Good news

Our Place paints young changemakers at centre of fundraising initiative

For the next six weeks, portraits of young local leaders will be up for bid at the Hillside Mall

By Emily Fagan
June 4, 2021
Good news

Our Place paints young changemakers at centre of fundraising initiative

For the next six weeks, portraits of young local leaders will be up for bid at the Hillside Mall

By Emily Fagan
Jun 4, 2021
Sage Lacerte, founder of the Sage Initiative, poses with her portrait. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily
Good news

Our Place paints young changemakers at centre of fundraising initiative

For the next six weeks, portraits of young local leaders will be up for bid at the Hillside Mall

By Emily Fagan
June 4, 2021
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Our Place paints young changemakers at centre of fundraising initiative
Sage Lacerte, founder of the Sage Initiative, poses with her portrait. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

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For the next six weeks, a formerly empty retail space inside the Hillside Mall has been transformed into a place of art, goodwill, and community pride.

On display are 28 portraits of young community members who have made significant contributions to the region—including racial justice leaders, those working to support the unhoused, climate justice activists, a youth poet laureate, and a city councillor. Collectively, these works make up this year’s Portraits of Caring series on Admired Youth, created as a fundraiser for Our Place Society.

“Very few women, youth, and people who do work like me in nonprofits get highlighted in these monumental art pieces. It really is such a point of pride to see so many faces that I recognize ... [including] my own kin, my sister,” said Sage Lacerte, founder of the Sage Initiative and one of the young leaders featured in the fundraiser, as she took in the gallery for the first time.

“This gives us a chance to share our stories.”

At the centre of this project is Elfrida Schragen, a local artist and longtime volunteer with Our Place who has spent the last eight months creating the 28 portraits currently up for auction. She’s volunteered her artistic abilities to Our Place for over a decade, painting portraits of the unhoused community—whom Our Place calls “family members”—and all of the portraits for last year’s fundraiser on Admired Women. 

Due to COVID-19, last year’s fundraiser was run entirely online—community members could donate or bid for each of the paintings, which included prominent local women including Mayor Lisa Helps and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. In spite of the pandemic, Our Place raised almost $50,000 through the auction that year. 

This year, Our Place kept the online site in addition to the gallery, to provide an accessible place to view and bid on the paintings for those who can’t make it in person. They have a goal of $1,000 for each painting, but are welcoming any amount donors are able to give. 

All proceeds go directly to supporting the many programs Our Place offers for Victoria’s unhoused community, including free meals, showers, employment training, and other support services.

“Our funds have been hit by COVID, and so we're just trying to make sure we can do the basics like serve three meals a day, every day,” said Steven Seltzer, Manager of Special Events and Corporate Philanthropy for Our Place.

“We're really trying to find ways to still be able to provide all of our services; we had to cut back on quite a few that were starting to open up again.”

Asiyah Robinson, one of the featured changemakers, says she’s witnessed in others the challenges and grief that the housing and overdose crises have caused in the unhoused community over the past year, and hopes this fundraiser will go a long way in allowing Our Place to support people in this critical time. 

“There are many community members, many friends that I made the beginning of [last] year whose lives have since been lost; a lot of lives lost to overdose or due to literally just freezing to death. It really hits close to home,” she said. 

“I'm just grateful that whatever money will be raised is going to support them.”

These portraits have been a labour of love for Schragen since she first laid brush to canvas on the first one in October 2020. Each took 12-16 hours of careful work, Schragen says, not counting the time spent talking with and photographing each of the young community leaders. 

Elfrida Schragen, the artist behind the portraits, devoted hundreds of hours to creating the portraits. Photo: Emily Fagan / Capital Daily

COVID-safe photoshoots allowed Schragen to get a sense of each subject and their passions, which she tried to incorporate into the portrait. 

Robinson considers herself a person of many identities and interests, something she conveyed in her meeting with Schragen. Since moving to Victoria from the Bahamas, she has taken on a plethora of roles as a community leader, including conducting outreach and support with the unhoused community, leading the Iyé Creative’s food sovereignty and security project within the local African diaspora, and co-organizing the Black Lives Matter actions in the city last summer. 

“She is such a highly dynamic young woman, it was hard to settle on how to capture her,” Schragen said. “So I said, well, I'll do it three ways.”

In Robinson’s portrait, three versions of her are depicted in front of a winding strand of music, which represents her connection to music through her father. In the center reflection of herself, Robinson sees the bright, smiling version of herself others typically see; on the right, is her more intense, stronger resolved self. The final Robinson, on the top left, is a quiet, contemplative young woman. 

Each of these depictions, she feels, are true to who she is, and she feels like she weaves through all of them often.

“I am constantly this ever flowing kind of individual, and so I was genuinely really grateful because I feel like she captured that,” said Robinson.

When Lacerte first saw Schragen’s portrait of her, she was overcome with emotion when she saw the Stellako River—the place on her home territories tied to memories she treasured of  learning to snag salmon and drive a car—in the background. To her, it was like a piece of home.

In the physical and online galleries, each portrait is accompanied by a brief biography of each young community leader to celebrate and share their work.

“It's really inspiring to be alongside all those other youth,” said Emma Jane Burian, a climate justice activist recognized with a 2020 Victoria Leadership Award who is also featured in the fundraiser. “I hope that our story really resonates with people and helps them to see that there are people in the community that really care and that are doing the work, and maybe encourages people to get involved in the work that we're doing.”

Above the portraits of young leaders, some of last year’s Admired Women exhibit is on display in the gallery, to make up for the lack of a contemporaneous public viewing.

“To have the walls lined with women in leadership from across the province, I think, shows us what we’re looking towards as we grow into our leadership,” Lacerte said. “It feels like a legacy project, in a way.”

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