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7 Women Who Are Redefining What Community Means at Artscape

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked a handful of women at Artscape to share their best career advice, what inspires them and the women we should know. It’s also an opportunity to pause and acknowledge the accomplishments of women and their contributions to our culture and society. From STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) to politics, it’s a chance to reflect on the trailblazing women who not only lead the way but are change agents in the community.

Get-to-Know Zahra Siddiqui, Member Wellness And Community Lead—And How She Got Into Social Justice Art

Before Zahra was a photographer, she was a Child & Youth Worker. After graduating from George Brown College she started her career at Covenant House and The Children’s Aid Society. The many years spent in this field informed her focus and drive when it came to art and the subject matter of BIPOC. For her, it was a natural progression to marry social work consciousness and her art practice. And credits this experience for her becoming an artist. View her latest project, The Invisible Majority.

The Best Career Advice Zahra Received

“The best advice I’ve received over and over again is to value your time. I learned quickly that my time and respect for it is one way for me to move with integrity. We often live in a world filled with expectations to show up and pressure to provide for others, quickly forgetting about our own capacity. Remembering myself and choosing me sometimes looks like saying no to others. Navigating, valuing my time has shown me that it’s necessary because nobody else will do that for you but you.”

Zahra’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

“Something I’ve always told myself and others is, Nurture what Nurtures You. I’m not sure if this is a quote I’ve heard over time or if it’s just something that came to me, naturally but these words often guide me when I’m having trouble figuring out what to do in certain situations. It, again, comes down to capacity and reminding myself to spend energy in a way so that I do not feel depleted or drained. Saying yes to things that my inner child feels excited about and that keep my nervous system calm.” 

Zahra’s Favorite Woman Author (And A Must Watch Video) 

There is no end to what a living world will demand of you. ― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower.

Favorite Local Woman Artist

“Adria Kain: This Toronto singer is not only a dear friend of mine but also her music and lyrics reach me and speak to me in ways, that make me feel deeply. I am a heart person which means when my heart is impacted, I am in gratitude for that feeling.” 

Zahra Recommends You Follow These Women On Instagram

Get-to-Know Carla Ritchie, Senior Manager, Member Advisor And Digital Media Lab—And How She Got Into Community Health & Wellness

Carla has spent the first twenty years of her career working in theatre. She reminisces on the time she saw David Copperfield at the age of seven, which was also around the same time she fell in love with theatre.

Carla shared how tough it has been to be a woman technician, and having to work ten times harder than her peers in the industry to be taken seriously or seen as an equal. “It’s no secret that theatre can be a toxic environment to work in.”

Her experience in the Calgary theatre community taught her what community meant. And reflects on how everyone was always ready to help at a moment’s notice. “If you were loading in on a Monday with a lighting board you had never used before, you could call up one of the house techs (even on their day off) and they would readily come down to help.” When Carla arrived in Ontario, she worked in Indigenous theatre, as she exclaims—changed her life. It’s where she learned about ego and privilege, while also feeling welcomed and trusted by that community.  

The Best Career Advice Carla Received

“Know your worth and ask for what you want.” 

Carla’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

I will share the Odawa Midewiwin philosophy, women are perfect, women are complete because women are creation. The Odawa is a matriarchal society, as with many Indigenous people—they are not afraid of a woman’s power, instead, they embrace it.

Carla’s Favorite Woman Podcaster

“I really like Aliya Pabani, based out of Toronto. She used to host a show in Canadaland called The Imposter, a weekly art and music podcast that focused on Toronto artists, and I miss listening to it. There was unfortunate drama around the cancelling of that show, but she has a new show called, We Are Not the Virus.” 

Carla Recommends You Follow This Woman On Social Media

“Sandra Laronde, the Executive and Artistic Director of Red Sky Performance and the founder of Native Women in the Arts. I met Sandra nine years ago when I first moved to Ontario. Red Sky was my first Toronto gig, and I have been working with them ever since.  Sandra is a pioneer in Indigenous Theatre and is a continuing tour du force bringing traditional and contemporary Indigenous art and storytelling to the world.” 

 

Get-to-Know Kelly Rintoul, Interim Chief Operating Officer—And How She Got Into Social Purpose Real Estate

Shortly after graduating from art school, Kelly moved to Toronto and joined Artscape as a Tenant Services Coordinator. At the time (2003), Artscape was in the process of opening the Artscape Distillery Studios which was a pivotal project in advancing our creative placemaking practice. Over the years, Kelly has learned that she’s happiest when doing community-centric work—engaging with community stakeholders and co-creating big visions together. Being able to bring a project to life after years of hard work and feeling the positive impact of that work in the community is deeply rewarding for Kelly.

The Best Career Advice Kelly Has Received 

Find a mentor and be a mentor.

Mentorship has been the single greatest gift to my career. Celia Smith, Liz Kohn, and Pru Robey— all brilliant women and former Artscape colleagues—have left an undeniable imprint on my life.”

Kelly’s Favorite Women Author (And Also A Must Read)

“I’m an avid reader so it is hard to choose just one. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a recent favourite. Years ago, Tayari participated in the Gibraltar Point International Artist Residency Program at Artscape Gibraltar Point. It’s been a joy to watch her success with this novel.”

Kelly Recommends You Follow These Women On Social Media

“Rania El Mugammar, Rachel Ricketts, Rachel Cargle, and Layla F. Saad have a steady presence in my social feeds these days. All anti-oppression and social justice leaders, their generous content has been critical to my journey in learning and unlearning the lessons of privilege.”

Tennile Cooper - She is Epic

Get-to-Know Tennile Cooper, Manager of Marketing & Communications—And How She Got Into Marketing

Tennile started her career in social work after graduating from George Brown College and got her first job as a community health worker—marketing came later on in life. During this time, her role was to educate on public health initiatives, support community leaders to develop relevant programming and help invest funding into necessary resources. However, the grind of being plucked out of communities once the money stopped flowing began to take its toll. That’s when she decided to seek out other career options where she could still support. It led her into a one-year Communications contract at the same organization and it was also how she transitioned into entrepreneurship, launching her own copywriting business that helped women-led businesses with their marketing & messaging. She ran it full-time for 5 years. And as they say, the rest is history.

The Best Career Advice Tennile’s Received

Don’t self-reject. This basically means, don’t say no to yourself for that opportunity or promotion—apply anyway. It reminds me that I can take control of my career and how I want it to look. So I say yes to myself instead, show up prepared and ready to showcase my skills. If it doesn’t pan out, I view it as the data I need for me to pivot, continue to hone my craft or learn how to position myself better for future opportunities.”

Tennile’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

“I have a lot of favorites but the one aligned to my previous answer on my best career advice:”

No risk. No revelation – Tennile Cooper

Tennile’s Favorite Women Authors (And Also Must Reads)

  • Fiction: Terry McMillian, “A Day Late and a Dollar Short”
  • Non-fiction: Sister Souljah, “No Disrespect”
  • I also plow through self-help books: Katie Couric, “The Best Advice I Ever Got”

Tennile Recommends You Follow These Women On Instagram

 

Get-to-Know Tanya Sinclair, Chief People Officer—And How She Got Into HR

Tanya started out in sales originally but didn’t really feel it was her calling. It was when a colleague suggested she consider HR as a career that changed everything. Tanya enrolled into night classes and leveraged a tuition reimbursement program. Organizational Behavior, was the first course in the program that had her hooked. As she loved to see the influence one could have in the workplace to do good.

Once she graduated from the HR program, Tanya applied to an HR manager role and landed it. This is an unusual path for most HR Managers, as one would have to work their way up the chain, but for Tanya, her extensive management experience outside of HR played a major part. Which allowed her to make very deliberate choices over the years to work in different industries. “I make it a point to be watchful of what worked and what didn’t work. All of that helped me to grow and learn.” Tanya shares.

The Best Career Advice Tanya Received

“Prioritize your mental health above all else in your career. Your job is only one part of your life.”

Tanya’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

Be the role, before you get the role. – Tanya Sinclair

Tanya’s Favorite Women Authors 

Tomi Adeyemi, Ann Cleeves, and Esi Edugyan.

Tanya Recommends You Follow These Women On Social Media

 

Get-to-Know Thea Fitz-James, Manager of Programs and artsUNITE—And How She Got Into Advocacy Work For Artists

Thea is an artist herself, in theatre and performance. And Theatre Makers tend to also be community builders. Producing solo shows about gender equality and systemic stereotypes that surround Women in society is where she got her start. However, oftentimes, her work was censored. Thea encourages us to Google her name and ‘Singapore Fringe’ to learn more about queer censorship.

Before the pandemic, Thea was the Artistic Director for hub14 where she ran a monthly queer cabaret show. At the time, she didn’t consider this ‘advocacy work’, but the work she did with these organizations fell under the umbrella. It’s not until Thea became the Program Manager for artsUNITE that she discovered, “Oh, helping artists is advocacy! Lucky me.” If you ask Thea what she lives for, she’d say “…to make life easier for artists, helping them access grants, develop skills, and find their fit in this capitalist world makes my heart sing.” Thea couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

The Best Career Advice Thea Received

Don’t be bitter. It’s a funny one because that doesn’t mean “don’t point out inequality” or “don’t stand up against injustices”. It doesn’t mean don’t be critical. I actually think that Critical Generosity (a term from José Esteban Muñoz) is overdue for a comeback in our society. It means don’t be bitter. My old mentor said to me that you can tell when someone is particularly jaded or bitter about their job or employment. Life is too short to have your job ruin your day.”

Thea’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

“There are so many! The first person who popped to mind was Luce Irigaray. I read This Sex and cried throughout most of it. And while I wouldn’t identify as an essentialist feminist, I think the Écriture féminine writers have so much to offer intersectional feminism. See Amelia Jones’ recent book Chapter “Essentialism, Feminism, and Art: Spaces where Woman ‘Oozes Away’”.

Your body expresses yesterday in what it wants today. If you think: yesterday I was, tomorrow I shall be, you are thinking: I have died a little. Be what you are becoming, without clinging to what you might have been, what you might yet be. Never settle. Leave definitiveness to the undecided; we don’t need it.

Thea’s Favorite Women Authors (And Also Must Reads)

“I really love Sara Ahmed. Their work is a bit theory-heavy, but it’s really GREAT. Like so good. I’ll admit I haven’t read the most recent book (I’m a bad academic 😀 ) but Ahmed’s stuff is amazing in general. Definitely check it out!!! The Kill Joy essay is a good one if you want a quick introduction. Ahmed, Sara. “Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness.” Signs, vol. 35, no. 3, 2010, pp. 571–94 and the following editions:

  • Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2016.
  • Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press, 2006.
  • The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press, 2010.

Thea Recommends You Follow These Women On Social Media

“My very cool friend Adriana Disman, everything she posts is FIRE (even if it’s mostly her turtle during covid – also some weird/wonderful performance art; not for the squeamish). I also really like @bymariandrews – her watercolor/poetry vibes always make me smile.”

 

Affrica

Get-to-Know Affrica Spence, Property Administrator—And How She Got Into Spoken Word

Affrica’s mother offered her a diary as a kid and she began journaling everything since then. As she got more and more creative with journaling, she naturally fell in love with poetry, as her preferred way of expressing emotions. Affrica was the type of child who would read R&B lyrics with a deep appreciation for their lyricism.

When DEF Poetry Jam arrived on the scene, she discovered all that journaling in her formative years, was called spoken word poetry. Affrica started popping into open mic nights, ensuring she didn’t know anyone in the crowd, recite a bit of poetry on stage, and duck out right after. Eventually, a few people caught on to her exit strategy and stopped her at the door to share their gratitude and praise for her spoken word. Fast forward to today, Affrica has created a spoken word poetry web series that is on its third season. Showcasing over 23 Canadian spoken word artists. Her recent passion project, Voetry, is a community-oriented initiative that she hopes, will one day become a hub for spoken word artists.

The Best Career Advice Affrica Received

“The best advice has come to me in various forms from various people but essentially it comes down to, just do it. Literally my spoken word project, Voetry lives by the Nike slogan, just do it. There is so much mind power put into making the first step.”

Affrica’s Favorite Quote From A Woman In History

My favourite quote I put together is to let every step forward or backward carry purpose.

Affrica’s Favorite Woman Author

“Rupi Kaur has some amazing writing. Her books manage to catch me in moments and evoke feelings that are very unique.”

Affrica Recommends You Follow These Women On Instagram

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