Making art accessible to all

Published in the Arts section of The Charlatan.
Mar. 6, 2003

The Bytown Art Group provides a way for low-income and homeless people to create art. But will funding cuts bring the project to an end?

A “deliciously diverse” fine arts group that helps homeless and low income people create art has had its future thrown into jeopardy because of recent funding cuts.

Danielle Raymond says the Bytown Art Group primarily consists of people who are “challenged to purchase art materials,” but it also works with new Canadians, seniors, and art lovers in general. The group provides a space for its members to work and supplies to create their art.

Raymond says many of the 70 to 90 artists in the group are seeking professional recognition, and they look to the group not only as a launch pad, but also as a source of valuable career development advice and training.

“The artists teach each other,” she says. “We’ve learned different cultures, we’ve learned to be street-savvy, what it’s like to be older with rheumatism, what it’s like to be living with AIDS.”

Besides being involved in writing, sculpting, painting and photography, the group also experiments with different media and with tech art.

“We’ve actually gone out to the dump to find materials for experimental art,” says Raymond.

But despite its success, the group is facing financial uncertainty when its three-year funding from the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI) and the federal government expires on March 31.

According to Raymond, the government has decided an evaluation period is necessary to determine if they will continue their funding.

The government provided six months of bridge funding for some of the organizations supported by SCPI, but not all of them. The Bytown Art Group was among the few that didn’t get this funding.

They are currently seeking support from the federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as from foundations and private donors.

Raymond says without the SCPI funding, the group would be forced to give up some of their services, like paying professional artists to give workshops or providing the artists with healthy snacks and bus tickets.

One of the artists affected by this is Vladimir Polgar, a Croatian sculptor and electronics engineer. He is also a pioneer in an unusual sculpting technique using nails, which has also been used as therapy for stress patients.

Polgar, whose works include a sculpture featured at the Croatian Embassy, teaches this technique as the practical part of the group’s Technology For Creating course.

“It’s very hard to be creative without funding,” he says.

Polgar has been with the group for a couple of months and says the group provides a “very nice atmosphere to work in.”

The group held a fundraiser on Feb. 26 at the Christ Church Cathedral hall, featuring a menu prepared by the charitable organization Food Not Bombs, performances by singer-songwriter Craig Cardiff and improvisational comedy group The Institution, and a silent art auction. Raymond says the total earnings from the night haven’t been calculated yet, but she estimates the event raised at least $2,000.

The group currently meets on Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Centre 454, on Tuesdays at the same time at Options Bytown, and on Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

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