When you stop and think about the word “Welcome” what springs to mind? A friendly smile or high-five, a hearty meal, a special dance or ceremony, or perhaps all of the above? While this word can mean many different things to different people, it suggests a sense of camaraderie, comfort and belonging that helps make people feel at home no matter where they are in the world.
Recently, local artists of all ages and abilities were invited to interpret what “welcome” means to them in a painting, photograph or similar form of visual art. The result is over a dozen unique pieces that are currently on display as part of “Heart & Home,” an exhibit and fundraiser for the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council Inc. (RIAC) – a non-profit organization that offers a variety of services and support to refugees, immigrants and other new Canadians in the province. Works are exhibited at The Sprout restaurant until the end of the month, with a closing party slated for February 28.
“The idea of using art to bring people together made a lot of sense to us – while language barriers can sometimes make it hard to communicate with words, art has the potential to be more universal,” says Rebecca Cohoe, one of the event’s organizers.
“We could see the fundraising potential of this sort of event, but we also thought it could be a good way to raise awareness and get people (both artists and viewers) to think about what it means to be a welcoming community.”
Gina Hartmann, another organizer, says the response from the artistic community has been fantastic, with artists submitting a variety of original works – everything from hand-drawn pieces, paintings and graphic design, to a photograph and a poem.
“It truly is a wide array of talent with the consistent theme of ‘Welcome’ throughout the display,” she says.
“People are excited about the display and also helping bring awareness to such an important cause. It has been a great way to bring the community together in a completely unique way, while also drawing traffic towards the RIAC.”
All of the pieces are for sale, with 50 per cent of the sale price going directly to the RIAC. A team of judges will select one piece to be produced as a limited-edition print (with the money from sales also going towards the RIAC).
The exhibit will also feature some pieces from the RIAC’s own “Our Art Gallery,” which celebrates works from refugee and immigrant artists in the community. Natasha Blackwood, fundraising coordinator with the RIAC, says while Heart & Home will help raise much-needed funds for their programming, it has also brought the local arts and international communities closer together.
“We have involved our vibrant arts community in the helping of new Canadians. We have raised awareness of our community programming and have been able to speak publicly about what we do, and how important diversity is to our community,” she says.
“Community response for Heart & Home has been wonderful…People who are donating art for this fundraiser have been very warm and receptive to Our Art Gallery and are interested in checking out the newcomer art when they drop off their pieces. It is really heartwarming to see local and international artists appreciating each other’s work like that!”