soon as you’re done using them; when buying yourself an apron, be sure that you don’t spend too much money on it, because that way you won’t feel guilty when you spill wax and paint all over; prime your canvases overnight before you paint on them; always eat your food before you start painting; don’t want toxics inside there; don’t sing while you work; don’t socialize so much; don’t eat your meals outside – you’re wasting good money; this is how to build a stretcher; this is how to stretch a canvas on the stretcher you have just built; this is how to use an easel when you’re painting something too large; this is how you smile to a professor you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to a professor you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to a professor you like too much; this is how to sculpt a pot; this is how to sculpt a face; this is how to sculpt a body; this is how you set a work on display; be sure to wash every day; the smell of your paint is better than the smell of your sweat; don’t paint too many flowers – they can make your work boring; don’t throw stones to hear the pattern of sound they make; you waste too much time daydreaming; this is how to knead red clay; this is how to knead white clay; this is how to start up a kiln; this is how to get the maximum amount of work done in the minimum amount of time; this is how to save a painting before it becomes an inconceivable mess; this is how to burn old rags; and that way your room won’t look dirtier than it is already; this is how to control your work; and this is how your grades control you; this is how to love what you do; and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work, don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to make old supplies last; this is how to squeeze out each thumbnail for more ideas and mistakes to make sure your painting turns out looking perfect; but what if I like them imperfect?; you mean to say that after all this, you are going to be the kind of artist who thinks every mark you make is a masterpiece?

Building a Creative Career

An Interview with Tasneem Dairywala

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a visual artist and an art educator. I run a non-profit called Art Ignite and we do lots of fun art programs in Flemingdon Park. I’m also on my way to publishing my first children’s book, ‘How to Show Love’ after which, I will be able to change my status from writer to author!


What would you say are the most important parts of building a creative career?

  • Continuous learning:
    • By learning, I don’t mean acquiring an expensive degree or only learning about art-specific topics. Learn about whatever makes you curious, because it’s crucial to creative growth. Here are some free or low-cost education platforms that I’ve found very useful:
      • Gale Institute
      • TDSB classes for adults
      • Coursera
      • City of Toronto: Parks, Forestry and Recreation
      • Toronto Public Library
  • Building connections:
    • Post-COVID, it would be wonderful to start attending art events again and building in-person connections. But in the meantime, there are other ways to remain connected: 
      • Ask every person you know if they know someone doing the same things as you. I have found this to be the absolute best way to accumulate knowledge and find collaborators.
      • Join newsletters. Almost all organizations send them out, and they’re full of opportunities.
      • Look at Toronto, Ontario and Canada Art Council’s websites. Search for grants related to the fields you’re interested in, look at who was funded by these grants in the past year, and reach out to them. This is how I came across NYA. They gave me the volunteer experience and mentorship needed to start my own business, and it all started with an email!
  • Being brave:
    • You’ve already taken the first steps in this journey. Don’t be afraid to move forward. You’re good enough to get grants. You’re good enough to run projects. You’re good enough to do whatever you desire!


What are some of the steps you take to apply for grants?

  1. Attend grant writing workshops by funders.
  2. Include keywords from the grant description and evaluation metrics in my application.
  3. Talk to the grant officer before applying.
  4. Plan the budget before the project so I know what’s achievable.
  5. Make sure the support material is high quality. 
    1. If they’re asking for reference letters, make sure the letter is signed, has a header, the correct date, and answers their questions. 
    2. If they’re asking for art work, make sure it’s professionally documented.
  6. Break up long questions into smaller sections. This helps to ensure that the entire question has been answered and no details have been left out. 
  7. Ask people to proofread. Most people want to help and will say yes!
  8. Start and submit the applications as early as possible to avoid getting stressed.
  9. Ask the grant officer for feedback if the application is unsuccessful.
  10. Pay someone to write the grant if the application is repeatedly unsuccessful. It’s a great learning experience and worth it, especially if the grant writer works on commission.


Are there any grants that are good for emerging artists?

  1. Art Reach is a great one if you’re under 30. 
  2. Cultural Hotspot is also fantastic, but you have to partner with an organization.
  3. Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council applications are not too hard, but each program has a different eligibility criteria. Make sure you meet it before starting the application.
  4. Inspirit workshop is also great if you have a project idea specific to their mission.
  5. Microgrants are good starters, but they pop up randomly. Keep an eye on your newsletters!


Is there anything else you would want to tell an emerging artist?

The art world is like a buffet. You want to keep adding projects to your plate even after it’s full. But it’s not sustainable. It’s a long journey so take care of yourself and your mental health. There will always be more opportunities.


The Creative Residencies are part of our Grow North Program, an initiative proudly supported by Northcrest Developments.