Mary-Jane Warshawski and Harrison Tanner draw names during Art Anonymous at the Old Firehall on May 12. (Amy Kenny/Yukon News)

What a relief: Art Anonymous raises money for Yukon artists in need

‘The reality is an artist’s life is hard’

Abbey Gartner never gets picked first. On May 12 though, hers was the first name drawn from the hat during Art Anonymous, the third annual fundraiser for the Yukon Artist Relief Fund.

As such, she had dibs on any one of 69 pieces of original art, ranging from paintings and pottery, to weavings and welded metal.

“I mean, I knew what I wanted straightaway,” said Gartner of the piece she chose, a fireweed-fringed landscape painting. “I didn’t think I’d get it.”

Hers was a common sentiment at the event.

Attendees bought either a $100 tickets or a $250 ticket. Both were good for entrance to The Old Firehall, where the work was displayed, snacks from a variety of local restaurants, a cash bar, and entertainment from musician Grant Simpson.

Around 7:30 p.m., the $250 ticket-holders waited anxiously, clutching pieces of paper where they’d listed their favourite pieces, as names were drawn from a hat. When a name was called, that person had 60 seconds to pick the piece they wanted.

Proceeds from the night went toward a fund that offers short-term financial assistance to professional Yukon visual artists who are in need due to health issues or personal tragedy.

“The average Yukon artist has an average annual income of $13,000 to $15,000,” said Mary-Jane Warshawski, president of the society that runs the fund.

Often, the amount given to applicants is only $1,000, but she said that can make a huge difference to an artist.

Last year, Warshawski said, Yukon artist James Kirby accessed the fund after being diagnosed with cancer. The money allowed his wife to stay home with him, and allowed his family to travel to be with him. Kirby died in October 2017.

Warshawski said that anytime an artist applies to the fund, a new committee is struck that includes a board member and a professional related to the issue the artist is having.

She said the committee’s role is to define the difference between difficulty and debilitation.

“The reality is an artist’s life is hard, right?” she said. “So when we have an application, we have to decide between hardship and tragedy and only in some cases might that be difficult.”

Patrick Royle, a local ceramicist, is a member of the board. Years ago, following a heart attack, he was also a recipient of the fund.

The money he received wasn’t raised through Art Anonymous. Royle said he doesn’t know how it was raised — he was in the hospital when the fundraiser took place — but he was grateful for it.

“It was overwhelming,” he said. “It really was. Knowing what the community here could do for you, was willing to do for you.”

Royle had a piece in this year’s auction, not that you would have necessarily been able to guess which it was. A departure from his fireweed-decorated pottery, this year he contributed a welded metal sculpture.

That’s the catch with the art at the show, said Warshawski. Nothing is signed, so buyers are going with their guts rather than according to name recognition.

There were works from well-known Yukon artists including Harrison Tanner, Joyce Majiski, Jane Isakson, and Dennis Shorty, but there were also pieces from self-identified amateurs such as Janet Patterson.

Patterson’s piece, Butterfly Spirit, was a colourful dirty-pour acrylic. She said she heard about the event through facebook, and was initially nervous to submit, but was happy when her work was chosen to be included.

Though she’s not a full-time artist, she said she understands the importance of the fund for those who are. Having lived in the territory since 1985, she said she knows a number of Yukon artists, though, because of how private the process is for requesting assistance, she doesn’t know how many of them may have relied on the fund over the years.

Warshawki said that, in the last six years, the fund has helped roughly 20 artists. She thinks that’s why this year brought in a record number of pieces for Art Anonymous.

The board’s pie-in-the-sky goal was for 50 pieces to be donated. Instead, there were 69.

“Time and time again we’ve said we know colleagues that have really benefitted from this fund, this is important to us, and that, I believe, is the resounding reason that we received so many pieces.”

More information about the fund, and about applying, can be found online at yukonartistrelief.weebly.com.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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