Hi my name is Colleen Gray!
I'm the Art For Aid founder and I'm a Metis artist. What Art For Aid aims to do is work to get new and gently used art supplies into remote First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. There's an extremely limited amount of money available for art supplies in remote communities.
Back in 2013 - 2012, I was watching the Attawapiskat housing crisis on the media and in every picture in the background and all I could see where kids watching T.V. and I thought, "I don't understand. What's going on up there that everybody's stuck watching T.V.?" So I started doing a bit of investigation work into school budgets, art supplies, what's available up there in community programming and in the school's. And that's how learned how limited the budgets are as far as art supplies go. So I set out to try to make a difference.
I had a huge body of artwork already that's been sitting in my sketchbooks doing absolutely nothing. I thought, well you know what, if I sell this work then I can pay for shipping. And if I ask people to donate art supplies, the art community is very generous. People started donating supplies and I started shipping them up with the sales from my artwork. It started to blossom and grow.
Reaching into other communities, is not the easiest thing to do. Teachers are incredibly busy in remote communities. They're way more than just teachers. They are nutrition experts, they're counsellors, they're taxi services, they're crisis intervention counsellors. They do everything. So I really want to try to lighten that load for them a little bit. Getting art supplies into remote communities really helps the kids express their artistic side in ways that they wouldn't normally be able to with the limited supplies.
The Art For Aid Project is going on five years now and in terms of art supplies, one of the biggest things that we try to get is carving tools. We have a lot of kids in Inuit communities that would love to carve but don't have access to tools. And then there's your garden variety stuff. Acrylic paint is a big one. Brushes are a big one. Sketchbooks, paint, paper. Stuff for the little kids too. Stickers - I say colouring books, but that's suggestive. What ends up happening is there are a lot of people who want to donate art books. We can't ship art books for two reasons. One, because they're heavy and they take up space in the box. Second of all, they come from a colonial perspective and Indigenous art is not a colonial perspective art form. It's an oral art culture.
A lot of times it comes down to having elders, being able to afford to bring elders into the community to teach things like birch bark biting and quill work. You want to pay these elders to come because their time is valuable. We look to try and get elders connected with the schools or we give them the resources to connect those elders with the schools. But, the basic art supplies are the most important thing.
Take a listen to Colleen's full interview here: