Leading Change: From Artist to Change Maker and Community Builder

Tasneem Dairywala is an artist and arts facilitator who has lived most of her life in the Flemingdon Park community of North York and she has been part of the NYA community since 2016.

“NYA has been my mentor, partner, and friend for many years. My first experience with NYA was as a volunteer. Then a mentee, an artist and eventually a board member and donor”.

It’s been an amazing experience for NYA to be able to play such an important role in the growth and development of Tasneem’s career as an artist and community builder.

Tasneem first connected with NYA as a volunteer and her relationship soon began to grow.

“I went from not even knowing that this sector of community arts existed to finding the resources to create my own opportunities. I learned so much from Melissa and Lila that I decided to start a non-profit organisation to run programs in my neighbourhood. From grant writing to budgeting, they helped me every step of the way. Since then, I have received continuous support from NYA staff as mentors, partners, and cheerleaders. I worked with Melissa on my first grant.  They helped me work through my ideas and the writing process. There are still some of those lines in the grants I write today, so the grants I get today have been influenced by that first grant I wrote with NYA’s help. And what’s also really nice is that I’ve been able to see NYA and the staff there grow. It’s been a journey. From never even having attended a board meeting to starting a non-profit – that leap would have never happened without NYA. NYA gave me the opportunity to discover my potential as an artist and a leader. They believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams”

After working with NYA Tasneem founded Art Ignite. Art Ignite is a non-profit community arts organisation with the aim to provide free or low-cost visual art workshops and exhibitions that cater mainly to the Flemingdon Park community in Toronto. Many of Flemingdon Park’s residents are new immigrants living in low-income households with limited access to art activities. Led by professional artists, these activities transform community spaces into creative hubs where residents can unleash their imaginations, connect with their community, gain skills, and become leaders of change.

This is where Tasneem learned to create what she referred to as “beautiful little communities”. Which for her means people having a space to gather, to share stories and use colours.

“I would bring my baby to our sessions and she would sit in the middle of the room and people would create around her. Even through Covid we stayed connected. Those programs don’t exist anymore but those relationships do. Every time I went home after leading those programs I felt like something really special happened there”.

Tasneem described the power of art as having “a ripple effect that we can’t quantify or qualify”. While attending an exhibition recently Tasneem experienced what exactly that means when she was talking to another attendee about a children’s book she was working on.

The book is The Little Fairy Finds Her Glow: An Illustrated Children’s Book About Courage and Kindness  and it is about a little fairy who discovers the power of love and kindness. Tasneem was asked to read some of it so she pulled out her phone and started reading.

“As I’m reading it she starts to cry. She said it made her think about everything that is happening in the world and wished we could only see each other that way.  Other people then began to join the conversation. People were sharing their perspective, experience and feelings about current events. People who were strangers just moments before were now building a meaningful relationship. Even just for that short time. Art makes the world less lonely. The fact that these simple words created for children were able to reach people and touch them deeply made me feel like.. yes I’m moving in the right direction – I’m in the right place.”


“Art is not only a form of expression, but also a source of connection. I see the impact it has through my role as an arts educator and an artist. It can uplift you when you need it most. And the impact is even larger when we create together. We need to support our artists because you can support a community by supporting its artists’.”

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