Winning an award in recognition of what you love to do is always nice, it’s even more gratifying when the award enables you to follow your passion in building your profession while overcoming challenges along the way.

Salbhi Sumaiya was born and bred in Bangladesh in the city of Dhaka. She started painting at the age of seven. As a hard of hearing (HOH) individual, she was drawn to the visual arts naturally because of its accessibility to her as a visual art form.  Painting was an instinctive way for her to express her ideas and creativity.

Resilience, Grit & Determination

Salbhi came to Canada a couple of years ago, but her hearing impairment made it challenging to find employment. She enrolled in the LINC program at CCS’ Birchmount location and took English classes for over a year. During this time, her reading and writing skills became stronger and her speaking ability steadily improved too. This past May, she also enrolled in CCS’s Small Business Support Project. This program helps low language newcomers explore self-employment opportunities via information sessions, coaching and post-support activities. Salbhi faithfully attended workshops to learn all the fundamentals about starting a business in Ontario, as well as marketing and business basics.

Impact: CCS Small Business Support Project 

Next, Sandra Wong, a Small Business Support Project Worker, began tailoring a personalized plan for Salbhi, liaising with her speech therapist to understand where she was at, and then began working one-on-one directly with her, establishing clear priorities, clarifying goals and setting up a feasible action plan. She helped the client with documentation, project planning and budgeting. Given the client’s special needs, Sandra found that communicating by exchanging notes worked best. This method also helped the client better understand her “to-do” list.

“She teaches me how to wear a smile in the face of challenges. Her favourite phrase is: “It takes time!” She is patient, yet she will spare no effort to make things happen! I feel privileged to be accompanying her on this journey,” Sandra said.

It was around this time Salbhi expressed keen interest in starting her own business. She had held workshops for children and staged exhibitions back in Bangladesh and was hoping to start a career in Canada as an artist and return to painting. So, Sandra began researching opportunities, reaching out to her network, as well as exploring offerings available through various local and provincial arts councils and other organizations supportive of the arts. They also discussed the possibility of Salbhi providing illustration services, given her graphic design background.

Support From Ontario’s Arts Communities      

The research led them to the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). With support from the outreach and development manager, Salbhi and Sandra discovered potential grant and mentorship opportunities. The Toronto Arts Foundation also stepped in, providing application support funding to help Salbhi apply for the RBC Arts Access Award, an award designed to support newcomer artists and the creation of new work with micro-awards up to $1500. The funding can also be used to defray costs associated with projects, such as fees, art supplies, equipment or space rentals.

Salbhi applied for this award earlier this fall and the rest, as they say, is history.

On December 2, 2019, Salbhi was announced as one of the seventeen recipients of the 2019 RBC Arts Access Award and her achievement will be recognized at a reception at the Museum of Contemporary Art on February 11, 2020.

Collaboration with Neighbourhood Arts Network  

RBC sponsored the award in partnership with the Neighbourhood Arts Network, a Toronto-wide network of over 1,900 members that connects artists, arts organizations, cultural workers and community agencies. The network was created by the Toronto Arts Foundation following the release of a report that identified the challenges being experienced by artists attempting to engage their local communities.

The Neighbourhood Arts Network offers accessible arts programming and partnership opportunities to Toronto-based artists, arts educators and organizations and offers multiple awards to celebrate artistic excellence, cultural leadership or contribution to the arts. Financial support for these awards is provided through a combination of legacies and annual donations from private and corporate donors. And this is where RBC came in.

About The Artist

The themes expressed in Salbhi’s art are usually based on raising awareness of the various contemporary issues faced in today’s world. Some of the previous themes in her body of work are on the mass extinction of animals caused by human interference and the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population.

Salbhi has recently resumed painting in a studio near Kensington Market.

“Toronto finally feels like home,” she said.