When a personal tragedy strikes, we often turn to our community to support us. In the case of the Yukon Artist Relief Fund Society, the community is ready.
The society is a non-profit which provides short-term funding to Yukon visual artists to help relieve the pressures of a sudden and unexpected personal emergency.
The fund “acts as a bridge for artists who are ill and can’t pay their rent,” said Mary-Jane Warshawski, president of the society. “Artists just don’t have the social safety net that other people in other professions might have.”
Due to the nature of their work, artists work outside the usual social and professional systems, making them especially vulnerable financially to a physical, emotional or personal issue which disrupts their ability to make a living through their work. The society was formed to address this need, said Harreson Tanner. Tanner is the vice president of the society, as well as a local artist himself.
“There are many disadvantages to being a visual artist, one of them being that you are often working alone,” he said. “We wanted to know what we could do without putting our hand out to the government for visual artists with physical, mental or emotional issues that still need to pay the rent.”
The money for the fund comes from artwork donated by the art community through an event called Canvas Confidential, of which there have been two over the last five years. These events saw local artists create unsigned paintings, which were then given away via draw as part of the cost of the ticket price of the event, which also featured music, food and wine. The Canvas Confidential events raised around $10,000 for the fund each, Warshawski said.
“We make (these fundraisers) a heck of a lot of fun,” she said. “I am so amazed each year … the artists (who donate their work) are donating their time, their essence, a little piece of their soul and giving it to their community, really.”
The next fundraising event will be held Oct. 28 and will differ slightly from past events, Warshawski said.
Previously, the donations of art for the fundraisers were limited to visual work done on 30.5 cm by 30.5 cm canvas the society provided, but the society has recently decided to open up submissions to any visual piece “under one cubic foot.” That’s why the society will change the name of the event to Art Anonymous.
Submissions of donated art are currently open until Sept. 30.
The fund is currently only open to visual artists. Visual artists in need of the fund must apply for it and provide details about their professional status and the nature of their emergency, which is then reviewed for approval by a board.
The usual amount of money provided by the society is around $1,000 but artists can apply multiple times if they need to, said Warshawski.
The society was started in 2012. Since then it has helped 12 artists, Tanner said.
Confidentiality is one of the core values of the group, said Warshawski, and the names of artists who have applied for and received the fund are never released. As such, nobody who has used the award was available to speak with the News.
“The society was a huge help to them,” Tanner said. “There’s that old expression, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Most of the artists who used the fund, they never expected to be put in these positions … (the fund) is definitely filling a gap.”
The idea for the society came from looking at other models for taking care of artists within the community, specifically in Germany. Tanner said he believes the fund is the only one of its kind in Canada.
Tanner said the fund, which is by artists for artists, reflects on the closeness and strength of the Yukon artistic community.
“We definitely owe a huge thanks to the community,” he said. “They support us not just with words, but with their actions.”