Fun fact: on average, a working artist in Alberta makes a whopping $14,000 a year, according to Leslie Sweder, a founder and board member of Elephant Artist Relief (EAR).
This fact might not be so fun if, as an artist, you’re suddenly hit by a costly emergency, such as an unexpected dentist fee. That’s where EAR comes in. The organization was created five years ago to provide emergency funds to practising artists, and while it has already held several successful fundraisers, at this event — hEAR Here — the artistic community will be celebrating EAR’s new charitable status. This two-hour cake-cutting celebration (drinks included) may be brief, but possibilities for EAR and Calgary’s greater artistic community are huge.
“It really means that we can issue charitable receipts,” explains Sharon Stevens, a local artist who works in grant writing, research and administration for EAR. “We exist to give the emergency relief funds through an adjudicative process, but we also work to put together health and wellness resources and now, with charitable status, we have a whole bunch of new plans to go forward with.”
In addition to providing emergency funds, EAR is striving to provide consistent, lifelong support to artists in Calgary. “The whole starving artist mentality is something we want to dispel,” says Stevens. “It’s not just about giving money out, it’s about empowering [artists], and it’s about the health and strength of the arts community.”
Initiatives such as group health insurance and RRSPs, or simpler services such as health and wellness workshops, are all ventures that EAR is considering.
Stevens points out that one of the benefits of charitable status is that EAR will now be able to reach an even wider community of donors and sponsors. Both Stevens and Sweder hope to reach beyond the core artistic community in Calgary.
“Calgary’s a very wealthy city, and we do a fundraiser every two years, but the circle that we are reaching is the same people and the same artists — it’s still artists supporting artists,” says Stevens. “We’re hoping now with charitable status that we’ll reach some of those patrons who love the arts in Calgary.”
After all, art is part of everyday life, and you don’t have to be an artist — or even know an artist — to feel the impact of a vibrant cultural scene.
“I really don’t want to set artists out at a distance,” says Sweder. “We’ve made these choices consciously because we believe in what we’re doing, and that’s why Elephant was created — to be in support of that belief.”
She adds, “It is the arts that feed the spirit of any community. If those creators are not flourishing, neither will the community.”
Stevens agrees. “The strength and health of an arts community also reflects the strength and health of a city in general,” she says.
With its newly minted charitable status, the call will soon be out to help EAR and the individual artists it supports. “Whatever level of support that people are willing to give is much appreciated and will always come back to them on some level,” says Sweder.