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Peel Region, Canada

BollywoodMonster MashUp

MonstrARTity Creative Community

April 30, 2018

Building a welcoming city through the arts means building opportunities for diverse artists and artistic expression in the creative economy

When Vikas Kohli noticed emerging cultural communities were becoming disconnected from their city he created a new festival celebrating them. Along the way he built new opportunities for diverse artists in the creative economy.

Located in the western arc of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Region of Peel includes two of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities: Mississauga and Brampton. People from over 200 different ethnic origins, speaking more than 70 different languages call Peel Region their home. And within this highly diverse and multicultural region, just over half the population report belonging to the South Asian visible minority group (50.8%)..

It comes as no surprise then that the Region of Peel is host to Canada’s largest South Asian festival. Launched in 2011, #BollywoodMonster Mashup brings arts, culture and diversity together in a new and exciting way.

But that success had a rocky start. Fueled by immigration, Peel Region experienced rapid growth and demographic change over over the last two decades. No longer a sleepy suburban town, the City of Brampton’s ‘visible minorities’ are now the majority, with South Asians representing the predominant cultural community across the region. Local government was initially slow to recognize and incorporate its growing diversity into the political process and municipal decision-making.

Enter  Vikas Kohli, an award-winning film composer and music producer, with a finance background and deep connections to the Bollywood creative community . In 2010, Kohli was invited to sit on the City of Mississauga’s  Grants Committee. Kohli quickly noticed a resource allocation problem. Older cultural groups whose populations were in decline were still recieving large community grants from the city. Newer, growing cultural groups were not getting their fair share of the funding pie. As a result, the City was rapidly becoming disconnected from its constituents. When Kohli pointed it out, the City asked him if he had any ideas.

#BollywoodMonster Mashup

Starting with an evening event attached to another festival in 2011, Kohli launched an annual celebration that has grown to have a huge local impact.

Kohli says that even though the festival initially focused on the large South Asian population in Mississauga, he never wanted to create an event with cultural silos. “We were going to make sure that all the acts were cross-cultural. The dancers would not all be South Asian, but include dancers from other backgrounds. And we would mix genres. Same thing musically.”

He wanted to avoid isolating emerging cultural communities “where South Asians performed only to South Asians. To me that wasn’t going to help the problem of getting everyone to integrate. Music and art and dance are great ways to get people to get along without preaching to them about multiculturalism.”

Within Peel Region’s diverse communities “it was all about taking what were considered minority and fringe groups and placing them in the centre with everyone else.”

Creating access to the creative economy

#BollywoodMonster Mashup has grown to a multi-day, multi-media program, including music, visual arts art, comedy, spoken word, film and more.  Along with way, Kohli worked hard to identify opportunities for the changing and diverse community to adapt, integrate and grow within the region’s creative economy.

In 2018, a Ontario Government Policy Dialogue held in Toronto asked the question, “How can we address barriers to better economic outcomes and harness the opportunity for broader economic growth presented by immigrants in the creative industries, arts and culture sectors?”

Kohli has been answering that question since 2011, when he created MonstrARTity Creative Community and the Monster Creative Collective. The nonprofit’s projects have grown to create a  pipeline for talent to incubate and grow locally. MonstrARTity brings the celebration into the classroom, supports new artists and voices through access and mentorship, creating a cycle of access and opportunity for diverse and newcomer talent.

The #MonsterArts for Youth program brings professional artists into local schools to teach kids  South Asian arts in free workshops. Why not introduce kids to how awesome other cultures can be as early in their lives as possible? Workshops have been provided for over 150,000 students in Peel Region and have recently been offered to schools in the municipality of Markham, north of Toronto.

Tools for success in the creative economy

The #MonsterArtist Development program gives local artists the tools they need to succeed in a career in the creative economy. To develop emerging artists’ business skills, seasoned artists and music industry experts are on hand to support and mentor program paeticipants. Kohli says #MonsterArtist has created a cycle that supports #BollywoodMonster: #MonsterArtists perform in the festival and then go into the school system to cultivate new talent and inspire youth through #MonsterArts.

 

#MonsterWorld Mashup started as the Monster Rock Orchestra, a smaller event in neighbouring Brampton. Kohli says that they identified interest in Brampton in making space for a cultural event that didn’t exist in the community. People wanted something unique for the city. Now a yearly event, #MonsterWorld brings multi-disciplinary programming to the heart of downtown Brampton.

#MonsterSuccess

Kohli says that while cultural silos within the South Asian community still exist, #BollywoodMonster Mashup is bringing a greater diversity of cultural communities together, including underrepresented groups in the area. For Kohli, this is  where the mashup idea really comes to life.

In one case, the Bollywood Monster Choir, a traditional European choir, took on the challenge to sing in 4 different  Indian dialects. In another, classically trained traditional Chinese musicians performed popular Bollywood songs with Indian singers.

#BollywoodMonster brings a shared love of Bollywood to the entire community, with a mashup of performers on stage celebrating that love.

Reflecting audiences on stage

With a diverse community Kohli says it was important for people on stage reflect the audiences they’re performing to. “It changes the whole feel of the show, because when we put on the show the people on stage look exactly like the people in the audience and that’s key for us. We create projects to actively integrate different segments of the community into the festival. It’s very important for us to not be preachy. We don’t talk about multiculturalism, cultural silos, or integration. We think, what would be really cool to see? It would be cool to see a sixty-voice European-style choir singing Bollywood songs.

We like to think about what are people not expecting to see. Just by doing that, it opens up the possibilities in people’s minds. The audience sees very interesting, cool performances done by professional artists. We want to show people it’s OK to like Indian music and Chinese music and Latin music, just like they like those cultures’ food. We’re taking them to our restaurant and saying, here’s our fusion dish of Chinese and Indian musicians, enjoy.”

Making it Work for You:

  • Demographic changes in short periods of time can bring disruption. As communities change, it's important to recognize that leadership, government focus and programs also need to change. Tapping into the communities themselves for leadership and ideas is essential.
  • Building on a common love of music and entertainment can create greater inclusion and a sense of shared community and love of music and the arts. It's important for audience/community members to see themselves represented on the stage.
  • Having a vision of what success looks like and how to make a celebration grow is important. Once Kohli recognized the vision was interesting to people, he expanded his work to create a pipeline of talent and support from within the community.
  • Working with youth is essential to build inclusion. From #MonsterArts for Youth, to hiring Summer students and volunteers, #BollywoodMonster Mashup focuses on sharing and inspiring across cultures, as well as showing underrepresented groups their potential to shine as performers and artists. And it gives them a popular venue to perform at, while inspiring them to pay it forward by working with youth in the schools where they themselves may have been inspired.

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