Its doors have been closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, but a local non-profit group that promotes art in the inner city is still going the extra mile to help families stay creative and happy while sheltering at home.

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Opinion

Its doors have been closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, but a local non-profit group that promotes art in the inner city is still going the extra mile to help families stay creative and happy while sheltering at home.

"We had to think quickly about how we wanted the depot to keep operating in the middle of this pandemic," said Helga Jakobson, co-executive director of ArtsJunktion in the Exchange District.

"We believe in the power of healing that creative pursuits bring. We believe crafting and creativity are ways people can cope with the difficult parts of life. We want to continue supporting our community during this difficult time."

Formed in 2007, ArtsJunktion normally accepts donations of reusable materials from businesses and keeps them out of landfills by putting them in the hands of aspiring artists on a take-what-you-need, pay-what-you-can basis.

“We had to think quickly about how we wanted the depot to keep operating in the middle of this pandemic.” ‐ Helga Jakobson, co-executive director of ArtsJunktion

Its warehouse depot at 312 William Ave. — a social hub for the community, offering workshops and a safe place for people to obtain supplies and create art — was forced to close and cancel programs when COVID-19 arrived in the city last month.

Jakobson and co-executive director Lou Gandier quickly hit on a creative plan to continue serving their community by packing and delivering art projects to the mailboxes of inner-city families.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>ArtsJunktion in the Exchange District was forced to close its doors with the arrival of COVID-19 last month. That’s when the non-profit, led by co-executive directors Lou Gandier and Helga Jakobson, hatched a new plan to keep art accessible to Winnipeggers during the pandemic.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

ArtsJunktion in the Exchange District was forced to close its doors with the arrival of COVID-19 last month. That’s when the non-profit, led by co-executive directors Lou Gandier and Helga Jakobson, hatched a new plan to keep art accessible to Winnipeggers during the pandemic.

In each of the past four weeks, the women have been scouring the stockpile of donated material in their depot, packing reusable supplies into Ziploc bags along with instructions, and delivering a series of easy crafting kits to inner-city families who email requests to director@artsjunktion.mb.ca.

They advertise the craft kits through their social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and their online newsletter, which is available on their website at artsjunktion.mb.ca.

Donations are gratefully accepted, but the craft projects are made available regardless of whether a family can afford to pay. "We don’t want finances to be a barrier to anyone," Jakobson said. "We understand this is a very difficult time for people, financially and emotionally."

“We don’t want finances to be a barrier to anyone. We understand this is a very difficult time for people, financially and emotionally.” — Helga Jakobson

With the aid of volunteers — some of whom have been battling the elements on bicycles — Jakobson and Gandier have delivered 50 to 100 of the crafting kits each week, and plan to continue doing so as long as there are supplies.

"We’ve been making themed kits every week," Jakobson said. "They’re everything from beginner to intermediate, things families can do at home. There are pompom kits, weaving kits, pennant-making kits — little flags you can put up with messages — embroidery kits.

"We’ve also packaged cotton fabric, needles and thread, and instructions to make your own non-medical masks at home. The kits are not only fun and affordable, but also eco-friendly."

The response from Winnipeggers has been heart-warming, with many isolated families proudly emailing photos to display their finished works of art.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Helga Jakobson on the Crafting Kits at ArtsJunktion: “We’ve also packaged cotton fabric, needles and thread, and instructions to make your own non-medical masks at home. The kits are not only fun and affordable, but also eco-friendly.”</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Helga Jakobson on the Crafting Kits at ArtsJunktion: “We’ve also packaged cotton fabric, needles and thread, and instructions to make your own non-medical masks at home. The kits are not only fun and affordable, but also eco-friendly.”

"We’ve gotten incredible feedback," Jakobson gushed. "I think they are just so thankful for what we’re doing. They’ve been feeling so low and really wanting to stay busy. They’ve been overwhelmed being home with kids and looking for something to do. We had a message from a pregnant mother with a young child who said she was so thankful and it was helping to keep her sane in isolation."

Andrea Bell Stuart, a co-founder of ArtsJunktion, said the board of directors was "blown away" by the creative campaign to use at-home art projects to support families isolated during an outbreak that is threatening lives and crippling the economy.

"When they started this, parents had just been told that schools would close and they were realizing they’d have to homeschool their kids," Bell Stuart said. "We really are fighting to keep ArtsJunktion viable so we can weather this COVID-19 storm and reach out to the community.

"We’re trying to do something that will help make people happy and make art accessible to them."

The group is not accepting donations of recyclable materials at its depot.

"We can’t accept donations of reusable materials now and that’s where we get our stuff," Bell Stuart noted. "We decided it wouldn’t be healthy to keep accepting donated materials to fill the shelves. We have quite a lot of stuff and these two (Jakobson and Gandier) think they can keep on delivering for a while. They’re also going to do online art workshops."

She said being shuttered during the pandemic is not easy for a charity that survives on donations and fundraising events, but the community’s artistic hub is determined to remain standing once the outbreak is over.

"I think at this point we feel we are going to survive with the help of Lou (Gandier) and Helga (Jakobson)," Bell Stuart said. "It’s going to be week by week and it won’t be easy, but we’re going to do everything we can to survive.

"I’m incredibly proud of what they are doing. They are creative and compassionate. They care about their community. Community is No. 1. It comes from their heart, it comes from their whole being, even if that sounds schmaltzy. They are heroes every day. They chose this line of work for a reason."

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
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