Twenty newcomer artists recognized through two Neighbourhood Arts Network awards

The RBC Arts Access Fund and RBC Space Award address barriers faced by newcomer artists in Toronto

TORONTO, December 2, 2019 – Neighbourhood Arts Network is pleased to announce the 20 recipients of the 2019 RBC Arts Access Award and RBC Space Award, designed to boost the careers of newcomer artists across Toronto.

Administered by Toronto Arts Foundation’s Neighbourhood Arts Network and generously sponsored by RBC, the RBC Arts Access Fund provides micro-awards of up to $1500 to professional newcomer artists to support the creation of new work. The RBC Space Award, a new partnership with local arts organization Akin Collective, provides six recipients (who must be a past RBC Arts Access Award recipient) with $500 cash to support their art practice and $1,000 in studio credit to be used for shared studio or exhibition space.

Established in 2015 as part of Neighbourhood Arts Network’s Newcomer Artist Spotlight program, the RBC Arts Access Fund aims to address barriers newcomer artists often face, including funding to develop their work and making connections in their new home. Created this year, the RBC Space Fund directly provides the work space essential for professional artists to grow their practice and supports artists in expanding their network through the shared studio space model.

"Newcomer artists are bringing their unique energy and creativity to Toronto’s arts sector," said Claire Hopkinson, Director & CEO, Toronto Arts Foundation. "Thanks to Neighbourhood Arts Network and the support of RBC and Akin, we’re thrilled to be able to support the professional development and training of these artists as they develop their practice in their vibrant new home city. We know they will continue to enrich our communities through art for many years to come."

"Akin is thrilled to partner with Neighbourhood Arts Network on the creation of this unique new award, offering space to newcomer artists to make work, sustain their artistic practice and exhibit across Toronto – a city facing an affordability crisis that we are working to address in a creative way," said Michael Vickers, Co-Director, Akin Collective.

The 2019 RBC Arts Access Award recipients are:

Volodymyr 'Volo' Bedzvin | Musician originally from Ukraine whose sound is a unique combination of cello and vocals treated with sound effects pedals. Volo has performed across Europe and North America, including at the Luminato Festival.

Banafsheh Erfanian | Painter, illustrator and educator born in Tehran, Iran, whose illustrations grace 30 books and magazines. Her work has been exhibited in 45 shows around the world and won international awards.

Tarek Ghriri | Musician originally from Damascus, Syria, whose music is inspired by classical and Flamenco music, which he now blends with traditional Arabic melodies for a sound all his own. Also a founding member of local trio Diar.

Leen Hamo | Professional singer, violinist and visual artist from Aleppo, Syria, who is a violinist and choir member with the Canadian Arabic Orchestra of Mississauga and founding member of local band Diar.

Xuefei Ji | Chinese-born painter interested in capturing body language and the human figure, inspired by the pioneering Western painters of the early 19th century.

Siavash Kavehmaryan | Iranian electronic-music composer/performer who blends computer-assisted sounds with Iranian traditional music.

Nour Kaadan | Musician from Damascus, Syria, who is a core member of local Syrian-Flamenco band Diar and the collective Music from Hope, a creative outlet where children can communicate through art to overcome trauma.

Yannis Lobaina | Cuban writer, filmmaker and storyteller who explores themes of immigration, diaspora and motherhood through storytelling. She also works at the International School of Cinema, Radio, and TV as a director, script consultant and still photographer.

Ahmed Moneka | Actor and musician from Iraq who is the co-founder of Toronto bands Moskitto Bar (a harmonious blend of Celtic, Balkan and Arabic music) and Moneka Arabic Jazz (rooted in jazz and blues as well as Afro rhythms and the Iraqi maqam style of singing).

Parisa Pajoohandeh | Filmmaker and academic from Iran interested in sociopolitical issues and the struggles of human life, such as identity, migration, war, solitude and women's stories.

Melika Saeeda | Illustrator from Tehran, Iran, who has illustrated more than 30 children’s books in Turkey and Iran. Her work, inspired by the narratives in Persian miniatures, has been exhibited at book fairs around the world.

Omid Shakib | Filmmaker originally from Iran with 20 years’ experience working in the film industry in Iran, Iraq, the UK, and now in Canada. He has directed and produced over 25 documentaries, docudramas, and experimental films.

Alice Il Shin | Korean filmmaker trained at Nihon University in Japan. Since then, she has worked in Japan, Korea, the U.S., and Canada as a director, producer, and editor.

Rouvan Silogix | Pakistani-Tanzanian director, writer, actor, producer and classical pianist. Artistic Director for Theatre ARTaud and a member of the Mammalian Diving Reflex collective, he was Writer in Residence at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2018 and a finalist for the Emerging Director Residency Award from Crow's Theatre.

Megha Subramanian | Storyteller in dance, writing and film inspired by her Indian roots who aims to modernize the traditional Bharatanatyam dance form through teaching and performance. She also draws on writing and filmmaking to support this artistic vision.

Salbhi Sumaiya | Visual artist from Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a hard of hearing (HOH) individual, she was drawn to painting due to its accessibility to her as a visual art form. Her work focuses on raising awareness of contemporary issues, including animal extinction and Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya population.

Namie Ueno | Painter from Arashiyama, Japan who began studying art as a teenager. Beyond their decorative beauty, her artworks look for a balance between fear and longing away from the materialist culture of today, a truce between the often duelling aspects of our own selves.

The recipients of the RBC Space Award are:

Sahar Abdallah | Award-winning illustrator originally from Egypt whose work has appeared in several children’s books, four solo exhibits and several international group shows.

Andrea Vela Alarcón | Peruvian community artist and self-taught illustrator whose work centres under-represented communities and is inspired by folk culture, femininity, and nature.

Tenzin Desel | Visual artist originally from Tibet. Born into a family of political refugees, she was invited by the Dalai Lama to study religious painting in India, spending nearly 30 years studying Buddhist paintings, philosophy, architecture and language.

Banafsheh Erfanian (see bio above)

Tarek Ghriri (see bio above)

Melika Saeeda (see bio above)

The 2019 awards were assessed by an award panel of professional artists and cultural workers that included Padideh Ahrarnejad, Lamis Haggag, Marta Keller-Hernandez, and Himanshu Sitlani.

The recipients of the RBC Arts Access Awards and RBC Space Awards will be recognized at a reception at the Museum of Contemporary Art (158 Sterling Rd.) on February 11, 2020 from 6 to 9 p.m.

For complete bios of the 2019 RBC Arts Access Award recipients and RBC Space Award recipients, visit Neighbourhood Arts Network's website here.

About Toronto Arts Foundation

Toronto Arts Foundation is a charitable organization that sparks creative connections, spotlights artistic excellence, and supports vibrant cultural growth throughout our diverse city through private-sector investment. To learn more or to make a donation, visit

About Neighbourhood Arts Network

Neighbourhood Arts Network, a network of over 1,900 members, is a strategic initiative of Toronto Arts Foundation, offering accessible arts programming, awards, and partnership opportunities to local artists, arts workers, and arts organizations working throughout the City of Toronto. To learn more, visit

About RBC

Royal Bank of Canada is a global financial institution with a purpose-driven, principles-led approach to delivering leading performance. Our success comes from the 86,000+ employees who bring our vision, values and strategy to life so we can help our clients thrive and communities prosper. As Canada’s biggest bank, and one of the largest in the world based on market capitalization, we have a diversified business model with a focus on innovation and providing exceptional experiences to our 16 million clients in Canada, the U.S. and 34 other countries. We are proud to support a broad range of community initiatives through donations, community investments and employee volunteer activities. Learn more here and at

Contact information:

For more information about the RBC Arts Access Fund and RBC Space Award, please contact: Inés Aguileta, Acting Manager, Neighbourhood Arts Network, at or 416-392-6802 x 221.