In what may seem like an unlikely connection, two local artists and Bellevue Club members are joining the city of Seattle with the cities of Riga, Latvia and Kharkiv, Ukraine in hopes of bettering the lives of underprivileged children in all three locations. The string that binds it all together: art.
Inese Westcott, a photographer originally from Latvia, and Eva Stephanus, an illustrator and painter born in Ukraine, met in Seattle about seven years ago and became fast friends, bonding over their common passion for the arts.
“One day I said, ‘Eva, listen. I love my job doing photography, and I know you can do great stuff. Why don’t we just do something together and give back in some way?’ ” Westcott says. At the time, Westcott and Stephanus were both already engaged in local charitable work, but they felt they wanted to do something more in line with their personalities, histories and goals.
It took virtually no time to decide the beneficiaries.
“I have always been passionate about children. To me, they are the most important thing. Children are innocent, and I feel like all the attention should be going to them,” Westcott says. The two populations she felt she could help most immediately were naturally Seattle, her current residence, and her hometown, Riga.
“In my case, I didn’t just want to simply support her cause,” Stephanus says. “Ukraine and Russia are in a state of war, and a lot of children are victims, have lost parents and experienced heinous things I can’t even explain. Previously, we’ve had fundraisers where the money provided necessities, money and shelter. But since Art Makes You, we are all about giving back using art.”
Art Makes You is the name they gave their non-profit, which officially launched in September 2014. The women explain that the goal of the organization is to host five-day art camps for underprivileged children in all three countries.
“We chose children 10 to 12 years old because we wanted to find people who are about to get out in life and might not know what to do,” Westcott says. “They might feel lost, and art can help them.” For now, they hope to be able to fund about 10 children per country.
“The idea behind our camp is to help kids in a fun way. So imagine children who do not have much in life going through stress, hard times. Then they get simple healing through art, get fun times by learning a new trade from professionals,” Stephanus says. “The kids will have the chance to be inspired, and then maybe find themselves alive.”
The women say they will work with other prominent professional artists—painters, photographers, actors—in the different locations and have them volunteer to lead classes, reminding children about the possibility of art as a future. “Every child is a creative artist. But then we grow up, and we get concerned with other things. We forget we have these talents,” Westcott says. “We want to keep them exposed to arts.”
This September, the charity’s one-year anniversary, the women are hosting their third fundraiser event at the Gunnar Nordstrom art gallery in Bellevue. They are partnering with local artists of all kinds to create “an enchanting night.” There will be a violinist, classical dancers and more. All proceeds go directly toward Art Makes You.
“The most important thing to get across about our fundraisers is that they’re fun. We want to show the fun side of art. We want it to be different; and there will be a surprise guest, an artist,” Westcott says.
Stephanus adds that she will be creating a special line of t-shirts with her artwork on them, a popular item from the previous two fundraisers.