Mike Voskamp couldn't pay for a website to showcase his artwork, but with a $1,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation, the man who's often called Cowboy Mike because of his ever-present cowboy hat now has one under construction.
Voskamp is one of 67 artists that each received $1,000 from the Vancouver Foundation's DTES Small Arts Grants project this year. Another 67 artists received grants last year.
Forty-eight of the artists from the latest round will show their art or perform at the DTES Sm'arts show at Gallery Gachet, May 25.
The Vancouver Foundation wanted to apply the success of its Neighbourhood Small Grants program, which gives up to $500 to residents for community initiatives, to another realm when the Carnegie Community Centre proposed providing grants to the plethora of artists who live, work or play in the Downtown Eastside.
"They really don't have a lot of places to go for funding. The only place they really have to go is Canada Council, and you have to be a very, very well established artist," said Meriko Kubota, manager of grants and community initiatives for the Vancouver Foundation. "So we felt that this was an opportunity to support arts, but also economic viability of artists so they can actually make an income from their work."
The DTES Small Arts Grants program supports artists at different stages in their careers. Some need to expand their portfolios or organize a show that could shoot them to the next level. As with neighbourhood grants, a panel of peers juries submissions.
This year, the Vancouver Foundation and its partner the Carnegie Community Centre ran targeted outreach workshops to help potential grant seekers with their applications and Vancity led sessions on financing and marketing.
"Next year, we're hoping to build on that and do a lot more capacity building, not just granting," Kubota said.
Applicants must explain who they are and what they want to do. Those deemed eligible then must provide further information and budgets.
Voskamp applied with artwork on a napkin last year but he couldn't complete the second stage of the application process because of "illiteracy."
He can read but can't spell or write.
His girlfriend helped him apply this year.
Voskamp sketches his surroundings on napkins with felt pen, likening what he does to brush strokes on rice paper.
"You can get a different kind of line by the speed of the pen. You can get a fine line by quick one and you can let it flare out," he said. "It makes you move along so you can't really con-trive and think."
He photocopies his illustrations and paints them with coloured ink.
The Gallery Gachet show will be the second exhibit to feature the 57-year-old's work. Voskamp, who completed a year of art school at Sheridan College near Toronto, saw his work exhibited when he was in his 20s, but he didn't feel like his work was developed enough then.
But the Downtown Eastside resident, who last Saturday became a father again, hopes to showcase and sell his comic-book style illustrated novel and transferred-from-napkin scenes on his website alongside paid advertisements. His sister who's a curator at an art gallery north of Toronto is also promoting the former construction worker art.
Visitors to DTES Sm'arts will see a blown-up version of Voskamp's view of Victory Square on a large canvas alongside two or three smaller works.
They'll see visual art, artists' websites, a documentary about schizophrenia made by filmmaker Andy Fiore, and from 6 p.m., bands, Chinese opera, theatre and poetry.
The opening runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at 88 East Cordova St. DTES Sm'arts runs at Gallery Gachet until June 3.
The Vancouver Foundation expects to fund 67 more artists next year. For more information about the program and past recipients, see vancouverfoundationsmallarts.ca.
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