For Kalashree Vyas, community is at the heart of most things. Coming from a family of creative artists, community for Kalashree has often looked like people coming together around their love of sharing their cultural artforms, demonstrating mutual respect and appreciation for what each has to offer. So when she noticed a lack of representative arts being taught at her Arts school, she decided to create a space where other cultural artforms could be shared.

Kalashree during classical Indian dance performance

“My parents are both Indian classical musicians, so I grew up in a culture of South Asian creative arts. Being involved in performances with other artists is such an enriching experience because you learn a lot about other cultures by learning their traditions and seeing how they’re expressed creatively. It brings people together.”

When Kalashree arrived at Shad’s Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) campus in the summer of 2023, she was impressed by the diversity within the group of Shads. Coming from a school where she felt she was a significant minority, entering a space where the community felt more representative immediately put her at ease.

Kalashree with fellow Shads at Toronto Metropolitan University campus


“Shad was amazing, I really felt comfortable with the other students pretty quickly and felt like I could relate to them in ways I can’t always relate to students at my school. It felt like a truly multicultural group and that felt really nice.”

Because she had spent her youth immersed in the cultural arts of her native India, she was surprised when she arrived at her Arts-based high school to find little diversity in the curriculum the students were being taught. Kalashree knew the value of the arts she had grown up with and wanted to share it with her peers. This led her and other Asian students to create the Asian Student Alliance where members could come together to create spaces and events where their cultures and traditions could be shared with the rest of the school.

Kalashree with fellow members of the Asian Student Alliance
Kalashree with fellow members of the Asian Student Alliance

“It was a really special thing, creating this community where we could throw events that would uplift Asian holidays and arts and bring them to the forefront of our school as a sort of celebration to get everyone involved. And also increase general awareness about different Asian cultures.”

The group organized events for Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, that included a performance of Indian classical drumming, as well as Holi, the Festival of Colours, which included fun activities where students could participate. They also held events celebrating Lunar New Year, teaching their peers about all the Asian cultures who celebrate this holiday, and Eid al-Fitr to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Dancer performing at an Asian Student Alliance event

“For the event for Diwali, we saw more South Asian people come to support the event than I had even known went to our school, it was like it brought together a community that didn’t exist before. To have a packed theater of people coming to watch an Indian classical performance, it meant a lot to me. It was people learning to appreciate the arts of a different culture in an inclusive space.”

Kalashree and her friends at Shad2023

Kalashree was able to emulate this experience at Shad for a multicultural event that was part of her campus’s program. The Shads were invited to share something that would help the other Shads get to know them, and Kalashree and a friend she had met in the program had a chance to share an arts performance that they collaborated on.

“One of the other students had been studying the same classical Indian dance style as myself and we were able to share it with the other Shads during a multicultural day at the campus. We shared a performance we prepared in just a couple of days, a duet where I was singing and she was dancing. It was a really beautiful experience.”

Kalashree and her Shad friend performing for a multicultural day at ShadTMU

She loved that at Shad, the students were encouraged to learn about themselves and each other, exploring new topics and interests, and drawing inspiration from one another.

“One of my favorite parts of Shad was listening at “Shad Speaks” every night where we were able to share, because it really showed a little window into who everyone was and everyone shared different things, so we were able to learn a lot from each other.”

Because her Mom is an accomplished artist who has studied Bharatha Natyam, a form of Indian classical dance, and Hindustani classical vocal music, and her Dad has studied Indian drumming and music, performing has been a big part of Kalashree’s life from a young age. She herself trained in India for a year to hone her craft, and she now performs with her Mom’s performance company, Pratibha Arts. The purpose of the company is to uplift and share South Asian arts with the wider community.

Performance organized as part of the Asian Student Alliance’s culture sharing

“Next year, we’re going on a tour around Ontario with a show featuring different artists and performances, and people are able to buy tickets and come see the show. The goal of Pratibha is to bring diversity and inclusion to dance and music performance.”

Because her Mother is so engaged with the arts community, Kalashree is able to bring guest performers to events that the Asian Student Alliance hosts, which makes it easier for her to continue to do what she is passionate about: sharing different artforms with others. She believes that sharing and learning about the culture of others increases the vibrancy of our communities, anchored in a shared appreciation for the creative beauty of art.

“I wanted to create the Asian Student Alliance at my school because I love to have the feeling of community. It’s about sharing and connecting, which is why Shad really felt like a community to me. The more we reach out and create space to learn from one another, the more we appreciate and value the ways we’re the same and different. I just don’t think you can have too much of that.”

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