Meet The Thought Leaders & Creatives


Art After the Virus: The Politics of Imagination

Woman with cropped, dark-brown-to-blonde ombre hair and tortoiseshell glasses. She is wearing a white and gray tweed-pattern blazer over a white collared shirt and is smiling politely.
Zainub Verjee

ED of Ontario Association of Art Galleries

A trailblazer for her generation, Zainub Verjee is a leading public figure and senior arts administrator in the Canadian cultural sector, widely recognized as an institution builder, strategic thinker and leader, and a thought leader in the international arts and culture sector.

Zainub is a laureate of  2020 Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Award for Outstanding Contribution. She is a Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto and McLaughlin College Fellow at York University. She has received honorary doctorates from OCAD University and NSCAD University.

In addition Zainub has won many awards, including the National Film Board Fellowship (’92) and she has received commendations for her impactful work on the Spicer Commission-the Citizen’s Forum for Canada’s Future (’91), Bill 12 - Arts Council Act (’95) and the Vancouver Arts Initiative (’91-’98) which led to the formation of BC Arts Council and Vancouver’s first Culture plan, respectively.

Zainub has shaped culture policy at all levels of government and built cultural institutions and organizations in Canada and internationally. She has contributed to international instruments of culture such as Status of the Artist and Cultural Diversity.

As a public intellectual, Zainub is at her savvy and insightful best in her commentaries and scholarly writings on the subject of Canadian Art and Culture, especially on constitutional and political economy of Culture in Canada.

An influential, thought-provoking and sought-after keynote speaker, Zainub is passionate about cultural institutions, artists rights, labour, cultural policy, contemporary art and cultural diplomacy. It manifests in her steadfast belief and the significance of the pursuit of art as public good and how it fosters civil society. She held senior positions at all levels of government including the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Mississauga, International Art Gallery, Lisbon and Western Front, Vancouver.

Her art work has been shown nationally and internationally including at the Venice Biennale on its 100th anniversary, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Washington, Art Gallery of Alberta, Centre A and resides in private and public collections such as Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada.
In 2021 she launched Zainub Verjee Institute (ZVI) in Vancouver.

The ZVI is an initiative to build and shape public discourse by nourishing and nurturing free agency of ideas for a healthy society.
A social sculpture and like the trickster, a character archetype exhibiting form variability and a shapeshifter like Loki the mischief-maker as in Norse mythology, the ZVI is an ephemeral work.  It is omnipresent, yet not visible.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Zainub was educated in England and in Canada at Simon Fraser University in Canada and York University.

A mentor to  Action Canada Fellows at Public Policy Forum, Zainub is the executive director of Galleries Ontario/Ontario Galleries, the voice of Public Art Galleries in Canada where she is leading a national project to propel the Public Art Galleries sector into the digital ecosystem.

Find Zainub on:


Devyani Saltzman

Devyani Saltzman is a Canadian writer, curator and arts leader with a deep practice in multidisciplinary programming at the intersection between art, ideas and social change. She was most recently Director of Public Programming at the AGO, working across all disciplines, where she increased engagement across broad and diverse audiences and shaped the museum as a forum for discourse, reflecting community and the narratives of Torontonians. Saltzman was previously the Director of Literary Arts at the Banff Centre, as well as a founding Curator at Luminato, North America's preeminent multi arts festival. She is a published author and her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, National Post, The Atlantic and Tehelka, India's weekly of arts and investigative journalism. She is the Vice Chair of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and sits on the Board of Directors of Galeries Ontario/Ontario Galleries (GOG) and the Toronto Arts Council.

A woman with long, dark brown hair framing her face, smiling at the camera. The photo is cropped around her silhouette with a purple background, resembling a sticker or paper scrapbook piece.
Isabel Cisterna

Actor. Award-winning playwright. Music Presenter. Cultural Programmer. Advocate of the Visual Arts. Community Activist. Project Manager. Mover. Shaker. Partner. Mother. Friend. Isabel Cisterna is all these things and more. Isabel immigrated to Canada over 20 years ago from Chile. In 2002, she established Neruda Arts and hasn't looked back. In 2019, Kultrún World Music Festival attracted over 22,000 attendees. The arts were hit hard in 202 with COVID-19. The arts were the first to close down, and will be the last to start up again. That did not stop Isabel from presenting and producing, making sure artists were paid, and taken care of. The roots of her passion and tenacity run deep in The Waterloo Region.

Zonta Women of Achievement award (2020)
The Canada 150+ Medal (2019)
The Waterloo Award and The Paul Harris Fellowship (2018)
Leading Women Building Communities (2014)
Waterloo Woman of the Year (2013)
Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award (2012)Government of Chile Award - Achievement as a Chilean living abroad (2011)
Oktoberfest Woman of the year for Arts & Culture (2010)
Waterloo Region Record - 40 Under 40 award for leadership (2009)
KW Arts Awards for the Arpillera Tapestry of life Project (2008)
KW Arts Awards for Mentor of the year (2007)

Jessa Agilo

Jessa Agilo is Founder, President, and CEO of ArtsPond / Étang d’Arts. She is a queer, disabled, integrated arts producer and entrepreneur with a three-decade career in Canadian arts and culture. Jessa is a passionate advocate for critical access and inclusion with, by, and for equity-seeking groups of all kinds. She was a fellow of Toronto Arts Council’s Leaders Lab in 2019 and Wolf Willow’s Positive Deviants in 2021-22. Among others, she has been featured in stories by The Canadian Press, CBC, CityTV, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Feral Arts (Australia), and Culture24 (UK).

Kate Cornell

Kate Cornell, PhD, is a writer, advocate, policy wonk, and lecturer. Kate is currently the Interim Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for Imagine Canada, the national association representing the nonprofit and charitable sector. Kate has worked primarily in the nonprofit arts sector for organizations such as the Canadian Dance Assembly, Learning Through the Arts, and the Canadian Arts Coalition. In 2016, Kate was awarded the Hobday Award for Arts Management for her efforts in arts advocacy. More recently, Kate worked with Aftermetoo and the Canadian Women's Foundation on a national digital project on workplace sexual harassment prevention. With a PhD in Communication and Culture, Kate has been published widely and has taught in several university programs and in Humber College's Arts Management program. Kate lives near beautiful Lake Ontario with her family and is grateful to the original keepers of the territory - the Mississaugas of the New Credit, the Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Karen Darricades

Karen Darricades is an artist, educator, writer, community activist and award winning youth worker living in Toronto. She has facilitated workshops and projects under the Never Gallery Ready banner to thousands of students and community members both inside the classroom and through community organizations throughout Southern Ontario since 2006. She is the host of the #WeMakeMedia podcast and the Head of Arts and Culture at Creative Commons Canada.

Her art works have been exhibited through Gallery 1313, Luc Sculpture Gallery, The Gladstone Hotel, Toronto Free Gallery, Toronto's Visual Fringe Festival, The World of Threads festival: a Common Threads International Exhibit, and commissioned works have been sold through The Textile Museum of Canada's shop. Her writing has been published in print for This Magazine, HERizons Magazine, Broken Pencil, Nukta Art, Peru This Week, and online at and

Liz Winkelaar

Liz’s academic interest in Disability Art and Culture led her to Propeller. She has danced with the company since its inception, taught outreach workshops, assisted with the children’s programme, and pioneered the seniors’ programme. In 2012, she received an Artistic Excellence Award from the city of Ottawa. In 2016, she was chosen to develop an original dance piece for Propeller’s Emerging Choreographers’ programme. Since 2017, she has been the company’s Artistic Associate.

Mason Victoria

Award-winning multi-instrumentalist and composer Mason Victoria has been described as “…an emerging writer with a solid grasp of the craft of composition and a story to tell…” (Scott Reeves, Director of Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra). Through his studies in trumpet performance and Music Technology & Digital Media at the Humber College and University of Toronto, Mason blends his unique jazz vocabulary with his newfound appreciation for audio design and sound manipulation. At 19 years old, Mason travelled to New York to conduct and perform his original large ensemble music with the New Music Jazz Orchestra, which featured artists such as Bryan Davis (Artuno O’Farrill), Matt Woroshyl (Jamie Cullum), and Ron Wilkins (Birdland Jazz Orchestra). Similarly at 21, Mason travelled to Calgary to have his works performed by some of Canada’s most renowned artists such as Sean Craig (Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra), Andre Wickenheiser, and Johnny Summers (Calgary Jazz Orchestra). Mason continues to have his music performed and workshopped by ensembles in Toronto, Calgary, Los Angeles, New York, and Japan. Mason is also the Head of Education and Outreach at Spectrum Music, where he has produced concerts with artists such as the Heavyweights Brass Band, Larnell Lewis and Bruce Cassidy. Outside of his live projects, Mason spends his creative passion in interactive art as a programmer, sound designer and composer. Mason has received various accolades, including the 2021 University of Toronto Graduating Award, the 2018 MARTY award for Emerging Solo Instrumental Artist, the 2018 Ron Lenyk Inspiring Youth Arts Award, the 2017 Duke Ellington Composer Award, and the 2016 Dave Stillwell Arranging Award. 

Marisol D'Andrea

MARISOL D'ANDREA has a doctoral degree in Leadership, Higher and Adult Education from the University of Toronto. Marisol is an academic consultant, multidisciplinary researcher, visual artist, actor, and the author of "The Power of Artistic Thinking: Think Like an Artist and Innovate." Marisol has published over a dozen academic journal articles on the topics of arts leadership, creative economy, inequality, arts funding, and innovation. In 2021, she was awarded the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) Research Fellowship at Indiana University Bloomington to write about diversity in arts leadership. She has also written and illustrated six children's books; the most recent one is entitled "Doodle Drives his First Electric Car." Marisol is currently an ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) member and working on her upcoming book to guide people to overcome shyness in creative ways. 

Menon Dwarka

Menon Dwarka joined ACG in 2021 and has held numerous arts leadership positions in Canada and the United States over the last 25 years. His innovative approach to the arts has always resulted in increased audience engagement and community development with a focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and access. His expertise resides in leveraging technology in service of creating more diverse programming and administrative spaces. A disruptor of stratified ecosystems, Mr. Dwarka has also led grassroots organizations like Toronto’s 918 Bathurst Centre and served as a board member of Canadian Opera Company, guiding its equity, diversity, and inclusion taskforce. His cross-sector work to achieve public/private sector partnerships demonstrates his unique ability to work with a variety of stakeholders to ensure the viability of arts spaces and venues across urban and suburban settings. Mr. Dwarka has worked as a peer reviewer of grants for the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council, City of Ottawa, and Toronto Arts Council, where he currently sits on the Music Committee. Organizations that he has led have received support from all three levels of government, as well as the Metcalf and Jackman Foundations, among others. A sought-after public speaker, Mr. Dwarka has been featured on numerous television and radio programs, including a regularly occurring segment on Sesame Street.
He was part of the inaugural cohort of the Banff/Toronto Arts Council Cultural Leaders Lab as well as the City of Toronto’s Economic Development and Culture’s Strategic Planning Committee, which oversaw the creation of Toronto’s 2018-2022 Culture Plan. In addition, Mr. Dwarka served as Support Lead for the Metcalf Foundation’s Creative Strategies Incubator and is Chair of Humber College’s Program Advisory Committee and Canadian Opera Company’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. He holds a bachelor of music and master of music in music composition from the University of Toronto. His recent executive search clients include Center for Creative Arts, Boston Lyric Opera, Miami City Ballet, Toronto Public Library, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Mojan Jianfar

Mojan Jianfar is an urban planner working at the intersection of arts, culture and city building, who has led award-winning public art and cultural planning projects. She has developed numerous projects, such as City of Mississauga's Public Art Master Plan, Culture Master Plan, patio and busking programs, implemented land use and policy plans and led various public art installations. She was selected to participate in Toronto Arts Council's Cultural Leaders Lab program and has served as Board Chair and Member of the STEPS Initiative. She is currently at the City of Toronto, Economic Development and Culture Division, leading the creation of the Office for Creative Space, focused on addressing challenges faced by the sector to retain, develop and access affordable, sustainable space. Mojan has a Master's degree in urban planning from York University (Environmental Studies).

Pat Tobin

Patrick Tobin was appointed Director of Arts and Culture Services for the City of Toronto in February 2017. Pat joined the City following an 18-year career with the federal public service, most recently as Director General for Innovation and Community Development at the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.  Pat’s other experience federally included executive roles in communications, policy and program delivery for Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

Parul Pandya

Founder and Community Consultant, Parul Pandya has been skillfully working in non-profit in various roles through the past two decades, including as a community builder, consultant, programmer and producer.  After managing in community grants for the largest government funder in Canada, she received much interest for continued collective impact by being asked to serve organizations in a variety of capacities.

Her attraction to advocacy emerged with her work as a Queer South Asian freelance writer/poet, over two decades ago.  She has a deep passion for social justice and its intersectionality with the arts, which she teaches about at both Centennial College and Humber College. Her approach to exchange is a high-engagement, encouraging participation through self-reflection, empathy, creativity and common understanding. Parul has a deep appreciation for plants, playing plant mom to over 80 in her urban jungle. She also loves watching the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays, as well as a lot of true crime.

Patti Pon

Calgary Arts Development President & CEO Patti Pon (she/her/hers) is a veteran community and arts champion. Her extensive track record of leadership and service in Calgary include staff leadership positions at EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts (now Arts Commons), Alberta Performing Arts Stabilization Fund, and Alberta Theatre Projects, and volunteer positions with Calgary Foundation (board), Calgary Stampede (committee), the Asian Heritage Foundation of Southern Alberta (founding board member), imagineCalgary (steering committee), and CKUA Radio Network (board). In 2021 Patti was the first woman of colour to be appointed to the board of the Calgary Stampede. Patti has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal as well as the 2013 Harry and Martha Cohen Award, recognizing significant contribution to Calgary’s theatre community.

Renata Soutter

A co-founder of Propeller Dance, Renata has dedicated her professional career to socially-engaged dance innovation through creation, performance and education. Renata co-developed (with Shara Weaver and company dancers) a methodology of collaborative creation that focuses on the unique aesthetics of artists with disability and the primacy of self-expression. Her influences include the natural world, and a strong belief in the power and beauty of diverse cultural expression. She is a Diamond Jubilee recipient (2012) and Finalist for Ottawa Arts Council mid-career Artist award. Her latest work Living the Desirable Life was a celebrated part of Canada 2017. Renata lives with her family in Ottawa, on the unceded land of the Algonquin people.

Robin Sokoloski

Robin Sokoloski (she/her) has been working in the arts and culture sector for eighteen years. Currently, as the Director of Organizational Development of Mass Culture, Robin is working with academics, funders and arts practitioners to support a thriving arts community by mobilizing the creation, amplification and community-informed analysis of research.For 10+ years, Robin was the Executive Director of Playwrights Guild of Canada. She currently teaches a course at Centennial College entitled, Arts Policy, Equity and Activism and has recently developed a fourth-year university course on Cultural Entrepreneurship for MacEwan University. Robin remains committed to Canada’s arts and culture scene by volunteering for various arts organizations. She was recently elected to the Board of the Toronto Arts Council and currently sits on the Advisory Board of the International Cultural Research Network and Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression Advisory Board.  Her experience in governance, financial management, and network mobilization greatly contributes to all of her work and volunteerism in the arts.

Sanjay Shahani

Sanjay Shahani is an arts professional with 25 years experience in the field. Sanjay has worked at the Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation and Canada Council for the Arts. He is the Executive Director of the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC), and led the development of Connections & Exchanges: A 10-Year Plan To Transform Arts and Heritage In Edmonton, which was approved by Edmonton City Council in 2018. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees at the National Arts Centre and the Board of Explore Edmonton Corporation.

Umbereen Inayet

Umbereen Inayet is a National Award Winning, TEDx Speaker, Curator, Artistic Director &Producer. With a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Toronto and anUndergraduate degree in Cultural Anthropology and Women’s Studies, Umbereen’s personalstyle is to bridge pop culture with contemporary art, using her roots in anthropology, culture,psychology and social work to inform her artistic producing practice.Great granddaughter of Hafeez Jalandhari, the infamous poet who wrote the lyrics of theNational Anthem of Pakistan, Umbereen is a visual storyteller and playwright who has led thecreative visioning and event execution for major City of Toronto events; recently creating thenew Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Heritage Award winning anti-colonial artistic interventionbased platform, Awakenings for Toronto History Museums as a cultural recovery and responseto 2020.Umbereen has worked as an Artistic Producer and Curator for Nuit Blanche Toronto one of thelargest free contemporary art events in North America with over 1.2 million in attendance forover a decade working on projects with multidisciplinary artists, curators and studios includingAi Weiwei, Bill Viola, John Akomfrah, Director X, Drake, Floria Sigismondi, Philip Beesley,HXOUSE, Sean Brown, Daniel Arsham, Charlotte Day Wilson, eL Seed & JR.Umbereen recently curated the first public art exhibition for Swizz Beatz for the Jeddah ArtPromenade in Saudi Arabia featuring Janet Echelman, Kwest, Javid JAH & DRIFT.

Olivia Shortt

(They/Them: Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation) Olivia Shortt is a Tkarón:to-based storyteller andperforming artist. They are a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, noisemaker, improviser, composer,sound designer, video artist, drag artist, curator, administrator, and producer.Recent commissions and collaborations include Long Beach Opera (Songbook 2020), the JACKQuartet (as part of the inaugural JACK Studio), a new opera for Loose Tea Music Theatre and acommission for the Blueridge Chamber Festival (Vancouver).Shortt was awarded and named one of the 2020 Buddies in Bad Times’ Emerging Queer Artists,was a finalist for the 2021 Toronto Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award and was featured inthe 2020 Winter edition of Musicworks Magazine.


Asalia Arellano

Asalia Arellanhas been dancing with Tonantzin aztec group of dance in Toronto since 2006. She started to learn Mexican folklore and theater as a kid in a private school for a couple of years, at age of 13 studied traditional aztec/mexica dance,  at pre-Hispanic cultural center Zemanahuac (cultural center for pre-hispanic mexican roots studies including history, language and interpretation of pre-hispanic codex), in Mexico city, Polo Rojas ballet (1990) contemporary ballet company which mixed contemporary dance with aztec dance. Contemporary ballet dance (1989) at “casa del lago”( lake house- INBA). Aztec/mexica dance with several traditional groups of dance around Mexico City (1992-1994), aztec/mexica traditional dance, and contemporary ballet dance at Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico city (1997). Indigenous dances and choreographies at the Center or arts and creativity in BANFF,Canada (2019).

Asia Clarke

Asia Clarke is a multidisciplinary creative and entrepreneur with a passion for transforming hair, jewelry, beauty and styling. She is also a researcher, strategist and freelance writer.She is Canadian-born of Caribbean descent, living between Toronto and Accra, Ghana. She is passionate about re-envisioning futures and helping communities, clients and brands to envision and actualize their creativity. She uses research as the foundation for her professional and creative works. She holds a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation program from OCAD University. As a jewelry designer and hairstylist, her work has been published worldwide. She has credits featured in major publications such as Vogue DE, Vogue IT, Essence Magazine, Bubblegum Club South Africa, and Dazed Magazine. Her clients have included Burberry, Kendrick Lamar, Free The Youth Ghana, and Daily Paper. As a consultant, she is equally accomplished. With over 9 years of experience in international development, strategic foresight, and program evaluation and consulting, she has worked on economic empowerment and business development projects in Canada, Dominica, Trinidad, eSwatini and Ghana.

Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison

Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison is an eclectic, internationally respected composer, multi-instrumentalist and performer from Ghana/ Bermuda based in Canada. His awards span music, film, television, media, dance and theatre, including several Dora Mavor Moore, Chalmers Foundation, TAMA awards and JUNO contributions with artists in diverse categories. “Afrosonic jollof is the sound of jazz, rock, R&B and dance music coming face to face with its roots,” played by Kobè’s all-star Djungle Bouti Orchestra: Kwanza Msingwana, Marito Marques, Andrew Craig, Alex St. Kitts, Nimon Musiq, Atenna Hercules, Dick Fairthorne ii and other noted talents. DjBO performs for Presidents, Prime Ministers and preschoolers at festivals, national galleries, theatres and special events featuring electric and acoustic instruments built by Kobe, such as the 17th century Akan seperewa guitar-harp. Also in demand as an accompanist to singers, dance companies, poets, jingle houses and online special events, you‘ve likely heard Kobèna’s talents at work for Shaw & Stratford Festivals, FIFA 2010, Kellogg’s, CBC, Nissan etc. The founder of Michèzo! and past AfroFest President/ Artistic Director and CKLN host, is currently Cultural Development Director at Abandze Embassy, the multimedia creative space and music oasis at the heart of Vogue Mag’s 2nd coolest neighbourhood in the world, W Queen W, Toronto.
Follow @paapakobe.

Pamela Mordecai

Jamaican-Canadian author, Pamela Mordecai writes for adults and children. Her nine collections of poetry are Journey Poem (1989), de Man: a performance poem (1995), Certifiable (2001), The True Blue of Islands (2005), Subversive Sonnets (2012), de book of Mary: a performance poem (2015), Up Tropic (Serbian/English edition, 2021), de book of Joseph: a performance poem (2022) and A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected poems (2022). Her poetry has been translated into French, Spanish, Serbian and Romanian. A proponent of writing in one’s heart language, she code-switches between English and Jamaican Patwa. Her debut novel, Red Jacket (2015), was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction award, and her short story collection, Pink Icing, published to rave reviews in 2006, was released in 2020 as an audiobook in ECW’s Bespeak Audio Editions. Mordecai’s poetry is part of the UK’s Poetry by Heart initiative and Canada’s Poetry in Voice. Her children’s poems are widely anthologized and have been used in language arts curricula in the US, UK, Africa, India, the Caribbean and the Far East. Her play, El Numero Uno or the Pig from Lopinot had its world premiere in 2010 at YPT in Toronto, and its Caribbean premiere at the School of Drama, Edna Manley College of the Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2016. She lives in Tkaranto. Video recordings of her poems are archived at

Shelly Grace

Shelly Grace is a Toronto-based spoken word poet and photographer. She uses her art for community building and healing and focuses on the experiences of women and the Black community. She previously released a chapbook, Sisters in Stanzas, with fellow poet Desiree McKenzie in 2020 which sold out very quickly. Her poetry is heavily influenced by Alyssia Harris and Akua Naru as they have served as huge inspirations since her early days as a poet. In 2019 she won the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, while on the Up From The Roots slam team, becoming a National Spoken Word Champion. Shelly does several performances, workshops and freelance writing. Her piece, "Atlantic," was shared with CBC Arts. This year she was awarded Toronto Arts Foundation's Break Through Artist Award.Shelly is working on creating several videos to accompany some of her written work to further her storytelling. She is also starting a book that will shift what is acceptable storytelling from Black writers by presenting both stories of trauma and Black joy. She is a Brand Coordinator and a mentor for Hip Hop Healing with IBLV Dreamers and The Heard. You can find her work on