The Art Gallery of Mississauga hosted On Edge at Studio 89 caf? on June 10, an event inviting the Mississauga community to talk about the role artists have in the city.

To start the evening, David Ferreira, brand manager of the City of Mississauga, discussed the importance of symbols. He introduced the crowd to Mississauga’s new logo, an image that represents Mississauga as a welcoming, enriching and inspiring city.

Art is important to supporting a brand; both tell a story and promote experiences and engagement, Ferreira said during his speech.

The conversation of art was discussed with a panel, which included Zehra Abbas, the founder and director of Studio 89; Asma Mahmood, the artistic director of Promenade Gallery; and sisters Noelle and Colleen Snell, the founders of Frog in Hand. All panelists were inspiring women who were able to keep their talents and skills in Mississauga by starting their own businesses.

Mahmood spoke passionately about the struggles artists experience in the city. She shared an Urdu story with the crowd, portraying the problems artists face today:

“There was once a small town in India and there were these dancing girls in the area. And the dancing girls were not just dancing girls; they would sing poetry and invent beautiful dances. The town decided that these women were not a good influence to society so they wanted to get rid of them. The girls had two days to leave.

“The girls started crying saying, ‘We were born here, we’ve lived here for 100 years—where will we go?’

“‘We don’t care,’ said the city. ‘We don’t want your bad influence. Get out of here.’

“So the girls left and travelled 18 miles out of town.

“After five days, the flower seller found out his business was only thriving because of those dancers. People used to come and buy flowers to take to them. So he packed up and moved to the same place the girls went to. The meat seller realized that his business was flourishing because when people used to come there they used to have sweets and food. So he packed up and moved, and slowly and gradually there was nothing left in that town.

“It’s to show you the importance of artists and cultural institutions which grow and energize the area to make them a hub,” Mahmood concluded.

The Snell sisters spoke about their initiative to start their own brand, Frog in Hand.

“Pooling resources is what artists naturally do,” said Colleen, a professional dancer. “We have some amazing, talented friends and we pool them in. We like to give opportunities to local talent.”

“Mississauga is an amazing city with amazing artists, but it doesn’t have an arts festival, so it seems,” said Colleen.

“In our case, it’s such a wonderful thing to be a resident of Mississauga, and work here as well,” said Colleen.

“You have to give artists a reason to want to stay in the city because they will leave,” Noelle continued.

Abbas is not only the director of Studio 89, but she is also the founder and executive director of Youth Troopers for Global Awareness, a youth-led non-profit organization, mobilizing and empowering young people for social justice through the arts, various events, workshops, campaigns and special projects.

Abbas coined a phrase for the night explaining the attitude many artists and activists must be when starting their organization: “delusional optimistic.”

“We noticed there weren’t enough resources available free of cost in the city,” said Abbas. “We needed a space to fill in all those little gaps that we often talk about in those Mississauga development strategic meetings; this is why Studio 89 was created.”

It’s a place for activists to get together, brainstorm, research and build together, Abbas explained. “It’s about encouraging other activists to use their space, contacts and resources in order to benefit and empower themselves.”