As Managing Director, Nidhi Khanna works to ensure that Artscape’s Daniels Spectrum continues to create an inclusive, liveable, healthy and safe neighbourhood within Regent Park’s revitalization. Nidhi holds a Master of Arts in Text and Performance Studies from the UK’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and an International MBA from the Schulich School of Business in Toronto. She hails from Montreal and is an avid lover of coffee, food and Boston Terriers.
We caught up with her this week.
SDTC: Can you walk us through a typical day in your life?
NK: I’m a two-buzzer alarm person – not a morning person. So of course, coffee is first on my list. Then, I walk my beautiful Boston Terrier.
I head to Artscape’s Daniels Spectrum and have coffee number 2, which is always at Show Love Café. Throughout the day I meet with some amazing Regent Park community members, and between meetings I check out the programming and events happening at Daniels Spectrum, such as the free art exhibitions in our Hallway Galleries, the events in Ada Slaight Hall – like the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra community concert and Fashion Art Toronto fashion week – as well as the Regent Park Community Potluck hosted by the Centre for Social Innovation.
With so much happening, each week is different. For example, from November 15th to 19th, Daniels Spectrum was particularly a buzz as we hosted The Journey, a spectacular musical that highlights moments from Regent Park’s history through the eyes of local residents. Not only was the show inspired by real-life stories, it was also performed by artists and young people from the community.
We celebrated the creative talents of the Regent Park community with sold-out performances. All proceeds of the production went to Daniels Spectrum’s capital improvements, operations, and youth arts programming, like The Journey Studio mentorship program that provided professional training for young Regent Park artists. As you can see, the daily activities at our hub build our community and demonstrate the dedication of the amazing team at Artscape and our incredible tenants.
To wind down my day, I get in some hot yoga, check out a show or an art event and do a bit of work – either Artscape-related, or for my podcast, or some sort of side project! I then watch an episode of whatever binge-worthy show I have on Netflix (I’m strangely addicted to British mystery shows [Foyle’s War anyone?]), and read whatever “leisure” book before cuddling up with my dog! Oh and somewhere in there I eat!
What was your trajectory to get to where you’re at now?
While I was doing my psych degree at McGill, I started to act on the side and worked at an acting school in Montreal. When I graduated, I decided to pursue theatre more formally and ended up completing a Master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College London in London, UK. After graduation I came back to Montreal and started working in various roles in non-profit arts organizations. I have to admit, I got jaded with the scene quite early in my career, and after a few years I decided to switch my career completely.
I came to Toronto to do an International MBA at Schulich, and ended up working as a Marketing Manager for a couple of years. The company closed down and I was laid off, and that started a two-year journey back to the arts, which was the universe’s way of resetting me back on course!
After about three years in the culture division at the City of Mississauga, I came to Daniels Spectrum! It has been an amazing road to get me here and I feel right at home already.
What is the best advice you’ve been given in relation to your career?
Inspiring leadership comes from a place of authenticity. Be true to who you are because people gravitate towards leaders who are authentic; vulnerability in a leader is okay. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that the organization is a good fit with your values. If you want to work in a fast-paced environment, don’t work in a government job; if you want to work a 9-5, don’t work for an ad agency! You don’t need to judge what is important to you, but you do need to have a value fit. When your values line up, you will succeed; otherwise, you are pushing a rock up a mountain and are going to burn out quickly.
Any tips for other women starting out in the realm of not-for-profit?
Don’t be afraid of change and innovation. There is a prevailing sense of “survival” in the non-profit world that can sometimes lead to people being comfortable with the status quo. Funding bodies change their mandate, sponsors change their cause du jour; in many ways non-profit organizations need to respond to the market in similar ways that private organizations do. You need to make sure your decisions are guided by the mandate of your cause and the operational requirements. If you don’t have a strong organizational capacity, it won’t matter how good or well-intentioned your cause is. Also, you need to love the mission – you have to believe there is a reason why!
What do you love about your job at Daniels Spectrum?
I love seeing people interact with this space and feel a sense of ownership over it. Every day there are youth, community members, event organizers, and our co-resident organizations who access this cultural hub and make its heart beat! For example, during the summer our resident arts organizations (ArtHeart Community Art Centre, Collective of Black Artists, Native Earth Performing Arts, Regent Park Film Festival, and the Regent Park School of Music) host The Spectrum Collective – a free week-long youth camp that includes exploration of visual art, dance, theatre, media arts, and music. Youth collaborate with professional artists and celebrate with a performance and potluck dinner at the end of the program. Daniels Spectrum’s Summer Series also engages the community with free fun events and activities like, block parties, outdoor sing-a-longs, and movie screenings in the “Big Park” aka Regent Park.
What are you looking forward to in 2017 for this organization?
2017 marks the fifth anniversary of Daniels Spectrum. It will be an exciting year of celebrations. I’m looking forward to beginning 2017 with one of our core programs, the Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program. We have already started recruitment of Regent Park community youth for the five-month mentorship program. Between January and May, the emerging artist participants will gain opportunities to connect with other professional artists, partner with industry mentors, deepen their artistry, and build their networks in Toronto’s arts and culture scene.
Throughout the year, programs like The Spectrum Collective, Summer Series, and Ada Slaight Youth Arts Mentorship Program provide creative experiences and foster creative learning and innovation through accessible, immersive activities. I look forward to working with all our stakeholders to make Daniels Spectrum a vibrant, warm and accessible cultural hub. I’m lucky to have a wonderful team that is so passionate about what we do; they inspire me to be a better leader every day.