Being an artist in a world that says no: The Off The ChARTs Podcast

Wednesday, May 25

By Paloma Doti

School teaches us about ancient wars, the location of small countries that you didn't know existed, complicated formulas, and how to identify when someone wants to throw a ball at us in dodgeball. This is really useful, but only if you want to start a war in a country with a small army in which you can only use balls that are thrown with complicated machines that were created by physicists. Jasma Zhou (17) and Amber Dhall (18) created a gen-z school for those people that stayed in the corner of the gym to avoid being thrown at in dodgeball: a podcast for artists. The “Off the Charts” podcast interviews artists to show how art is as a full-time job, looking to provide resources and information in an easy and accessible way.
From conferences sponsored by entities such as The Canadian Academy to interviews with Oscar short films nominees, these girls have managed to do it all by themselves proving one more time that young people have too much to offer to the world to just wait around to finish college to start making change. 


She says passion is all you need to become an artist. If that´s the case, she has been one since she was born. Behind and in front of cameras, the eighteen-year-old actor and filmmaker risks it all for  -as she describes it- the universal language of art. One day, she decided she would stop waiting around for others to teach her what she had to do to turn this passion into a career, and she has been looking for the resources and the network to make things happen. Now, she is sharing her wisdom in her “Off the charts” podcast.

You mentioned in the podcast how you look for artists that create change. I know for a fact you love the art of acting and film. How do you think acting and film can change the world?

A: Art and film are universal languages. Everyone speaks the language of visual arts, it transcends borders, whether you are in Canada or Argentina, we can all resonate with it. It is the only thing that brings us together. Acting is about the human experience, the relationship between us. Examining that relationship is crucial to understanding why we do what we do. It helps us to understand what changes we want to make, or the reason why we want to change those things. I have only been able to present the issues that I am concerned about to people through film. 


The culinary enthusiast, filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist seventeen-year-old talks with passion, and offers a “realistic view” of what choosing Art as a career really means. She understands how the world works and knows that passion isn't enough if it doesn't come with hard work.
 She has a youtube channel in which she combines her passion for the visual arts and traditional Chinese cuisine. With 86.000 subscribers on youtube and 4400 on Instagram, she proved to herself and to the world, that she has the devotion and the courage that it takes.

-When I found out you were from Canada, but also made a lot of Chinese cuisine videos I wondered where this idea came from. Are you a first-generation immigrant? If not, Where did the idea of doing videos about traditional Chinese cuisine come from? Was this a way of connecting with your family or your roots? 

J: I actually grew up in China, I moved to Canada when I was around eleven years old. It was right at the moment in which I was developing my sense of culture. That's why I am a mix of both cultures, and that's why I named my channel “Jasma Fusion Cuisine”. I don't really identify with just one place. Chinese cuisine is what I eat every day of my life with my family, it is a really big part of everything I do. But also, I am related to western culture in general and its traditions. So, I´ve always been interested in different cultures, not only because of my immigration story but also because I traveled a lot when I was younger. I am constantly exploring different cultures. Right now I am exploring my Chinese and my western side, and that's what “Jasma Fusion Cuisine” it's about. 

-You mixed two different arts: photography and cooking. You take pictures that let us see the colors and textures of your recipes, and it's just beautiful to see. How did you mix these two worlds?

J: I grew up painting and drawing. I did that all of my childhood. For me, the visual aspect has always been important in everything that I do. When I transitioned into the photography side of things, it just came naturally to me to care a lot about how things looked. To me, that's one of the most important ways to convey whatever it is you are trying to convey. I think that it makes my channel more entertaining, effective, fun, and more complete than if it was something boring to look at. It just makes it better. I´ve always put a “visual side” to everything I have done. 


Being a young woman and choosing a nontraditional career path is so powerful and challenging. What challenges are you finding in your film career? What would you say to those young artists that don't dare to study what they want because of their parents or just because of the fear of not succeeding? 

A: I always wanted to be an artist, but I come from a very traditional family. My choices were being a doctor or a lawyer. That's why I hid these dreams of mine for almost ten years of my life, I was scared of bringing them up. I told them that I was devoted to art and that I was going to be part of the “one in a million” that makes it. If you have a talent, you have the passion and you have the drive, you are already succeeding as an artist. We want to help people to take the opportunities they have, and help them realize: that it is never too late.

“People can sing, or paint, and that's it. As an artist, you will have to have dimensional experiences to survive”

J: My family is the opposite of Amber´s. My family has always been super supportive of the arts. Since I grew up in that environment, I developed the mindset that they lacked: I always understood it was going to be difficult. Everything is up to you. It will be hard. Art has less structure, that's why you need to do not only what you want or what you like, but also learn how to have dimensional experiences. You have to deal with selling your art, and the entrepreneurship that it takes. 


We are often used to listening to what we have to do in order to become doctors, engineers, or architects. You have to get a degree, and you will easily find a job once you finish college. But it seems that art is not that serious, and we often hear how passion is enough: it seems like effort is not required to be an artist.
Jasma and Amber grew up scared of only depending on the phrase “it has always been my dream” to get a job, so they decided to do something about it.

What is the “Off The Charts” podcast about?

J: It started with the goal to essentially allow creative people to begin their art careers. We wanted to say to them: there is a path, it is viable, and this is how art is as a full time career. We started this at the beginning of the 11th grade. It all started when we both had considered whether or not we should go to art universities. I was actually going into business, but this podcast changed my decision. 

The art industry is scary, and the 17-year-old Jasma Zhou knew the risks of getting into it. She always dealt with the struggle of choosing her passion or the safe path. But with this project, she discovered she could have the best of both worlds.

 What's the profile of the people you interview? How do you find those people? 

A: We interview creative people that express themselves through diverse kinds of art, and that create real change with it. To look for them, we start with a big point, and discover a sort of chain of people, until we find the one that fits. It is not a promotional podcast, we don't help artists to get more people to know them. It is a space for people to tell their unique experiences and share their wisdom with people who want to do the same thing.  
We got to interview the Oscar nominee short film crew from the short film “UMAMA” from South Africa. That was the coolest thing at the time for us, because we were like “we are two kids from Canada, why would you care about us?”. We started small, without realizing how far we could go. People nine out of ten times are willing to get interviewed. So there started our ambition to make it a bigger project.


Last year, the NYU and Boston University future students wondered what was the real change that all of these famous institutions for artists could really do. They wondered what they could do to fix this big problem: how do you pursue your career? 
Being sponsored by the Canadian Academy to give an international online conference for people in more than 25 countries and organize it all in less than two months being high schoolers, never seemed impossible to them. There is no ceiling in their podcast: they only see an infinite sky of possibilities.

A: We were looking forward to the actual change these incredible organizations made in artists' careers. We wanted to do something meaningful and help artists such as ourselves to know what to do with the big problem of never truly hearing or having resources to know what art programs are all about. We were students ourselves doing college applications and struggling with the issue. 

J: If organizations do provide those resources you have to pay so much money, to just get a little bit of information. We thought it was ridiculous. We were like: let´s get them to talk to us and give us advice! 

They were two high schoolers, with no official organizations behind, and only a small platform such as their podcast, but they managed to do an accessible, helpful, free and global audience conference. At the age of sixteen, they hosted and organized an event sponsored by AFI, NFFTY, Creative Genius Art Academy, Vibe Arts, The Canadian Academy of film and television, and Generation in Film, among others. They had alumni as panelists that told their real-life experiences with their art careers. 

J: We got very lucky, without covid we never would've gotten the idea of doing it virtually, and not as many people would have attended. Covid and virtuality allowed us to shoot high. 

A: We both looked older when we were sixteen, so while emailing these organizations, and calling them, people did not know we were still in high school. So this was actually super helpful for people to take us seriously. 


Why do you interview artists and not scientists, politicians, or any other successful people? Why do you think that artists' stories are more worth telling than other things?-
J: For other people, their careers are much more concrete rather than artists. An artist could be doing art for many years but it might not be a “successful” story or something worth talking about. We don't agree with that idea. With artists, every story is interesting because of how unique it is of an experience to get to where they are.

A: You hear of a singer, a dancer, or  an actor, and you think of concerts, of Broadway, of Hollywood. If you are an artist and you are not making headlines everywhere, people say you don't actually do anything. We show artists that make a big impact on their communities, and we wanted to shine a light on those people that are overlooked. We show why art matters. 

When passion, devotion, and enthusiasm come with effort and ambition, we create real change. They themselves proved it. Their love for film, and for the stories of those who dared to risk it all for the arts, showed many artists that it is possible to get out of the corner of the gym, expose themselves, and learn how to receive the shots and still win the match. 

Listen to "Off The ChARTs" podcast on Spotify:
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