‘A special type of validation’: grassroots grant supports South Asian women creatives

Three grassroots organizations have come together to create a fund for South Asian women and gender-diverse people to support them in their creative endeavours. Dilshad Burman reports.

By Dilshad Burman

Three local grassroots organizations have come together to support South Asian women and gender-diverse artists in their creative endeavours, with an eye toward creating a nurturing and encouraging ecosystem for them to thrive in.

The Didihood Creative Fund was launched last year in collaboration with Tamil Women Rising and the South Asian and Tamil Women’s Collective.

“We felt this fund was necessary because there aren’t too many funds available specifically for South Asian women in creative industries. So we really wanted to focus in on that niche,” says Didihood co-founder Nikki Gill.

Manjula Selvarajah, co-founder of Tamil Women Rising, says they wanted to fill what they feel is a gap in support that needs to be addressed in the South Asian community.

“If I can just even speak to the Tamil community as an example — most of the people in the community have been here, I would say about maybe three to four decades, fleeing war. We have a generation that crossed the pond to get here, and their focus becomes on making it, on paying the bills … they struggled financially … they tell their kids who then tell their kids, ‘oh, you’ve got to make sure that you have a job that pays the bills,'” she explains.

“And even though there is a respect for arts and entertainment in the community … artists may self-check themselves or the people around them, their families may check them to say, ‘you sure you don’t want to do some other job before and do this as something on the side?’ So sometimes they feel like, ‘I’m not getting the support that I need from my very own community.'”

The fund provides grants of $500 to each recipient and they can be used for a variety of purposes with no strings attached.

“It could be for anything that they were planning to work on. So it could be an event, a seminar, showing up at a craft market and having a table there, supplies that they needed for something that they were working on,” explains Gill.

“It’s very much focused on trust-based funding. We’re not going to expect any reports .. [we really want to] trust that you use the $500 for things that are really supportive with your growth and development in this area around pursuing your creative goals,” says Herleen Arora, Managing Director of South Asian and Tamil Women’s Collective.

“It’s really just like, we’ll provide you the funds. We’d just love an update on what you were able to do with them, just so we can kind of see the impact that’s being made there,” adds Gill.

Last year, the grant supported three artists with funding provided entirely by the organizations themselves. After receiving a fair amount of interest from the community, they decided to put out a donor call this year and are already on track to more than double their impact.

“We received $3,200 in one week from various sized donations — so some people donated more than $500, some people donated $100, which was amazing,” says Arora.

“We’re going to be able to hand out more grants than last year — hoping to hand out at least eight,” adds Gill.

In the long term, Gill hopes they can provide larger grants to more artists and also help showcase their talents.

“We’ve been talking a lot about having a craft market or a fair, or some sort of space where we can bring together all of these amazing South Asian women, especially here in the GTA, that have these incredible businesses. They’re fantastic entrepreneurs, they’re doing really cool niche things — building beautiful products, offering amazing services — and being able to then have the fund recipients there to show what they’ve been working on too [is the goal],” she says.

Neha Ray's work for Brookfield Institute

A portrait of creative entrepreneurship and the creative economy in Canada for the Brookfield Institute and WEKHs online report. Credit: Neha Ray

One of last year’s recipients is an Indo-Fijian illustrator and multi-disciplinary artist who says funds like this are important to encourage creatives of colour.

“We put so much positive energy back into the world when we create and we have such a unique point of view that we don’t always get to share with the world. So grants like this really give us the opportunity to see ourselves being valued and celebrated for that point of view, which is really nice and validating. It also gives us room to experiment and grow, not just in our work but in ourselves,” says Neha Ray.

“At the end of the day when it’s coming from within the community, it’s just a special type of validation that you can’t get from anywhere else because these people know where you’re coming from.”

Selvarajah adds that their goal is also to support and nurture artists as they’re starting out when they need it the most.

“We have Punjabi singers, we have poets, we have Tamil actresses that are doing really well in Hollywood, and we celebrate them when they get there. But in that time in between, there is this journey that we think may be overnight, but it’s sometimes a decade, two decades of work. We don’t want to let these people do that journey alone. Maybe they get support from the immediate people in their life, but what if an [entire] community could rally behind them?,”

“Sometimes it’s just the message of saying, ‘we see you — this [grant] is something small, but we just want to say we adore what you’re doing because we know that in some ways it’s going to enrich our lives.”

Applications for the grants will open in April and will be available until the end of May.

Click here for how to apply or become a patron of the fund.

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