This article is the final blog of a 4-part guest series on the community arts sector, by Tasneem Dairywala.
Tasneem is an award-winning contemporary visual artist and educator. Outside of her personal art practice, Tasneem works as the Executive Director of Art Ignite, and brings inclusive visual arts programming to the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood.
Tasneem’s first children's book, How to Show Love is now available for purchase! With 10 illustrated double pages, it’s a quick and fun read, depicting a diverse range of characters and soft soothing text. To stay up to date on her work, subscribe to her monthly newsletter and follow her on Instagram.
As mentioned in my previous post, working for Art Ignite gave me a lot of flexibility, but the way I worked changed drastically after having a baby in 2019. I applied for grants in 2018 and spread them out so that the funding lasted until 2021- this way I didn’t lose my funding while I figured out parenting.
While working as an art educator, I also continued to create and exhibit my work. My favourite exhibitions were at Meridian Art Centre, Ryerson University, Artscape Youngplace, Daniels Spectrum and Ontario Place. I would love to say my work is good enough to be accepted into these spaces on its own merit, but most of the credit goes to the art organizations I mentioned previously. It goes to building connections.
The projects I did as a community artist also got me interviews at CBC Radio, Inside Toronto and SNAPD. These are all great media outlets and they truly want to support Toronto’s art community. If you need to get the word out about a project, don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
As I kept working, opportunities kept opening up. I stopped needing to look for work, but I knew I needed to keep learning and keep building my connections. At least once a week, I would attend a workshop, an exhibition, or just hang out with friends to learn about what they were doing. Instant Coffee sends out regular newsletters about art related events. I met one of my board members by attending an event I found out about through this newsletter. It’s a really good place to learn about what’s going on in the sector.
And then COVID hit. Everything stopped. I had to reassign my projects and focus completely on my daughter. In the stillness, I realized I had stopped making art for the sole purpose of expressing myself. I only made work if I was planning a workshop, applying for a grant, or submitting to an exhibition. It had become a source of stress instead of joy. So I picked up a pencil and some paper. As my toddler crawled around our living room, I drew her (badly). I drew her toys, the piled-up recycling, the dirty plates on the table. I drew until my creations turned into comics about my life.
I didn’t have space to paint so I started digital painting. As I read books to my daughter, my artwork changed. My comics grew into stories for children. A friend told me about Gale Institute, an organization that offers free courses through Toronto Public Library. So I started taking courses again, this time about creative writing, publishing and marketing. I used social media to connect with illustrators and found out about Society of Visual Storytelling, The Illustration Department and Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. I read books and blogs, and devoured all sorts of information. I partnered with other illustrators, set up meetings with editors, called up authors, asked questions, and kept applying for more grants. I kept building connections.
When I asked Allie if I could write for ArtReach, along with some other lovely supportive organizations, everyone said yes. I haven’t seen anyone for two years. I’ve been sitting in a rocking chair in my bedroom scribbling away for two whole years. Sometimes I’m surprised that people remember who I am. But they do. I’m hoping to publish my first book in the spring, and I’ll email everyone I know to help me with outreach. And I have a feeling they will. I would do the same for them.
So after writing two very long posts, I would like to end with this. Use that phone of yours, the one you’re probably reading this on, dial a number, and say hello! You’ll never know who will answer and what role they will play in your journey until you try. It can be scary to move towards the unknown, but you can do it. Just take one step at a time.