The Art For Aid Project – Combating Isolation With Art
Around 2012 Metis artist Colleen Gray discovered how little funding is available for art supplies in remote First Nations, Inuit and Metis schools and for community programs. She set out to try and change things by collecting new and gently used art supplies and distributing them across Canada. She is the artist and founder behind The Art For Aid Project and a driving force behind putting art supplies into remote areas.
To date The Art For Aid Project has served well over a dozen communities and is still going strong. Most recently a generous donor made it possible for The Art For Aid Project to send 16 boxes of superior quality wool to Iqaluit and Baffin Island. It was a new venture and the response from Iqaluit was remarkable. Just today we are getting ready to send a sewing machine, a good amount of material and sewing notions to an Elder in Kitigan Zibi, all of which have been donated by people who are supporting this work. We have shipped supplies to Attawapiskat, Kashewchewan, Long Lake #58, Pangnirtung, Garden Hill and many more. Each box of art supplies shipped is met with another pin on a map in a sea of Canadian remote communities. There is no shortage of need and much passion for the work.
The shipping of these items to remote communities is very costly. To help with costs Colleen sells her artwork as prints, as Indigenously decorated card packages as well as unique made items that help her to replenish the always depleting shipping budget. Most of the sales come from art and Indigenous events and from the website, and through social media postings for auction.
Colleen leases her artwork for commercial use. This is a unique and interesting avenue for raising funding to cover shipping and admin costs. Her Indigenously decorated card packages are also used in corporate events to honour guests, keynote speakers, political officials, volunteers or as interesting placeholders at weddings and meetings where Indigenous art can be appreciated. To further contribute to her shipping budget replenishing, Colleen has housed her moving and powerful artwork on a website that allows the buyer to print her art on canvas bags, duvet covers, cell phone covers, and more. Recently The Art For Aid Project has begun working with I Love First Peoples. We create the awards certificates for the I Love First People’s Student Certificate Program. A local Indigenous artist is hired to create the drawings for these certificates, and is paid on a per drawing basis through The Art For Aid Project budget.
“The long range plan is to give people in remote communities an opportunity to explore their creative vision, try something new, alleviate some of the boredom that can be associated with isolated living. Many people suffer from intergenerational trauma because of the residential school system and the havoc it’s caused in these communities. Sometimes the opening of old wounds creates new wounds but I believe strongly in the healing power of art, and in releasing pain and joy through creative expression. But that begins and ends with art supplies. In the schools, the teachers do the best they can with what they have to work with and they do a damned good job of it too. My aim is to supplement their budget with an insurgent of supplies whenever I’m able to and take some of the pressure off their very limited budgets.”
Transportation is a constant challenge and Colleen is forever networking and trying to find ways to get these supplies into the communities as affordably as she can. She seeks out people who are flying into remote areas, hunters, trappers, travellers, teachers, medical professionals, etc. When necessary, The Art For Aid Project pays the extra baggage costs to fly a box of supplies to a remote community if the person is flying out of Ottawa. Alternatively, people are welcome to donate the shipping costs for a box to be mailed; the average costs to mail a box is $50.00 through Canada Post, up to $80.00 with Greyhound cargo bus.
There are a number of ways to support this work; buy Colleen’s artwork, donate new and gently used art supplies, take a box of supplies with you, donate a portion of your art sales to shipping, become a corporate sponsor, do a school fundraiser or art supply drive. There are printable labels on the website for art supply collection boxes.
For more information on The Art For Aid Project’s efforts, to view the art available and to celebrate art in remote communities, visit us at www.artforaid.ca