London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News
The Up with Art show will raise money for the Unity Project, but it might just play an even more important role for people utilizing its services.
For over 10 years now, the Unity Project has provided emergency shelter and transitional housing to men and women experiencing homelessness. Typically, the home sees about 600 individuals come through every year while countless more just pass through the doors looking for assistance.
And although the home needs to be constantly fundraising, through endeavours like Up with Art — a silent auction of some 70 pieces of locally produced art, on April 5 — it is the effect the sale has on residents that is even more profound.
Silvia Langer, development manager at Unity House, points to one example of the impact Up with Art has on those who rely on the home’s services. That example is of David Lewis, one of the artists in this year’s show. It was after experiencing last year’s event that Lewis wanted to contribute his own work to this year’s show.
“Afterwards, when we were cleaning up, he tells me that he was so inspired by it, and even though he recognized he was a different class of people, he didn’t feel out of place at all,” Langer said. “For the residents who come out, who take part, they really feel part of the community. It does so much more for the Unity Project than just raise funds. It builds our community, builds our inspiration. It really carries us.”
Charlene Lazenby, Unity House general manager, said last year’s event netted $12,000 for the home’s services. Those services are based on what Lazenby calls the four values of a healthy community: respect, compassion, co-operation and interdependence. And those values, she adds, are keys to Up with Art.
“What is really important to us about the art show is that it really reflects those values. We saw that last year when we had the art show at the Palace Theatre,” Lazenby said. “It was really amazing to see the community come together and allow people who are experiencing homelessness to be equals in that room. That is a very rare opportunity.”
This year’s sale, which again takes place at the Palace Theatre (710 Dundas St.), will see bids placed on a wide variety of art works. Those pieces, as well as the opportunity to bid, can be found online at www.unityproject.ca.
Diana Tamblyn is one of the local artists who are participating in Up with Art. Tamblyn, who created an original piece specifically for the fundraiser, said a recent tour she had of Unity House was an eye-opening experience.
“They told me capacity is about 130 per cent, so there is a dire need for their services,” Tamblyn said. “One of the reasons why we are in Canada is to live in a society like this. If I was ever in a situation where I needed help it would be nice to know there was a Unity Project down the street.”
Combining art with the issues surrounding homelessness might seem confusing to some, but along with Langer and Lazenby, Tamblyn sees it as a natural connection.
“I think it is kind of core to being an artist,” Tamblyn said. “One of the roles of being an artist is to be an observer. To look at what is happening in society and make your interpretation of it and reflect that back out.”
Brian Meehan, executive director and chief curator of Museum London, is a big proponent of Up with Art. Working closely with Langer and the rest of the Unity House organization, Meehan said Up with Art gives the arts community not only the opportunity to get involved, but lend their expertise as well.
After all, Meehan said, when Unity House was setting up the current incarnation of Up with Art, the staff didn’t have a lot of experience with an art show.
It was an opportunity for us to provide some of the expertise we have around how you run an auction, basic things like what is a reasonable minimum bid for a work of art,” Meehan said. “Also, trying to connect the art community to this event, you want buyers out. We also supplied easels, other materials. But on a higher level, philosophically for the museum, there is an understanding that institutions have to change with the times, have to become more a part of the communities they live in.”
Meehan said working with the people at Unity House allows the arts community to “get beyond the four walls” and get directly involved in bringing culture to everyone’s daily life.
“This is a great opportunity to do that,” Meehan said. “But it is also a great opportunity to show how the arts community cares about the community it lives and how generous they can be.”