When I started working for Art from the Heart, I didn't know what to expect. Well, that's not quite true... I was told it would be one hell of a ride to organize a show and sale for more than 120 artists working in a variety of mediums and styles.
So far, that warning has turned out to be true, but in an oddly satisfying way. I knew ahead of time that my biggest challenge would be to ensure everyone felt included, visible and valued, given that many of Art from the Heart participants face important barriers in their lives and in their ability to fit into the mainstream community of artists in Winnipeg.
What I didn't expect would bring me so much satisfaction was how much I would come to enjoy being around such a variety of people whose day-to-day lives and whose artistic paths are so very different from my own in the mainstream.
Dave Marshall was the first artist to stop by the office to meet the new co-ordinator in those early days in September. I remember he had many questions, about the show and sale, about Art from the Heart, and so did I, I guess. He was also a bit anxious to put himself and his work out there again after some life challenges forced him to stop painting for seven years.
While I was new in the job, it soon became clear to me which was the most important job to do in that moment -- just sit and talk with him. That's what he needed, and that's what I needed too. We talked about his daughter, his life and his unique approach to art. It was a great conversation, and it set the tone for how I would approach every artist who came by or called requesting my help. When a few weeks later he brought in his paintings for the art drop-off days, I was blown away by their beauty and complexity, worthy of any mainstream gallery.
It's gotten to the point that every piece of art is now attached to an interesting story for me. Stories such as Ildiko Nova's account of how she came to participate in the Art from the Heart show and sale and become one of our active members.
When Ildiko was a young girl in Hungary, she would draw during class time to keep from being bored. It also helped her relax and concentrate. When she was 19, she moved to Toronto. She eventually decided to return to school and studied in the community worker program at George Brown College.
As part of her studies, she worked in a shelter for the homeless. She found making art allowed people -- often strangers in these social agencies -- to open up and share their stories. It seemed to benefit them much more than meeting with their caseworkers in an office. Inspired by this, she began to teach an art class in one of these shelters -- an activity that confirmed what she knew already: Making art was good for the soul.
When she graduated in 2011, she decided to move to Winnipeg, hoping to find steady work here. That did not pan out and she found herself living in the Salvation Army shelter on Main Street. She noticed a group of people working on the mosaic at Red Road Lodge. She offered to help and soon became a regular participant.
One day, someone from Art from the Heart came around to talk about the show and sale, and she decided to participate. She did not have anything to put in the show and scrambling to find artist's materials, she learned about the donation program at ArtsJunktion. She is grateful for the free materials she needed to create her art pieces.
She didn't sell anything at her first show in 2011, but last year she sold all three of her pieces. She is really looking forward to this year's event to see how many new doors it will open for her.
Andrew Lane's artistic journey has its roots in his childhood, where everything around him became the subject of extensive and focused research. He would spend countless hours dismantling things to see how they worked and he also taught himself to play the piano by reproducing the songs he heard on the radio.
Last year, he became intrigued with photography, and inspired by a friend who would regularly photograph the city as they went about their day-to-day activities, he decided to buy a second-hand camera. Always the autodidact, Andrew again taught himself to use this technology, producing a large body of work in just one year.
He says making art helps him cope with being bipolar, a condition that once prevented him from living fully in the world. He finds creating images with the camera is healing for him and it has led to a new passion of capturing what he calls "the life" in Winnipeg.
Being a gentle soul, Andrew says life looks more interesting through the camera, but what photography has brought him is the ability to live more fully in the world. It also allows him to express his unique vision of everyday urban life. He admits he is a bit nervous about his first show, though.
What I've come to understand and appreciate, as I get to know these three artists and the many inner-city and lower-income artists who participate in the Art from the Heart show and sale, is it represents more to them than an opportunity to show and possibly sell their works of art. It fulfils a real need to feel like they belong in the city.
Many inner-city and lower-income artists understand first-hand how it feels to feel excluded. As artists such as Ildiko and Andrew are quick to state, this event creates hope and helps them feel better about themselves. Nova is inspired by the popularity of the event: "No matter how cold it is outside, people keep coming out. People really care about this."
People do care, I believe, because at the end of the day, what events such as Art from the Heart do is build a stronger sense of community for all who participate, especially the visitors who come out in support. And that is important in a world that keeps moving faster and faster -- the subject of one of Dave's introspective paintings.
This year marks the 14th annual Art from the Heart show and sale. It features the works of 120 artists, many beginning to really make a name for themselves in the mainstream. This unique event may indeed be the last chance to pick up some great local art at a reasonable price. It is also an opportunity to participate in some great community spirit. For me, like Andrew, I am also a little bit nervous about my first show.