From paintings to jewellery, learn how Canadian artists are raising funds and awareness for UNHCR’s Ukraine emergency response.
The war in Ukraine has uprooted the lives of millions and captured the attention and hearts of people across Canada compelled to find ways to help. Artists from across the country who have been moved to take action have been drawing on their creative talents to help support those forced to flee. Meet a few of the compassionate and caring artists and learn why they are raising funds and awareness for UNHCR’s emergency response in Ukraine, one of the largest human displacement crises in the world today.
In February 2022, Jeff Dillon, an artist based in Waterloo, Ontario, watched the invasion of Ukraine on the news with increasing alarm. He was struck by the human devastation as millions fled to the borders to escape the war. Called to action, Jeff created a painting in support of Ukraine, choosing a field of sunflowers against a blue sky and titling it “Solidarity”.
“When I was painting ‘Solidarity’, I thought of the people of Ukraine. I wanted the image to be beautiful and hopeful. When I completed the painting, I felt lifted up, and grateful for the opportunity to use my art to help others. Despite the real boundaries of our countries, I truly believe charity has no borders.”
Jeff says he was inspired to raise funds on behalf of UNHCR because of its well-known history of helping refugees and safeguarding human rights worldwide. It was important to him that the charity he chose was familiar with the issues, could rally the needed international support, and could work with neighbouring countries to respond quickly. He held an auction for “Solidarity,” with funds raised to support UNHCR’s emergency response to the unfolding Ukraine crisis. Supporters turned out in force, sharing the link to the site, and purchasing the artist’s prints and cards. The auction raised nearly $20,000 for UNHCR’s Ukraine response.
“This is how a small, but mighty group of art lovers, and one determined artist have been able to send support to the people of Ukraine,” says Jeff, “I feel such gratitude for their help in making this donation to UNHCR.”
Canadian Artists’ Sunflowers for Peace
In Grande Prairie, Alberta, Suzanne Sandboe is part of a group of artists who were also inspired to launch their own art auction in support of the people of Ukraine.
Suzanne was initially doing a painting of sunflowers for her home, and while painting she was watching the devastation taking place in Ukraine on the news. She learned that the sunflower was the national flower of Ukraine and wanted to do something to help.
Inspired by artists she’d heard of who were fundraising, Suzanne and two additional Alberta artists, Tim Heimdal and Carmen Haakstad, came together to present an online art auction “Canadian Artists’ Sunflowers for Peace.” Each artist has pledged to donate 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their work to UNHCR’s Ukraine response.
“The situation in Ukraine is having devastating humanitarian consequences and the people of Ukraine need our help,” says Suzanne. “We are honoured to be part of a fundraiser to help those in need. Our hearts are with all those suffering and this is a small part that we can do to help. We pray that this war will end, and the people of Ukraine can return to their land and homes.”
The auction has raised over $3,000. The trio’s artwork can be viewed in-person at the Kin Gallery, Centre 2000, Grande Prairie in a show called “Ten Dollars & A Dream,” running until Sept 15th, 2022.
Bracelets of blue and yellow jade
In Squamish, British Columbia, Catherine Trueman started another creative initiative.
“As soon as I saw what was happening in Ukraine, I wanted to do something to help. I couldn’t simply watch the atrocity that continues to unfold on the news and do nothing,” she says. “Creating jewellery is my passion, and having previously done another successful bracelet fundraiser, I knew this would be a quick way to raise desperately needed funds. I love that jewellery ‘speaks,’ and that by wearing one of these bracelets you are demonstrating your support for, and solidarity with, the Ukrainian people.”
Catherine crafted stretch bracelets made of blue and yellow jade in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. She decided to accent the pieces with a stainless-steel maple leaf charm to demonstrate the strength of the Ukrainian people and that Canada stands with Ukraine.
Catherine started selling the bracelets to friends and family through social media. Then, as orders were received, people began sharing photos of their bracelets, and the requests kept rolling in. The bracelets are now being worn by people from coast to coast in Canada, the US, the UK, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
Catherine says UNHCR Canada was top of mind when she started researching where to donate. She grew up knowing how much the UN does for people in need around the world, as her grandfather worked for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He travelled around the world helping to create sustainable farming practices in an effort to defeat hunger, and he greatly instilled in her family the importance of helping others in need. She says when she saw the percentage of one’s donation that UNHCR gives directly to aid versus administration costs, it helped solidify her decision that she wanted to help raise money for the organization.
To date, Catherine’s fundraiser has raised around $4,500 — and it’s not over yet. She has partnered with Keir Fine Jewellery to sell the bracelets through their stores in Whistler and Squamish, BC. At $30 per bracelet, each purchase provides $20 to UNHCR’s Ukraine emergency response efforts, and custom orders are available.
“I love receiving messages from people saying they wear their bracelet every day, and how much it means to them,” says Catherine, “One of my favourite purchases was as a welcome gift for a mother and daughter who fled Ukraine. The daughter was presented with her bracelet on her very first day of grade 2, here in Squamish, BC, so she would know she is welcome, supported, and safe”, says Catherine.
Catherine says she hopes others will start fundraisers of their own to donate to UNHCR’s Ukraine emergency response.
“There is so much more funding needed to be able to provide food, water, shelter, healthcare… and every donation, no matter the size, will help.”
Artwork Draw for Ukraine
Back in Ontario, a Barrie-based artist with a close connection to Ukraine rallied her community.
“I am a Canadian artist who has grown up living in a safe place, which we take for granted daily,” says Amber Blythe. “Being married to a Ukrainian immigrant, I have visited Ukraine numerous times, enjoying the incredible people and the beautiful country.
The outbreak of war has been very disturbing for us, concerning our extended family and numerous friends still living there. It impacted me deeply and I wanted to find a way to help those in need.”
Amber says she spent time researching charities involved in assisting Ukraine and noted that UNHCR stood out due to the many types of assistance provided to refugees. With so many people having been displaced worldwide, and their lives drastically disrupted, Amber felt that UNHCR could make the most impact with the funds raised.
Amber involved other artists, MaryAn Blythe and Conrad Mieschke, as well as the Creative Palette, a studio offering art programming and picture framing services to Barrie and surrounding areas, and each lent support through donating artwork and framing. The response from the local artistic community, art collectors, friends and family has been incredible, she says. Together, the donated artworks have raised close to $3,000, with six winners of a draw taking home beautiful pieces. The contributions from participating artists can be viewed here.
“Life is a blank canvas,” says Amber, “In creating, try to make a difference.”