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An illustrated map of Tkaronto.East End Spotlight is a monthly news piece where we highlight a series of east end artists, arts organizations, creative spaces & professionals that we want to shine a spotlight on💙!

June East End Artist Spotlights

For June 2022, we got in touch with some new artists who live or work in east Toronto. Scroll down to read more about the following people and organizations this month:

    1. Daniel Rotsztain – Visual Artist & Cartographer
    2. Robyn Grant-Moran – Beadworker & Writer
    3. Howard Tam – Curator & Foodie

*Banner image is an illustration by Daniel Rotsztain.*

1. Artist Spotlight: Daniel Rotsztain aka The Urban Geographer

A headshot of Daniel. He had dark, short cropped hair and a full beard. He's smiling a closed-mouth smile at the camera.Name: Daniel Rotsztain

Discipline: Visual art, writing, cartography

Artist Website:
TheUrbanGeographer.ca

Artist on Social:
Instagram @TheUrbanGeog
Twitter @TheUrbanGeog
Facebook @TheUrbanGeog

Artist Pronouns: He/Him

Describe yourself and your artwork:

My work explores our relationships with the places we inhabit, giving shape and form to our collective and subjective experiences of geography. I love finding the beauty of unloved spaces and showing how everywhere is worthy of our love and care. I am a frequenter of libraries, malls, and plazas, and many of my projects seek to understand and support the city’s public life.

How does your culture, background, and/or upbringing influence your creative work?

My grandparents were refugees from Eastern Europe after World War II. They arrived in Canada, and settled in Winnipeg and Montreal, and my parents eventually moved to Toronto where they met. And now, for the first time in my family’s history in three generations, I don’t have to move anywhere! I feel a kind of intergenerational exhaustion that encourages me to relate deeply to the land I’m on and make deep roots in this city. Part of that means understanding the Indigenous histories and presence on this land. As a geographer of European descent, I am committed to understanding the treaties and sharing this info with other settlers to create the conditions of true nation-to-nation relationships.

My dad used to take me around bike rides throughout the entire city. His love for architecture, planning, and geography directly led to my passion for these topics.

What is one of your greatest achievements as an artist thus far?

Writing an article about my favourite pizza place, Fresca, for the Globe and Mail, where I got to gush about the deliciousness of the “Toronto-style slice” (chewy, with a brushing of garlic oil), and share a truly Toronto story of immigration, food, and cult pizza appreciation.

What is a goal that you have for the future?

I have so many project ideas, I’d like to get to them all! But for now, one that comes to mind is creating an “Atlas of Toronto Malls” as a way to elevate their essential role in the identity of the Greater Toronto Area.

Where do you find inspiration? Or what do you do to become inspired?

It’s easy to find inspiration as a geographer since we are literally always somewhere on the surface of the world. But if I’m seeking inspiration, I’ll pick a destination I’ve never been to, and that I’ve always wanted to visit, and get there by bike, public transit, or walking. Seeing the small things in between and on the journey are often the most unexpected and provide the most inspiration. It’s amazing finding something you didn’t even know you were looking for!

Who do you look up to?

I am grateful to have friends that inspire me so much. I am grateful for all the mentors and teachers I’ve met along the way. I don’t have a singular answer to this!

How do you want communities to remember your art?

I want to inspire a love of Toronto, of the cities and places we find ourselves in, despite the narratives that tell us things are ugly and unworthy of love. I want to embrace the highways, trashed ravines, garbage dumps, and humdrum strip mall plazas. I want people to experience my art and be inspired to love the unloved places that characterize so many parts of our neighbourhoods and cities.

What advice would you give to emerging artists?

Do one project to intentionally go viral, and then people will begin to associate you with a specific style or message. This project doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all project, it doesn’t have to express everything about you or be perfect, but once people know about you, more opportunities will emerge that will support your career! This was my experience with my “All the Libraries Toronto” project, which many resonated with many people and brought attention to my practice as an illustrator of buildings and maps.

A fun fact about your for our readers:

I love winter! The quietness of the cold season, the beautiful ice formations, and all the skating you can do!

2. Artist Spotlight: Robyn Grant-Moran

A headshot of Robyn. She has bright lipstick, her dark hair is pulled pack and she is staring at the camera.Name: Robyn Grant-Moran

Discipline: Beadwork, writer, exploring stained glass

Artist on Social:
Instagram @The_Salty_Magpie

Artist Pronouns: She/Her

Describe yourself and your artwork:

Colourful!

How does your culture, background, and/or upbringing influence your creative work?

I was raised by my mother who had a very low paying job. If she or I wanted anything she couldn’t afford (which was pretty much everything), she would make it. And she passed that onto me — I was able to make clothing at a young age and did every artsy/crafty thing accessible to me! My dad was also active in my life and he is Métis. Though I wasn’t raised in community, I was definitely influenced by that. When I was mature, creative, “spiritual”, it was me fulfilling my “noble” heritage. When I struggled with surviving various things that children shouldn’t ever experience and acted, in those times, I was also fulfilling my heritage — just all the overtly negative stereotypes. My Métis-ness was a gift and a curse, but when I became an adult and was able to find community and learn about our actual history, I discovered a legacy of the most beautiful floral beading and embroidery and fell in love!

What is one of your greatest achievements as an artist thus far?

This isn’t about anything specific that I have created, but when I was 34, I auditioned to get into the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at York University and was accepted into their classical voice program. I had always wanted to get an undergrad degree, especially one in singing, but didn’t have enough money and didn’t think I was capable. When I hit my mid 30s, I realized it was now or never, so I just went for it. It was the most challenging 4 years, but it opened so many doors for me. I still sing for fun sometimes, but it helped connect me more closely to my community, question power and identity in art, helped me realize that I love writing and learning, and showed me that I can do pretty much anything I put my mind to!

What is a goal that you have for the future?

I don’t even know where to begin! I want to do all the things! But right now, I think writing a novel or play, and creating some kind of visual art as part of that process. That would most likely be beading and stained glass, but who knows? I love learning and adding things to my artists toolbox, so to speak.

Where do you find inspiration? Or what do you do to become inspired?

Good question! In community, seeing and meeting other creators. Right now, my beadwork is available at ANDPVA’s Indigenous Art Market, and I mention that because being included with so many brilliant artists is inspiring. The age range, experience, and types of art reminds me not to get too stuck in my ways and to keep learning and improving!

Who do you look up to?

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. SO MANY PEOPLE! Barb Newahgahbow encouraged me to get out there, and reminded me that Indigenous art doesn’t have to be “traditional”, that Indigenous artists come in all stripes and play in all media. But also, if you look at who I follow on Instagram, you will see the tip of the iceberg of who I look up too. There are just so many brilliant artists and creators out there!

How do you want communities to remember your art?

Intentional, I think? That there’s a reason or story behind everything, I’m not just making pretty things, though who doesn’t love pretty things?

What advice would you give to emerging artists?

Remember that you are always enough, and just be true to your own vision — that will go a long way. But also, apply to all the grants, bursaries, shows, educational opportunities. You never know what you will get into and the adventures you might go on!

A fun fact about your for our readers:

I bought my first motorcycle during the pandemic, because, like my degree, I realized it was now or never, and now I’m obsessed. One of my favourite sounds is my engine under me!

3. Artist Spotlight: Howard Tam

A headshot of Howard. He’s wearing a dark purple button-up shirt and stands against a brick wall. He has dark hair, a cropped goatee, and wears glasses.Name: Howard Tam

Discipline: Culinary Arts Curation

Curator Website:
eatmorescarborough.com

Curator on Social:
Instagram @EatMoreScarborough
Twitter @EatMoreScarboro

Curator Pronouns: He/Him

Describe yourself and your artwork:

I’m a big #foodie and I love to eat, especially in Scarborough where I am originally from. I was born in East York and raised in Scarborough and the food story of late here has really blown up with restaurants catering to pretty much every known cuisine type and even taking it to new levels of truly Toronto fusion with dishes like Jerk Shawarma, Jerk Poutine or fried chicken Bao.

I started doing food tours 4 years ago after friends kept asking me about great places to eat in Scarborough. Today, I curate food tours and food adventures criss-crossing Scarborough in search of the best dishes and unique flavour profiles! It’s loads of fun and our tours have included corporate retreats, birthday parties and special media tours. The thing I love the most about this job is seeing somebody’s reaction to trying a dish they never would’ve tried on their own – and seeing them fall in love with a new flavour.

How does your culture, background, and/or upbringing influence your creative work?

Being from Scarborough, I always say that we all have lots of Scarborough Pride – don’t ever diss us or tell us our part of town is poor, dangerous or undesirable – we always push back. And this is one of the core reasons why I started the tours – I wanted to help build a stronger narrative about Scarborough and counter the images in the media about this being a poor and dangerous place. We have the BEST food in the city – and we can go toe-to-toe with any of the best downtown restaurants – no matter what BlogTO says about them!

As a person of colour, I’m also interested in helping people build stronger cultural understanding through food. Many of our tours feature discussions about the origins of dishes and stories of the food entrepreneurs making your food. I want people to see that we all have more commonalities than differences and seeing something as foreign or other is really just a limit of one’s imagination. I also want to centre the experiences of people making food (many of whom are often people of colour) and honour their journeys as leaders, entrepreneurs and members of our communities. This helps us better appreciate their work and what goes into making food, as opposed to it being just a transactional commodity.

What is one of your greatest achievements as a curator thus far?

Being able to achieve success at this food tour venture – it’s been going on for close to 4 years now and we’ve done dozens of tours – changing taste buds one at a time. I honestly started this as a hobby venture and never realized that it could become a part-time gig – but it is and I’m having lots of fun doing it.

What is a goal that you have for the future?

I want the Scarborough food story to define our place in the GTA and also have it go global. I want Scarborough to be the destination for food businesses in the city and a lab of awesome restaurants, ideas and food experiences. I’d also love to see the story reach all corners of the globe – my dream is to sit at a restaurant and hear a neighbouring diner talk about how they came to Toronto primarily to sample a Scarborough restaurant – that would make me elated.

Where do you find inspiration? Or what do you do to become inspired?

I eat. Seriously – my weekends often involve going out to try new restaurants – and how they run their operations, how they present the food and the way they make the food are all inspirations for new tour content!

Who do you look up to?

My family. They taught me what it takes to be strong & resilient. They came here with very little and got successful and I am always inspired by that.

How do you want communities to remember your art?

I really don’t expect to be doing food tours forever – I just hope that my work contributes towards a stronger culture of being curious about food and never shying away from trying new cuisines.

What advice would you give to emerging artists/curators?

I still feel that I’m still emerging myself, but what has helped me is developing my own confidence to talk about myself, what I want to do and share my passion with the world. I know that Canadian culture promotes being modest and not boastful, but the reality is that people are attracted to a story rooted in passion, and if you are authentic about it, people will respond well to it.

A fun fact about your for our readers:

I’ve travelled to 60 countries and (pandemic-aside) I really never want to stop going out on adventures to eat, discover and learn about the people and places that make our planet so special.

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