Arts Council of the Valley and Rockingham Fine Arts Association are collaborating with Riner Rentals on a fundraiser to paint the town with abstract images of health care employees as a salute to those on the front lines while raising money for both artists and essential workers.
Twenty artists from the Valley are participating in #artfeltTHANKS, a creative effort that fuses the work of two artists in a yard sign that are being sold for $25 each with half the revenue going to the artists and half a donation to the RMH Foundation Crisis Response Fund, which benefits hospital employees and purchases critical supplies.
“I think it’s fun. I think it’s something that is creative and allows our creative community to continue to be creative but also be supported, and I think it accomplishes the task of really saying thank you to those essential workers,” said Paul Riner of Riner Rentals.
Riner is a member of the Arts Council and RMH Foundation executive boards who first reached out to the local art organizations about how resources could be pooled in solidarity of both creators and workers.
Having taken meals to nurses and helping start the Crisis Response Fund, Riner said he saw a continuous need but wanted to do more.
“The letters and the signs and donations and meals are all great, but I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if one community, the artist community or the art community, could do something really unique based on their skill set and based on their talents to say thank you to those workers?’” he said. “I wanted to do something that would be a little more sustainable and also would be something that would contribute to a fund that would be accessible to all the health care workers at RMH.”
Ten designs are being arranged by Valley photographer Brandy Somers, the graphic designer for the project who created the health care worker template used for each sign. A total of 250 signs are available for purchase, but if the #artfeltTHANKS initiative is successful and sells out quickly, another round of artists will be selected and paired to continue the fundraiser.
Executive director of the Arts Council of the Valley Jenny Burden said the mission of the project to raise money for those in need is its driving force, but the finished product of each sign has resulted in beautiful creations that harmonize and are fit to be stuck in the yard or framed in the home.
“Two artists are coming together on each sign. I love that. The whole arts community, they are just as excited as we are, and not because of the money. They are excited to do something for the health care community,” she said. “We would love to engage every single visual artist in town if we can.”
Ashley Sauder Miller is the lead artist of the program and said artists were in no short supply to participate. As a multi-media artist who specializes in marrying common household shapes to abstract textures and patterns, she said she is excited for her art to be paired with Staunton-based Joshua Yurges, an arborist whose work focuses on layering colored slabs of wood.
“Two artists’ works are essentially sort of puzzle pieces,” Miller said. “A lot of times the work is really different. So, there’s photographs paired with paintings. The color palettes are really different. … Like a floral background paired with an abstract painter’s work, so I think that’s what works with the collages. Color-wise, they work together, but compositionally they’re really different, one from the other.”
Riner Rentals is paying each participating artist a $100 stipend for their submission in addition to the funds raised through yard sign sales.
While artist have been impacted by a decrease of exposure in galleries and exhibitions, Miller said she has most enjoyed being able to dedicate her work to something bigger while the world is holding its breath.
“During this time when a lot of folks — health care workers or front line workers — are leaving their homes and going somewhere to go to work, artists aren’t necessarily doing that. A lot of us have the liberties of working from home studios or our work is kind of in isolation anyway, so it’s neat to be able to use the work we already have and the talents we have to say thank you,” she said. “That’s fulfilling, especially in a time where we’re mostly just sitting, essentially with our hands ties, just sort of waiting this out.”
Twenty signs have been sold of the 250 since the initiative became public on May 16.
“I think that there was kind of a void in Harrisonburg. First Fridays stopped and artists were not able to show their work so, in an art-rich void, people want to do something,” Somers said. “I needed that creative project, that’s something I was missing.”
Garrison Press, a local commercial printer, is producing the signs, and the first batch will be ready on May 29. Orders can be made at valleyarts.org. Free delivery is available for anyone within 5-miles of Harrisonburg and pickup is organized behind the Smith House near Turners Pavilion between 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays.