Brush strokes of hope

Society struggles to continue offering all-inclusive studio space

Victoria resident Devorah Stone puts the finishing touches on her painting

Devorah Stone picks up a paint brush, eyes her colourful painting propped up on an easel and dabs on a splash of colour.

“It’s called The Beat Goes On,” she says proudly, taking a step back to admire her handiwork: a large human heart painted in several shades of red, among other colours.

For the past two years the Victoria resident has been a regular fixture at the Pandora Arts Collective Society’s open studio sessions held two afternoons a week in Fernwood.

Each week, between 10 and 20 artists drop by the studio, provided rent-free by the Fernwood Community Association. There, they use free supplies to create paintings, sculptures, sketches and mixed-media works.

The space has served as a lifeline for people, some of whom have physical disabilities or mental health conditions.

But now the society’s future is in jeopardy and it may have to be closed. What little funds the group had have been tapped out.

“We don’t have any sort of steady anything. It’s all private donations,” says Stone, volunteer board vice-president. “We have been living grant to grant.”

The non-profit society needs $1,000 to cover its expenses this month, prompting board members to issue an urgent plea for help. The hope is that 12 people will each donate $1,000 a month for the next three years. Already three donors have stepped forward.

Members pay $10 a month or $2 per drop-in session. Many aren’t able to pay but are welcomed at the studio, regardless.

“We don’t want money to be a barrier,” Stone says.

“The reason that Pandora (Arts) is so great is that it’s for people who can’t afford to take lessons and they can’t afford the materials and supplies, and they can come there and paint,” says society board member Stephanie Taggart.

The initiative began in 2004 as an art therapy program that was funded by the Vancouver Island Health Authority and located on Pandora Avenue. After its funding was cut, several dedicated people worked to keep it going and eventually set up shop in Fernwood.

The act of creating is therapeutic for many, says Clive Beal, society director.

“We’re keeping people out of emergency services.”

The amateur artists treasure the encouragement, support and sense of community they receive at the all-inclusive space.

“It’s kind of a healing process for them to come and paint,” says Taggart, who has been coming to the studio for three years.

Stone, a self-described extrovert, says she felt isolated before attending the open art sessions.

“It’s given me an outlet, my confidence back, friends and a sense of purpose. It’s really been a major part of my life,” she says. “It gives a lot of people a place to go.”

How to help

To make a monetary or in-kind donation to the Pandora Arts Collective Society or  volunteer or participate in the open studio sessions, please call 250-920-7227 and leave a message, or visit www.pandoraarts.ca. Studio sessions happen Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1923 Fernwood Rd. from 12:30 to 4 p.m.