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Metro Vancouver artists say thanks to front-line workers – with free art

arTHANKS initiative provides free, original works of art to front-line workers in the COVID-19 pandemic
From left, Ali Ledgerwood, Valerie Arntzen, David MacLean and Ginger Sedlarova look at some of the art submitted by local artists to give as a gift to front-line workers for the arTHANKS project.

Art can lift spirits, soothe souls, shine light into a world that seems, at times, unrelentingly dark.

A group of Lower Mainland artists wants to share that light with some of the people who need it most: the front-line workers who’ve been leading us all through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The arTHANKS initiative is an art-gifting campaign that provides free, original works of art to front-line workers, courtesy of local artists. Now organizers are hoping they can attract more artists to create work – and more front-line workers to give it to.

One of the artists behind the initiative is Burnaby’s Ginger Sedlarova, for whom the pandemic brought a renewed realization of how fortunate she was to be able to continue her own work in safety.

“I thought, ‘Aren’t I lucky to not have to go out every day on the front lines and work in unsafe conditions, potentially?’” Sedlarova says.

Last summer, even as she was wondering how she could give back to people on the front lines, she heard from a former colleague. David MacLean – whom Sedlarova knows from her days at the Vancouver Sun – is an artist now working in the film industry. MacLean, too, had been thinking about how to give back to front-line workers, and he’d hit upon the idea of the gift of art.

They brought on board two other active members of the Lower Mainland’s arts community: assemblage artist Valerie Arntzen, and promoter and arts supporter Ali Ledgerwood.

Together, the four have been working to connect front-line workers with original works of art since the summer of 2021, via a website where artists can upload photos of available work and where front-line workers can choose a piece for themselves.

Dozens of pieces have since found their way into the homes of front-line workers.

Those people include health-care workers and emergency services personnel, but Sedlarova is quick to point out it doesn’t stop there.

“We talk about anyone who has to go out and put themselves at risk every day: teachers, educational assistants, baristas, grocery clerks … The list goes on. It’s anyone who puts themselves at risk to make our lives better,” she says.

“Everyone who’s out there doing this for us deserves a thank you. And what better way for artists to say ‘thank you’ than through their art?”

With the pandemic showing no signs of ending anytime soon, the arTHANKS team is now working to get the word out to more artists and more front-line workers.

There are about 80 donated pieces of art awaiting homes right now, with work running the gamut of styles and mediums: ceramics, assemblage, collage, painting, photography. The only limit now is geography; they’re confining it to the Lower Mainland to keep it accessible for pickup. (If artists in other areas want to start up similar initiatives in their own community, Sedlarova says they’re welcome to reach out to the arTHANKS team for help.) 

Artists are asked to stick to smaller-scale works (a maximum of 24x24 inches, though some pieces have gone beyond that) so they’re easy for the new owners to pick up and transport home.

Any front-line worker who’d like to receive a piece of art can simply go to the arTHANKS website and fill out an online form for the work of their choice. If there’s nothing on the site right now that’s appealing, keep checking back; new work is coming in all the time.

As headlines fill with stories of front-line workers burning out and taking abuse and harassment from the public, Sedlarova says it’s all the more important to show gratitude.

“We know it’s often been rough, dispiriting and maddeningly unfair, and we hope this helps let them know their work is appreciated,” she says.

 “I cannot begin to say ‘thank you’ enough.”

Want to donate art?

If you’re an artist wanting to donate work, you can fill out an art submission form on the website.

Want to receive art?

If you’re a front-line worker who’d like a free work of art, you can view the gallery online and fill out a request form

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, [email protected].