Art for Change are a group of artists who donate time and art to help humanity. Based in Auckland they assist not-for-profit and community groups to raise awareness and funds for their causes via exhibitions, talks, concerts and other events. In the following interview co-founder Brenda Liddiard talks to Iain McIntyre about the group’s formation and activities and offers advice to others thinking of working along similar lines.
When did Art For Change first come together and what inspired its founders to start the group?
The group started in 2016, after I was inspired to paint a number of pictures around the issue of refugees – particularly boat refugees. And it began for me with the revelation that the Australian government had been paying people smugglers to take refugees back to where they had embarked on the boat. I was so outraged by that, and then came all the terrible stories about what was happening in European waters, with so many people drowning because of the totally inadequate vessels they were put into by people smugglers.
So then I had all these paintings and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. At the time I was painting with a group of artists once a week, and I knew some of them were concerned about the refugee issue too, so I approached four other women and asked if they’d be interested in putting a fundraising exhibition together, to raise money for refugee organisations. So that’s what we did.
You held one group exhibition with the theme of ‘Where Shall We Call Home?’ in 2017 and have a second coming up in September 2019 around ‘Nourishing The Roots Of Empathy’. Can you tell us about each show?
Where Shall We Call Home? aimed to highlight the plight of refugees around the world, and particularly those coming to Australasia. It also raised awareness around the work of refugee organisations in Auckland, and money to help them assist refugees restarting their lives in New Zealand. These organisations were the New Zealand Red Cross Resettlement Programme, and the Auckland Refugee Family Trust (who help families with the finance for airfares to bring other family members, who are often trapped in refugee camps or other unsafe places, to join them in New Zealand). This exhibition resulted in a huge diversity of work, some of which can be seen on the Art for Change website.
Nourishing the Roots of Empathy: Towards a Non-Violent New Zealand has the theme of empathy/compassion/non-violence, and will raise awareness and funds for Roots of Empathy. They are an international organisation working with young children to help them understand their own, and others’ emotions, learning to walk in another’s shoes.
The programme is hugely successful around the world, but is short of funding in New Zealand, where it needs to expand in order to meet the needs of schools struggling with increasing bullying and aggression in their communities. We hope that publicity generated by the exhibition and our special event on the UN International Day of Non-Violence will help to bring pressure to bear on the government to assist with funding.
What range of activities does Art For Change cover?
Our main activities are fundraising themed exhibitions, and we’ve also done one fundraising art sale. We also instigated, and helped to organise, a special event, also in the gallery while our ‘Where Shall We Call Home’ exhibition was running, to celebrate World Refugee Day. This was facilitated by the NGOs we were working with, who brought together a number of fascinating speakers and performers. It was extremely well attended.
Another event we organised during the same exhibition was a fundraising concert, with a number of local performers. This also was very popular.
Tell us about the open themed Pop Up Art Sale that you held?
The idea for the Pop Up Art Sale came up when I saw a request for donations from the Auckland Refugee Family Trust, who we raised funds for in 2017. They had several families desperate for money to bring family members to New Zealand and were short of funds. (They don’t receive any funding from the government and are totally reliant on public donations). We went back to our artist networks, and everyone else we could think of, and asked people to donate artworks for a sale which was held in a community hall over one weekend. There wasn’t a theme for the sale, just whatever artists, or anyone else, wanted to give. This was also really successful, and resulted in ARFT being able to help several refugee families be reunited.
You’ve also held a solo exhibition of Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary’s work. How did the connection with him come about and how did the show and his artist talk go?
Ali was one of the artists from our first exhibition, who was himself a refugee. We were put in touch with him by the Red Cross. This exhibition opportunity was very important for him, as his English is very poor, and he had no idea how to go about finding a gallery to show his work. Because of our relationship with Depot Artspace, where the first exhibition was held, and the experience we had from organising that exhibition, we were then able to make Ali’s show very successful, in fact all his works sold, which was very significant for him.
At his artist talk he basically showed people all his materials and the special bamboo pens he makes himself, and demonstrated how he does his calligraphy. Because his English is not very good, he didn’t actually talk very much. But people were fascinated to watch his skill with the inks, and he was very encouraged by the interest people had in his work, and the questions they asked.
I have some questions about practicalities in terms of the group fundraising exhibitions. With the group shows, how have you gone about sourcing artworks?
Nearly all the artists who contribute live in the Auckland area, so we provide 3 drop-off sites in different parts of the city for people to deliver their work. The few artists from outside Auckland who want to contribute courier their work to us, at their own expense. We make it quite clear in our call-out notices that we don’t have funding to pay for transport, either before or after the exhibition. So it’s up to the artists whether they want to take that on as part of their ‘donation’ to the cause.
In terms of dimensions of artwork, our two major exhibitions have TWO format options. One is for 25 x 25 cm works (most people use ready stretched canvases, but they don’t have to). These are hung as what we call a ‘Montage Wall’, or a grid format (see photos from our 2017 exhibition). The other option is for works of different sizes, but no larger than 100 x 100 cm. We don’t specify any particular framing requirements. As well as paintings we also accept sculpture, jewellery, ceramics, etc.
Does the artist or group decide on pricing? Do you allow people to charge a commission?
We ask artists to specify a price, but if they don’t want to do that, we decide on pricing in conjunction with the gallery curators (we co-curate the exhibitions). The 25 x 25 cm works are all a set price ($150), and no commission is paid on those. For other works, artists can charge up to 30%, but we make it clear we’d prefer all the works to be totally donated. For the 2017 show, out of 50 artists we only had 6 who asked for commission, and they were all professional artists who donated significant works.
Has it been easy to find spaces to exhibit in and have you had to pay for them?
Our two major exhibitions are held in the same gallery, a community focused gallery called Depot Artspace, in the Auckland suburb of Devonport. They are extremely supportive of groups whose focus is to highlight social issues, and who are working for positive social change. Not all the shows in the gallery have this kind of focus, but a substantial number do, to some degree. So when I approached them with our proposal for the refugee show, they were immediately on board. That exhibition was so successful, and the gallery was so delighted with the community interest and involvement, that they didn’t hesitate to accept our proposal for the Roots of Empathy exhibition this year. Sayed Ali Karam Jawhary’s exhibition was also held in the same gallery.
We do have to pay gallery fees, and we cover these by applying for funding from various sources, including the local council. Our Pop Up Art Sale was held in a community hall in another suburb, and we had to pay for that too.
What have you found to be the most effective way to promote these events?
Activating community and organisation networks, on-line or otherwise, is definitely the most effective advertising tool. We use Facebook a lot. With the refugee exhibition, the organisations we were working for and with used their extensive membership databases to promote the exhibition. We also managed to get some newspaper and magazine coverage, and a bit of radio promotion. We didn’t pay for any of this. The gallery also has a substantial database for their regular newsletter. We also printed posters, flyers, and sent out invitations to as many people as we could think of, including some known art buyers.
For our upcoming exhibition we have found a supportive media person to help, particularly with trying to get some radio and TV coverage. Not sure yet how successful that will be.
Any other tips or suggestions for anyone who’s thinking of running similar events?
Planning is extremely important. You need to be thinking a long way in advance. For instance, if you want to use a gallery that accepts proposals, you usually need to be applying towards the end of the year before you want to run your show. That means you need to be planning your proposal in the middle of that previous year.
Also create a media plan: What outlets will you target? What will be your approach to them? When do you need to make that approach? Who will do what?
You ideally need someone in your organising group who is good with graphic design. We’re very lucky in that one of our people has her own graphic design business, and she’s very good! This can save you a lot of money, and everyone will be impressed if your promotional material is of a professional standard.