How I Made It

Vivek Shraya, Artist

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Vivek has? Here's how she did it

Vivek Shraya headshot

(Photo: Tanja-Tiziana)

Vivek Shraya; Toronto; @vivekshraya

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

Hi! I’m Vivek! I make a lot of different kinds of art!

 Where did you go to school and what did you study?

My creative writing professor at the University of Alberta lectured me for an hour about how I was the worst writer in his class, so I am always hesitant to credit institutions or share that I am an English major.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

I was a financial aid advisor at George Brown College.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

Before I had released my first album that I had recorded in Edmonton, it somehow reached John Wozniak, who is the lead singer of Marcy Playground (“Sex and Candy”). He called me, said he loved the album, wanted to help me with it and told me to move to Toronto. I moved in three weeks.

Looking back at any of the “breaks” I have had, it’s hard to pinpoint why they occurred. So often it’s a random combination of luck, timing, connections, privilege, tenacity and, hopefully, skill.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

I am still waiting for this moment! Being an artist is a challenging path because we live in a culture that doesn’t value art as labour, and therefore most of my artistic production has been self-funded and unpaid or underpaid. Also, I am always at the mercy of my next idea. I never know when an idea will come and if it will connect. Consequently, being an artist is an often masochistic and irrational exercise in hope.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

In 2008, I finally got signed—to a record label in France. After five years of chasing the record deal, I felt as though all my persistence had paid off. They ended up shelving my project and we parted ways 18 months later. All of the momentum my previous album had garnered had dissipated, and I felt heartbroken. But it was during this time I began to explore mediums outside of music and ended up self-publishing my first book, which was my first step into CanLit.

Lesson: Persistence and diversification have been essential in my career.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

You have to make the bad art to get to making the good art.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

If you really cared about your art, you would quit your day job.

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

The barriers I face as a girl are always layered with the barriers I face as a brown person and a queer person. As a multimedia artist, I have had to face the same kinds of racist, homophobic and misogynist barriers in multiple fields.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

I have worked a full-time 9-5 job at George Brown since I started my art career 14 years ago! Although I have been starting to actually earn revenue from my art in the past three or so years, it’s inconsistent and not enough to sustain my life and fund my art practice. Thinking about my longevity as an artist has involved reconciling that I will most likely continue to need some kind of steady employment.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

We selfie too much.

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