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Art and altruism

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Last week, Kelsey Bareham planted a forest.

Bareham, the owner of the Whistler Tattoo Company, wanted to help those evacuated from the horrific wildfires in B.C.'s Interior — and she did, by tattooing one tree at a time onto willing customers.

The money raised — 147 tattoos made, with donations reaching $8,000 as of July 25 — went to the BC Red Cross, which is coordinating relief efforts from Kamloops.

Bareham told me she wanted to help after a friend lost property at Loon Lake, and because she lived through the terrible Kelowna fire of 2003.

I didn't take much convincing, and am now the proud owner of a Sitka spruce on my left forearm, my first inking ever.

I had wussed out for years, wanting to get a tattoo in my 20s but not going for it.

Back in the glory days of hardcore punk gigs in the late '80s, I had buddies in bands dedicate songs to me like the never-to-be-forgotten, "I Have Every Right to Tell You to Fuck Right Off!" (sung with affection), and this put me ahead of the curve when it came to being desirous of piercings and tattoos. But alas, it was not to be.

So for all of you middle-aged hesitants who never went for ink in 1991 because you were afraid of the pain, or the reaction at job interviews, or you were broke, I can assure you that the experience is worth it. Lots of people thought so.

Bareham was stunned by the dozens of Whistlerites who wanted to take part, and even more surprised when the CBC and local media followed up the social media posts she made to advertise the fundraiser. She said they plan to continue to do them until Saturday, July 29.

Her work can be seen in the social media world under the hashtag #trees4BC.

That's the thing about art. The statements it can make in times of great need cannot be easily matched — they can be in equal terms provocative, comforting and powerful.

A tree is a perfect answer to these Interior fires, a reminder of what will grow from the ashes created this summer.

And from now on, there will be a small segment of Whistler residents and visitors who are part of an intimate club, who spent $100 (or a little less, it was by donation) to help others.

The day after I gained my tree, I was sitting in Blenz with friends Linda Epp and Angie Nolan talking about another important way to help others, and how art may be a part of it.

Epp is the organizer of the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil to remember missing and murdered indigenous women.

She said the vigil and accompanying march has gotten greater recognition and more participants from year one to year two in 2015 and 2016, and she wanted its third event on Oct. 4 to have even more meaning.

She is currently trying to find ways to create a fundraising side for Sisters in Spirit, and is looking into who most needs support.

Epp told us that art would be at the centre of the day.

At the moment the idea is for performed readings of the stories of the missing women — some of whom are from our own Squamish and Lil'wat Nation communities.

And she will be repeating the moving red dress installation, in which red dresses stand in for those women who are not with us (she is happy to take dress donations and suggestions for other ways to remember and reflect).

If you want to help or have ideas, she would love to hear from you at 1lindaepp@gmail.com.

Epp also spoke of a hesitancy of doing something in Whistler that might be perceived as "political." She told me she had experienced reluctance in getting help from some quarters in the resort.

She got me thinking.

Why is it that helping one group of people survive a life-and-death emergency is seen as altruistic and humane, and helping another group also trying to survive a life-and-death emergency is complicated, political and somehow less worthy?

Let's see if we can't get red dresses up in stores, hotels and even the muni office on Oct. 4 and remember our sisters in the spirit they deserve.

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