Photographer, Director, Producer, Organizer, Manager, Instigator, & Artist, Chetan Kothari affectionately known as “Che” brings an army of energy towards anything he creates. Beginning as a portrait and events photographer in Toronto, Che has had intimate portrait sessions with the likes of Ziggy Marley, Ice Cube of NWA, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Zaki Ibrahim, Common, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Afrika Bambaataa, K’naan, Erykah Badu, Nas, k-os, Shad, and many others as personal work as well as for covers of magazines and publications. Che’s work as a visual artist and creator led him to co-founding Hightop Studio in 2001 with his business partner and long time friend Ryan Paterson. Although Che had ample opportunity to focus solely on photography he knew he had a responsibility to do more. The next step for Che was building a non-profit organization, Manifesto Community Projects, of which he served as the Executive Director for 7 years and now resides as the organizations Chair of the Board of Directors. Manifesto’s mission is to unite, inspire and empower diverse groups of young people through arts & culture. Che also co-founded sister organizations of Manifesto in Kingston Jamaica and Barbados. Che’s latest pursuit involves managing and supporting the work of musicians – Soca king Machel Montano, rising Reggae star Protoje & young wordsmith/singer Mustafa the Poet – in collaboration with Toronto/Los Angeles based management company Dream Machine. Through all his work and contributions to the cultural landscape of Toronto and the world, he is determined to make a difference in his community in hopes that emerging and established artists will shape and follow his lead.Read Full Bio
Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, 2001-2005
School of Image Arts – Still Photography
4 year course, Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree.
International Soceity for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Fellowship, New York, 2013
Participation in New York Congress & ISPA online community
DiverseCity Fellowship, Toronto ON, 2009
9 month course, Leadership Development
Yemoya Residency, Kodaikanal, India, 2011
3 week intensive Artist Development Residency led by d’bi young
Vipassana Eduation, Bodh Gaya, India, 2013
10 day Silent Meditation Retreat
Dive India, 2010
PADI Certified Scuba Diver
These are a few words that sum up what Chetan Kothari, affectionately known as ‘Che’, stands for. At a young age, born on October 12th 1983, he has not only become a revered photographer but also a role model and leader within his community dedicated to fostering other young artists and young leaders in the cities he lives in and the world at large. Fresh out of school, he focused his lens on documenting the current artists of our time – those artists who have a message of social change embedded into their storytelling. He has photographed intimate portrait sessions with the likes of Ziggy Marley, Ice Cube of NWA, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Zaki Ibrahim, Common, Cypress Hill, A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Afrika Bambaataa, K’naan, Erykah Badu, Nas, k-os, Shad, and many others as personal work as well as for covers of magazines and publications. These images have been apart of over 100 exhibitions from museums to the streets in Toronto Canada, Kingston Jamaica, New York USA, Tokyo Japan, Bombay India and more.
Che’s work as a visual artist and creator led him to co-founding Hightop Studio in 2001 with his business partner and long time friend Ryan Paterson. Hightop is full service creative agency with a conscience, drawing from a talented network of creatives and thought leaders to craft innovative, high impact solutions that elevate. Specializing in photography, print, web, identity, video, motion, sound, experiential, environmental and strategy, clients have included 4REAL, Active Healthy Kids Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Artscape, Canada Goose, Canada’s Broadcast Centre (CBC), National Ballet School, University of Toronto, Much Music, War Child Canada, Sony BMG Canada, Laidlaw Foundation and many more. Hightop has always had a philosophy of not only do work for the majors, but to also support emerging artists and organizations with in-kind work to help them build their profile and get noticed.
Although Che had ample opportunity to focus solely on photography and play a role in helping to document social leaders of our time and support clients with building their brands, he knew he had a responsibility to do more. The next step for Che was building a non-profit organization, Manifesto Community Projects, of which he served as the volunteer Executive Director for 7 years and now resides as the organizations Chair of the Board of Directors.
Manifesto’s mission is to unite, inspire and empower diverse groups of young people through arts & culture. Che also co-founded sister organizations of Manifesto in Kingston Jamaica and Barbados. Manifesto’s main initiative in each country is a multi-day annual festival. Growing to be the largest and most unique festival of its kind in each city, the annual Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture brings together countless community members, artists, performers, and audience members to showcase local youth culture, strengthen foundations by building a collective sense of pride and possibility, and provide a stage for voices that are often marginalized from mainstream arts festivals. In addition to the festival, Manifesto hosts year round educational opportunities for local artists & arts entrepreneurs, produces independent media, runs a programming space and is about to embark of the development of social enterprise businesses to support artists and ensure the organization’s long term sustainability.
The international work of Manifesto stems from another project Che was involved in. In 2008 Che became the Execute Director for Ignite the Americas Youth Arts Policy Forum, an initiative that brought together young artists, industry professionals, policy experts and government authorities from 30 countries across the Americas to explore and develop effective ways to amplify the power that arts and culture has in mitigate violence and poverty, build social inclusion and generate economic opportunities for communities. Making sure that all the findings of the forum didn’t just sit on a shelf and collect dust, Che went on a mission and presented the findings in Barbados at the Fourth Inter American Meeting on Culture of the Organization of American States for Cultural Ministers and Highest Appropriate Authorities, to The Inter-American Committee on Culture of the OAS in Washington, to the Ibero-American Congress on Culture in Sao Paulo Brazil and at the UN-Habitat Safer Cities forum at Harvard University as well as to artists and arts practitioners on a grassroots level in his day to day environments. Che continues to build his artistic networks hemispherically and globally, both learning from and sharing the abundance of knowledge that exists.
Che’s work branches from within these organizations out, often sitting on boards or leading other groups. Che has sat on the City of Toronto’s planning committee reshaping the community arts action plan and is currently a member of the Toronto Arts Council Advocacy advisory. Che was only 1 of 7 people to be chosen for the Mayor’s Blue ribbon panel for the City of Toronto Creative Capitol Gains Advisory, which developed a 10 year plan for Toronto’s cultural division. He is also a member of the Steering Committee for ArtReach Toronto, a member of the Daneil’s Spectrum (voted best new Cultural Centre/Venue in Canada), Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre’s Programming Advisory, a member of the 2015 Pan Am Games Cultural advisory and a member of Civic Action’s Steering Committee. In all of these positions, Che brings a voice to the table that is representative of the communities he is a part of and that is often one of the only voices of this nature at the table. Che has been working and advocating for more spaces to be open for more community voices to be at these tables and has been successful many times. Che was the lead of the mobilization committee for putting a fee on the billboard industry which will raise approx. 11 million per year, with the money raised to be earmarked for public youth arts initiatives in marginalized communities. At the beginning of 2009, Che became an inaugural DiverseCity fellow by the Toronto City Summit Alliance (now Civic Action), whose aim is to change the way leadership in Toronto looks. Che has also been recognized for his work many times multiple awards and acknowledgements, most recently being awarded the Mayor’s Cultural Leadership award.
As far as Che is concerned, nothing can stop him from sharing his vision with the world. He is determined to make a difference in his community in hopes that emerging and established artists will shape and follow his lead. He is currently working on extracting and harvesting all of his learning’s and networks into a model that can be shaped and shared with others around the world. He is also working on publishing his first photography book. Whether through photography, film, gatherings, mentoring or workshops, Che leads with the utmost passion for what he does, instigate change.
"I find it difficult to focus, except on all the possibilities."− Anonymous
"Every one is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid."− Albert Einstein
"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win"− Mahatma Gandhi
"Build your own dreams or someone else will hire you to build theirs "− Tony Gaskins Jr.
"Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation "− Aristotle
"Remember to count your blessings and not your problems"− Anonymous
"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams"− John Barrymore
"What is to be must be"− Bob Marley
"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever. The goal is to create something that will. "− Chuck Palahniuk
"If you would take, you must first give, this is the beginning of intelligence."− Lao Tzu
"The primary function of a leader is to keep hope alive."− John William Gardner
"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."− Lao Tzu
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."− Alexander Hamilton
"Logic will get you from A-Z. Imagination will get you everywhere."− Albert Einstein
"Don't feel lonely - the entire world is inside you."− Rumi
"Fortunately art is a community effort."− Allen Ginsburg
"The best kind of magic doesn't trick you. It makes you truly believe."− Anonymous
"The camera takes on the character and the personality of the handler."− Walker Evens
"Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do in this world."− John Wooden
"Study the greats and become greater."− Michael Jackson