Earlier this year, I tweeted, “I can’t help but wonder how far some of us would’ve been if we didn’t live in Toronto, Canada.” And I think about this daily. Whenever someone tells you the “grass is always greener on the other side”, they are 100 per cent right, but when you’re a creative from Toronto, the grass is indeed greener and very fertilized on the other side.
In my opinion, the largest issue in Toronto’s industry is community. I would say 30 per cent of the issue is lack of opportunity from conglomerates and corporations and 70 per cent is lack of support and community amongst peers. For background, I am a self-taught marketing professional with an education in journalism and communications. I specialize in curated activations and, I guess in some way, that makes me a creative. I’ve sent in dozens of proposals for things to happen in this city, as have many of my peers. Only for these ideas to be turned down due to exterior factors unrelated to our talent or ideas. I’ve reached out to individuals in my field, peers and experienced elders for mentorship and have been shunned passively. While who you know and what you do is important, there’s an airy feeling in this city that is completely and utterly disingenuous. Pardon me while I generalize for a bit. I know that in every circumstance you can find a flower in a dark room, but for this article I’m blanketing with what is experienced widely in Toronto’s industry. Many will agree they are jaded in Toronto, which in itself is a huge part of the problem.
Whether over coffee dates or hanging at the crib, almost everyone I talk to in the industry feels negatively about the media, entertainment and creative communities. And in waves, the complaining happens via Twitter and Instagram. Many formulate groups and cliques with the best intentions of changing the narrative and building one another up positively. The problem is that it quickly becomes cliquey due to that same jadedness. Over the years there has been various cliques established in the city formally and informally with the sole intention of bettering and growing the creative and media landscapes in Toronto. What ends up happening is that people start to label these groups negatively for putting only their friends on the map, and the vicious cycle continues.
If Toronto’s industry really extended a helping hand to one another … we would surpass the havens of LA and New York.
Additionally, mixed in with these groups, there’s a large crabs-in-the-bucket mentality. I once had a high-profile and well recognized talent admit to me that sharing their craft with others would result in those same people taking opportunities. What’s heartbreaking about this perspective is that such a talented and established individual doesn’t realize that no one, and I mean absolutely no one, can do what they do, the way they do it. So, everyone will always be fed. Let’s be honest, if Toronto’s industry really extended a helping hand to one another by teaching skills and pointers to advance our culture, we would surpass the havens of LA and New York. Trust me. Just look at the abundance of talent we produce from this city alone.
As a result of this cancerous mentality we collectively have become guarded and often times bitter. We see someone else’s success as a threat to ours. I cannot stress how dangerous this is. This toxic mentality leads down a road of comparison and envy and it can be extremely difficult to see the light of day. A lot of people are stuck in that tunnel. Heck, I was in it from 2016 -2017. I unfollowed, blocked, muted and cancelled connections with many people in Toronto because I was a crab. I couldn’t stand to see the success of my peers. I looked for reasons to invalidate their steps towards greatness, rather than adjusting my thought process to “wow, another legend in the making from Toronto — we winning.” I was wallowing in bitterness.
A lot of people are still where I was in 2016 and as a result, they cheer one another on and group up with each other during the struggle and discovery phase, but the minute someone takes flight, the energy shifts into a distant and negative one. Slowly, people begin to find frivolous reasons to dislike that person finding their path. Subtweets and micro-aggressions are spewed at them. Ask many people how they feel about celebrities and influencers from Toronto. The feedback often stinks.
I also blame this lack of community on a larger colonial problem within Toronto’s infrastructure. How immigrants and cultured communities are forced in separate environments rather than blending together as one. But I’ll save that culture-focused discussion for another day. I rather get into the weeds as to why it’s safer to bounce than get caught up in the misery.
A rapper friend of mine from London, said via FaceTime, “you know, I always hear dope music from artists and when I ask who is that, they’ll say rah it’s some next mans from Toronto… but I don’t really know why the city isn’t really saying much.”
Well I know why. You know that old African proverb that explains it takes a village. I think Toronto has misconstrued that to panel discussion and invite-only networking events. While these moments are important and essential to every industry, so many of them are centered on highlighting people, feeding egos. We’re caught up in a hype that isn’t making an impact in our city nor has it made it past the border.
We’re caught up in a hype that isn’t making an impact in our city nor has it made it past the border.
I couldn’t tell you how many panel discussions I’ve sat through and questioned why an individual unfit for a topic was spearheading it. Then I realize it is a friend elevating a friend, or a poor communications rep that looked for the most popular person via social media. The truth is popularity does not equate qualification.
This past June, I held a three-day event called The Art of/in Business. Two workshops, a live demonstration and group roundtable discussion. It was my way of feeding answers, resources and support to a community that is thirsting for it. I could have easily gone with the top dog of the city, but this shows a lack of knowledge and awareness of who can provide important blueprints in the development of our city’s rising talent.
To break the cycle of hype = success, you must research and really saturate yourself with your community. Listen to the people who are grinding and don’t hold back on showing your respect.
If we analyze and properly spread the sunshine throughout this city, we will absolutely see more rainbows and greener grass. It would also help if we held one another accountable. Toronto is filled with so many people throwing shade indirectly with hopes the targeted individual will guess the shade was meant for them.
Contact people directly in the city and let them know how they could have done better. This activates growth. I’ve been wrong and vocal about many things and the most annoying thing is to see people who know me, have my number, hop on social media to indirectly slight me. We will never win this way.
In reference to my rapper friend, there are many artists that are on the rise that don’t receive support. In further, some successful and high-profile artists, designers, influencers and more are from Toronto. I even made a Twitter thread celebrating a few. I remember finding out two years ago that fashion designer Aurora James was from Toronto and went to Ryerson University. I completely understand why some of these individuals don’t necessarily broadcast Toronto a lot; they’ve gone on to make homes elsewhere where communities seem to welcome them in with open arms. Where people aren’t too cool to recognize their hard work and their drive.
A friend of mine from Mississauga said he DJ’d an event in NYC and gained 20 followers and an abundance of contacts that continuously hit him up for events. He said he’s never experienced that in Toronto, ever. I believe him.
I remember attending a Rapsody talk in NYC at Okay Space Gallery last year. I asked a really good question that the audience resonated with and I also dropped that I was from Toronto. “An underrated city” I called it. After the talk, several people came up to me to connect and exchange contacts, a lot of people who I still talk to today. Ironically, amongst that crowd was a familiar face, someone I’ve seen before in Toronto. I introduced myself. Given the standard “you look familiar” from his energy and “too cool” vibe, I knew the answer to my next question — are you from Toronto? — was yes. Sure enough it was. Of all the people I met that night, he was the coldest towards me. I felt uncomfortable talking to him, almost like I was fangirling. His demeanour was not inviting and open like the others I met that night (who by the way were well known industry folk). Despite the encounter, we exchanged contacts. I followed up with a text and tried to hold a conversation, but I never heard from him again. I later found out he had also given me a fake name. After that encounter, I can see why hardly anyone mingles freely in our city. Feeling like a groupie or a nag isn’t cool, especially if your intention, like mine that night, is just to mix and mingle.
Supporting is what makes cool people…cool.
In 2017 while living in Accra, Ghana, my friends invited me to a small concert with local artists. You know the events you’ll find here at a venue like Drake Hotel. I couldn’t believe the amount of support that was in the open field in Accra. Additionally, the audience was synchronized singing songs word-for-word. Songs that weren’t even online —I know this because I asked. This was mind blowing to me because in Toronto, it would be uncool to support a local artist. The less people you follow, retweet, cheer on, and give shout outs to, the more elite you are. When in actuality, supporting is what makes cool people…cool. Oprah, Serena Williams, Jay-Z, P-Diddy, Nipsey Hussle, prime examples of big-name entrepreneurs and leaders who might as well put support in their middle name.
The answer is very clear to me. If the reception of your work and talent is positive elsewhere, why wait for love to come to you? Go out and get it.
When I think about the YouTubers, producers, artists, influencers that are so talented and flourished elsewhere, it makes my heart swell. Shannon Boodram*, Mayas World, Winnie Harlow, Latoya Forever, Sevn Thomas, Daniel Caesar, 4Yall Ent — just to name a few. It’s the path I am looking to take. I don’t encourage anyone to remain suffocated in a city that is suffering from lack of community, support and love. I no longer want to wonder what my potential is like outside of Toronto, I’m going to find it and build communities that love and cherish my growth and talent genuinely. I encourage everyone to do the exact same too.
The common thing that many say is that you must go away in order to be respected or recognized when you come back. I think this affects the way we assert value to ourselves and this city. We shouldn’t set the bar that foreign accolades make you important at home. That takes a genuine love and appreciation for the culture and those looking to uplift it. I’m not sure when Toronto will get to that point and I commend those that feel inclined to weather through the storm. As for me, I know, love is waiting for me on the other side.
Graphic illustration © Ronior Thompson + Urbanology Magazine
*Editor’s note: Shannon Boodram is a former contributor of Urbanology Magazine.