Culled craft for a cause

Art From the Attic turns donated art into AIDS relief funds

Jean Altemeyer is one of the organizers of Art from the Attic, a sale of used artwork to raise money for AIDS relief in sub-Saharan Africa. (Photo by Leigh Lugosi)

A group of philanthropic Winnipeg seniors are repurposing donated artwork to raise proceeds for AIDS relief in sub-Saharan Africa.

Art From the Attic (AFTA) is a charity sale in which art from donors across the city is sold to help grandmothers in Africa who are raising grandchildren orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.

This year’s AFTA sale takes place on Oct. 2 at St. Vital Centre.

“(Beginning in the 1980s) AIDS was rampant in Africa, and people were dying,” event coordinator Beverly Suek says. “They lost the middle generation. The grandmothers didn’t get AIDS. Their children got AIDS and left behind children (of their own). And so the grandmothers had to step in to take care of their grandchildren, because there was nobody else.”

The proceeds AFTA raises will be distributed through the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) into several programs to help with housing, education and hospice care.

The Winnipeg incarnation of the program began in 2015 when volunteer Enid Butler from Grands ‘n’ More, a subdivision of the SLF, took note of their Saskatchewan peers’ fundraiser. Returning with a binder full of ideas from their sister chapter, they got straight to work.

“It’s all donations ... from right across Winnipeg. Homes, generous people who are giving up their art. There is no charitable donation to it, there’s no tax credit, so it’s all lovely people who heard about it and know about the reason why we’re doing it,” volunteer Wilma Sotas says.

“People like to know that their art that they’re not really looking at is going somewhere that people will appreciate it. It’s good for everybody,” Suek says.

The fundraising project has a personal connection for Suek, who lost her son early in the AIDS epidemic, at a time when awareness about the illness was scarce.

“When it started here, he was probably the 13th person to die of AIDS, so we could get no information on what AIDS was and how it was transmitted,” she says.

Prices for the AFTA event range from $5 to $500. Pieces include Cubist works to slice-of-life pieces evoking Norman Rockwell to Indigenous oeuvres, and the sale boasts a true omnium gatherum of artwork, both local and foreign. Among the Manitoban artists with featured work for sale are Tony Tascona, Aliana Au and Hubert Theroux.

Both Suek and Sotas stress the goodwill the project spreads beyond its altruistic objective.

“We felt that because many of us were of the age who were moving out of their homes, and there seemed to be no place other than the landfill for this art,” Sotas says. “The idea is cooperation, cooperativeness, generosity and sharing for everybody in our society.”

“It’s a great way for women of a certain age to get together and to do something positive and meet other people, so it’s also good for us as well as good for the grandmothers in Africa,” Suek says.

Just don’t call these more-than-capable go-gooders “spry.”

“I just object to these things in the newspaper about, oh, an elderly woman crossing the road, and she’s 60 years old or something, like they have no brains,” Suek says.

Art From the Attic takes place Sunday, Oct. 2 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Published in Volume 77, Number 02 of The Uniter (September 15, 2022)

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