Celebrating arts and raising funds one EAR at a time

Good news for arts and culture in our city: artists aren’t moving away as much as they used to. Believe it or not Toronto Vancouver and Montreal are less likely to gobble up the best and the brightest of Calgary’s visual artists musicians performers and dancers these days.

As a city this indicates a hopeful future. According to a 2010 study called The Arts Ripple Effect a vibrant and stable arts community influences not just artists and arts lovers but contributes to an active and healthy economy by creating communities that people want to live in (and subsequently spend money in) and by activating a stronger “more connected” population. As Calgary begins to shed its infamously conservative attitude it’s growing closer to becoming a destination for emerging and established artists and as the artist population increases interesting arts-specific support systems are beginning to appear.

That’s why the four-year-old non-profit organization Elephant Artist Relief (EAR) is so important. As the city’s only cross-disciplinary artist emergency support organization EAR puts on fundraisers to help members of the arts community; a sort of rainy-day fund in case something goes wrong including a fire or a prolonged illness.

Its first fundraiser Elephant was launched when a member of the arts community was diagnosed with MS. It was so successful the group decided to create a more formal organization dedicated to helping other artists facing unforeseen emergencies. This year’s annual art auction/fundraiser Swarm will feature the Green Fools’ famous clown work stilt walking and physical theatre as well as the groovy tunes of local band The Lovebullies.

Swarm will also include the “Action for Auction” — a fundraising initiative designed to include members of the artistic community who don’t typically produce anything physical (and therefore auctionable). Instead the event will capitalize on creativity. Starting at $25 audiences are invited to bid on participatory experiences: an artist will go shopping with you take you on a walking tour or guide you through a museum. You can bid on a crochet lesson guerilla gardening grant writing or a “social media best friend” (an artist who will spend five days before any event of your choosing tweeting like mad). If this doesn’t tickle your fancy there’s more conventional artwork for sale in the next room for $500 each.

“Artists have diverse types of practices” says Mark Dicey an EAR board member local artist and musician. “It’s not always this huge income machine being in the arts. If and when crisis takes place it’s nice to be able to fall back on something and have a resource as a bridge to get yourself back on your feet.”

Since it was founded EAR has raised enough money for a $2500 granting fund per applicant.

“It’s amazing how well the community has come together for this” says Tammy McGrath a volunteer on the Swarm committee. EAR is a perfect example of how artists work in Calgary — thriving on adversity and coming together to get stuff done especially in difficult times. Oh yeah and they throw an awesome party.