In 2019, Inspirit began to pivot its programming and granting towards shifting narrative power. We wanted to do this outside of traditional programs, and the idea of a Lab was born.
In 2020, we launched the Narrative Change Lab as an experiment to shift the Canadian narrative landscape for equity-seeking groups through pop culture. The Lab engages creatives from underrepresented communities to develop strategies to challenge dominant narratives and create new ones to help build a more pluralist Canada.
We believe the current Canadian narrative landscape is not equitable and, at times, dangerous for many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. Through the Lab’s support of racialized content creators and creatives, we hope to build narrative systems that accurately reflect the lived experiences and values of their communities.
For Lab news and learnings, visit our Lab Updates page.
Stories have a special kind of allure—they allow us to understand ourselves and connect with others. And while some stories engage and connect, others are divisive and threatening. When stories collect and form at the level of society, they transform into a narrative. Narratives are powerful because they define how we see and understand one another.
Led by Program Manager Angie Balata, the Lab’s inaugural theme is Reimagining Muslim Narratives. Muslims in Canada have endured one-dimensional, racist, and Islamophobic stories for decades. Through the Lab, we hope to create a new narrative system for Muslims, created by Muslims.
Based on research, analysis of other narrative projects, and conversations with Canadian Muslims in arts and media, the Lab has focused on narrative building, audiences, and power. To build narratives, we are bringing together a Cohort of Canadian Muslim creatives and content creators over five months to collaboratively design and develop a Muslim narrative system. Meet the exceptional Cohort and the other talented folks who have helped design the Cohort program below.
I’m a writer based in Toronto. My journalism has appeared in The Walrus, The Globe and Mail, and others, and my debut novel, There Has to Be a Knife, was named a best Canadian novel of 2019 by the CBC. I’m the GOLD winner of the National Magazine Awards (Profiles Category) for this feature. I’ve also secured Telefilm Canada funding for Shook, a film I co-wrote with director Amar Wala. I’m eager to contribute to discussions that deepen and diversify stories about the Canadian-Muslim experience.
I’m the host and founder of The Digital Sisterhood Podcast & Storytelling Platform. I’m a First Generation Somali-Canadian, who’s in the business of preserving dreams by telling stories in hopes to persuade others to chase theirs. The stories we are dedicated to telling capture the raw and authentic experiences of Muslim women worldwide. By doing so, we’re reviving a culture that looks and feels like us.
I’m a Regina-born journalist, fashion designer, yoga teacher, and graduate of New York Law School. I’ve worked in national newsrooms across Canada including CBC, CTV, and Global National. I’ve also shown collections at New York and Saskatchewan Fashion Week, and launched a public relations agency that focuses on protecting and growing small, ethically-run businesses. I am currently working to finish a manuscript for my first book. And I’m currently working as the marketing director of a tech start up.
I am a Canadian-Muslim woman of Somali/Ethiopian heritage living in Montreal. I’ve recently begun my legal studies at McGill University. To date, I’ve been heavily involved in media work related to Muslim women in Canada, in particular regarding the laws in Quebec that disproportionately affect us. I am the Founder of Femmes Musulmanes Contre le Racisme (FEMCOR). I’ve also gotten involved in Montreal municipal politics, having co-founded the party Mouvement Montreal and running in the downtown Peter-McGill district last election. I’m hoping to continue to strengthen the voice of Muslim women in Canada and to support institutions that can carry this work forward in the long-term.
With a background in public art and an education in architecture, my practice explores the traditional origins of sacred geometry. Based in Toronto, my work integrates various techniques from the Islamic arts, including calligraphy, geometric pattern and traditional architectural forms such as muqarnas. Through my work, I hope to inspire conversations about how traditional teachings can empower disenfranchised communities.
I moved to Canada on my own 17 years ago, prompted by an interest in filmmaking. Struggling as a newcomer to find my footing motivated me to work in organizations that supported the growth of emerging artists, and to find spaces that had a focus on gender equity and better inclusion in screen-based media. Today, I live and work in Toronto as an independent filmmaker, and as a film programmer at Hot Docs and Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
I am an innovation consultant, social entrepreneur, and artist. My interests lie in adopting innovative approaches to addressing challenges in the public, private, and cultural sectors. I am also interested in the power of the arts, and increasing the representation of underrepresented communities in the stories we tell. In 2013, I founded the Silk Road Institute, an organization dedicated to creating professional artistic and cultural programming that strengthens Muslim representation, visibility, and contributions within the Canadian cultural mosaic. I am also an avid photographer.
First and foremost, I am a community organizer honoured to serve my Afghan-Canadian diaspora community for the past 8 years. As a former refugee disconnected from my roots, lands, and ancestors, I have always placed importance in the gathering of rich stories and histories as means to understand one’s self. I am the current Archivist of the Muslims in Canada Archives at University of Toronto’s Institute of Islamic Studies and I will be pursuing a PhD at the University of Toronto in the fall of 2022 with a focus on archives of refugees and diaspora communities.
I’m a screenwriter from Toronto who works on content that amplifies kindred stories at the intersection of Black Muslim and Black Diaspora communities. My screenwriting explores ideas of siblinghood, belonging, and the present implications of a connection to a common past. I’m the filmmaker behind Muslim Writers’ Room and the writer of KIIN (or as Canadian as Possible Under the Circumstances). I’m currently developing one feature project and two episodic series.
Salaams! My name is Raz. I’m a Canadian-West Indian rapper, singer/songwriter, and executive producer based in Toronto. I’m also the President and Founder of Lost Poet Studios. During my time in university, I realized my passion for music and the opportunity to change the rhetoric and values of mainstream music–who says the most popular songs have to be about sex, money, drugs and alcohol? My music is a combo of hip-hop and alternative rock and over the past 11 years it has allowed me to create quality, relatable, and widely accessible songs based in my Islamic values, where the music and relationships I build along the way help to bridge the gap between the Muslim community and the mainstream industry. Listen to my music here.
I’m an Egyptian-Canadian writer/director/producer based in Toronto. I established my company Scarab Films to create stories that are unencumbered by a Western gaze and are truly reflective of the world, my world, as I know it and experience it. After a few award-winning short films, and finishing my second feature film, I’m currently working on the first production of my company, Hysteria, a Telefilm Talent to Watch project currently in postproduction to be released in 2022.
I’m an independent filmmaker based in Toronto, with a background in cinematography and analogue filmmaking practices. In creating more Muslim-inclusive spaces in the arts, I envision a two-pronged approach, one that does not compromise their moral integrity, as well as their creative and artistic vision. I am also an educator, film technician, mentor and the co-founder and artistic director of the Toronto Arab Film, the only pan-Arab film organization in Toronto. Currently, I am in the writing and research phase of my second feature film, and developing a TV series. Writer and Researcher Nehal El-Hadi explores the ethos of my work in her article The Fiction of a Fixed Point: The Films of Rolla Tahir.
I’m a lifelong film fanatic who has worked to help change the narrative around Muslim creatives with the Mosquers Film Festival, as the Board Chair. I am also the Co-Host of our podcast, The Halal Gap. I’m a huge believer in the power of art and storytelling as a way to change peoples’ perspectives. For me, pop culture is that thing that connects people. It is also the foundation for what shapes policy, how everyday people act and think, and what we as a society deem acceptable or not.
I was raised on science fiction with Afghan music blasting from the kitchen. That mix of cultures formed the backbone of every project and supported a career dedicated to culturally collaborative storytelling with Trans, Indigenous, and Afro-Canadian artists. As a 90-time award-winning writer, director, producer, my indie-filmmaking sensibilities merged with my studio-level experience through projects such as Terminator: Dark Fate, Space Jam: A New Legacy and the upcoming Spider-Verse sequel. I’m currently delivering my first animated short while developing a single-room, sci-fi feature through the Whistler Producers Lab, Reelworld E20 Writers program, and upcoming Reykjavik Talent Lab. Connect with me on LinkedIn and checkout my Vimeo.
Salaam. I am a Chinese-Canadian convert into Islam. Most of my adult and professional life has revolved around some aspect of the Muslim communities throughout Toronto. This includes my work as a journalist documenting the challenges Muslims face in our socially and politically polarized moment, as well as advocacy on depicting Muslim efforts at combating hate in Canada. I currently work at the National Council of Canadian Muslims and I am deeply invested in the shaping of narratives that impact my community.
I’m an Ethiopian-Harari Toronto-based multidisciplinary storyteller (poet, actress, singersongwriter), arts educator, and community organizer. I create music with genre-bending mix of spoken word poetry, hip-hop, and R&B, soul, afro-jazz, and dance. In 2017, I founded LUMINOUS Fest, Canada’s first Black Muslim arts festival, and later co-founded The Sisters’ Retreat, a retreat series hosting arts-based wellness retreats for Muslim Women. I also work at Toronto Arts Council, where I develop and manage the Black Arts program for Black artists and Black-led organizations.
I am an Indo-Caribbean Muslim filmmaker living in Tkaronto (Toronto), born to a mother from Guyana and a father from Kenya. I am a Dean’s Scholar graduate from the University of Toronto with experience researching how Muslim communities are impacted by popular media portrayals of Islam. I am a Hot Docs Accelerator fellow and a recipient of Hot Docs Cross Currents funding to develop my first feature documentary about my co-director’s experience with Sickle Cell Disease. I am also the founder of Films With A Cause, a startup working towards authentic storytelling practices behind and in front of the camera.
My name is Rabiah Ahmed. I am a strategic communications professional based out of the Metro DC area. I have been invested in narrative development work—in some shape and form—throughout my 20+ year career. My interest in this field stems from growing up in America as a Muslim woman in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and being frustrated with our community’s lack of representation in media and pop culture, and how others spoke about us and our issues. I have primarily worked with Muslim non-profits for most of my career, primarily assisting them with different narrative change campaigns before moving to agency life. Currently, I am a senior strategist for Brink Communications and a consultant for Inspirit Foundation’s Narrative Change Lab.
I live in the Northern Virginia area with my husband, three kids, and two cats. I am a proud Detroiter and consider myself an honorary Canadian as I spent many summers visiting family and friends in the Greater Toronto Area. I am honoured to be a part of this effort and look forward to learning more about the Canadian experience!
In the weeks leading up to the release of the new Ms. Marvel television series, I encountered massive digital billboards in Mississauga featuring Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan. As a Muslim woman of South Asian descent, I wondered what it would be like for my 16-year-old self to witness this superhero looming large over the city where I was born and raised. As an educator, I draw on popular culture texts like Ms. Marvel, because such texts serve as a powerful tool for awakening the inner child, activating prior knowledge and teaching critical theories. As a scholar, I strive to uplift Muslim communities through my research and writing. My book, Shaping Muslim Futures: Youth Visions and Activist Praxis, amplifies the counternarratives of activist Muslim youth living into their desired futures, and creates space for readers to clarify their own.
For me, the Lab offers Muslim creatives an experimental dream space to collectively explore alternative futures and seed new pop culture and media narratives for more just futures.
I am a third culture kid of Sudanese origins and a conscientious graphic/web designer floating in the diaspora. I collaborate with organizations, educational institutions, and fellow creatives with my practice focused on immigration, gender-based violence, women’s empowerment, and Islamophobia. I work in multiple languages (including Arabic and French) across mediums (print, web, and film). I hold various art and communication degrees from the University of Toronto, Toronto Metropolitan University, and BAU Barcelona. My vision is to creatively and resourcefully amplify the voices of those doing the work to make our world a more just place.
I am a writer, filmmaker, and marketing professional. The common thread in my career is my passion for storytelling and its power to influence how we view and interact with each other. I currently work for the Canada Media Fund as a Communications Coordinator. Previously, I worked for BIPOC TV & Film as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator, as well as facilitated virtual consultations in French and English for the Black Screen Office’s project “’Being Seen: A Directive for Authentic and Inclusive Content”. I speak five languages and I have a background in journalism and documentary filmmaking.
I’m the Managing Director of Culture Change at Pillars Fund, where I design and lead programming that challenges damaging narratives about Muslims in the U.S. and amplifies Muslim voices in artistic spaces. My storytelling work seeks to change the lens through which Muslim stories are told to one that is authentic, complex, and honest. As an experienced facilitator, I’m frequently invited to moderate conversations on anti-racism, storytelling as culture change, equity in entertainment, and Muslim representation in media. My experiences and expert insight have also been featured by Variety, Teen Vogue, NPR, Tiny Spark podcast, and Al Jazeera, among other publications.
I’m a first generation Bengali immigrant, a trilingual storyteller and fiction writer, a narrative and cultural strategist, and a political educator. I’m the Director of Field and Funder Learning at the Pop Culture Collaborative, and the Lead Designer and Narrative Strategist for the Butterfly Lab for Immigrant Narrative Strategy at Race Forward. At the Collaborative, I support learning immersions, capacity building and partnerships across a broad field and funder learning portfolio, advises on narrative Labs and cohorts, and incubates two emerging projects: Culture Change U (a narrative and cultural training and learning institute) and Project Azaadi (a national network of narrative and cultural strategists and practitioners).
I’ve worked for over 15 years at the intersections of narrative, arts and culture, immigration, racial and gender justice, systems change, movement strategies and innovation. I was previously the Director of Narrative and Cultural Strategies at RaceForward. I’m the author of Creating Cultures and Practices for Racial Equity: A Toolbox, the widely taught Cultural Strategy Primer, and more recently, Stories for Change with Storyline Partners, which equips pop culture for social change professionals with tools to integrate equity practices into content development, production and post-production. Previously, I was an arts administrator with expertise in oral history, creative writing and Theatre of the Oppressed facilitation, she has held staff, curatorial and consulting roles in museums, film festivals, and community theatres. I am also the creator and lead designer of the New York City Racial Equity in the Arts Innovation Lab, a 2-year intensive that taught 60 NYC arts-producing organizations and museums to operationalize racial and cultural equity strategies.
I’ve trained with the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Race Forward. I currently serve on design and advisory boards for the Constellations Fund at the Center for Cultural Power, the New York City Narrative Power Network for Health and Racial Equity, and South Asian SOAR (Survivors and Organizations in Alliance Rising). I have an M.A in Postcolonial and Diasporic Literature and Creative Fiction Writing from New York University. I live in the Bay Area and enjoy cooking, hiking, reading poetry and dancing.
I’m a multimedia artist based outside Montreal, Canada. As a founding member of the Arab voice in Hip-Hop, I’m recognized as a pioneer poet and producer in the Iraqi Diaspora. I’m one-half of WeAreTheMedium, a culture point for publishing, media and the arts. I teach two courses at Concordia University in Montreal – both centered around Hip-Hop, Creativity and Identity Politics. My book, Text Messages: or How I found myself Time Travelling, was published in 2021 by Haymarket Books. I’m also an award-winning music video director, thinker, and I have a passion for fashion.
I’m a Syrian-American rapper & spoken word artist. Known for my unique blend of Hip-Hop & Arabic poetry, I’ve been featured on prominent world news outlets, lectured at a number of prestigious academic institutions, collaborated with major museums & cultural organizations, and helped raise millions of dollars for various humanitarian relief groups. I was recently named a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, an Arab America Foundation “40 Under 40” award recipient, and a member of both the Pillars Fund cohort for Muslim Narrative Change & the RaceForward Butterfly Lab cohort for Immigrant Narrative Strategy. I currently resides in the great state of New York with my wife & two little children, while daydreaming about the jasmine tree-lined streets of Damascus. Watch this performance from “Little Syria”, presented at the annual Arts Summit in Washington DC.