How's this for a bargain? For a few volunteer hours, this art inside Honest Ed's could be yours

"An Honest Farewell" offers a preview of a unique art auction — one taking place in 10 Canadian cities.

'An Honest Farewell' offers a preview of a unique art auction taking place in 10 Canadian cities

"Time and Place" is an original piece created by Ness Lee and Tessar Lo for "An Honest Farewell," the four-day art festival happening at Honest Ed's in Toronto. (Courtesy of Devan Patel)

Through Sunday, Honest Ed's is hosting "An Honest Farewell." It's an art festival as sprawling and eclectic as the Toronto landmark — one featuring art installations, music, theatre, dance and community workshops. Guests will be roaming the place all weekend, breathing in one last lung-full of vaguely mothballed air while partying in rooms that once sold super-cheap housewares, groceries and "fashion pants."

It's the "first, last and only" event of its kind, per its tagline, because after the weekend, the legendary store and its neighbouring strip of businesses will be flattened, making way for a brand new residential development.

The site-specific art inside will presumably disappear, too — with or without the help of a wrecking ball. But there are a few pieces you'll definitely have the chance to see again — and maybe even own.


Toronto artists Tessar Lo and Ness Lee have collaborated on a black-and-white mural especially for "An Honest Farewell." It's called "Time and Place," and as Lee explains, the piece is meant to commemorate both the event and the city's memories of the Mirvish Village neighbourhood.

That's not the piece you'll see again, though. (Nobody's talking about extracting the mural from Honest Ed's once the party's over. Not yet, anyway — though if we had the skills, we'd happily work the crane.)

But their project is connected to a larger presentation at the festival, one being put on by Timeraiser.

Timeraiser's an event — a series of parties, really. They happen in communities all across Canada, and they've been running since 2004, produced by a charity called Framework Foundation.

Like what you see? For a few volunteer hours, it could be yours. Installation view of Timeraiser auction items currently on display at Honest Ed's. (Courtesy of Timeraiser)

Essentially, it's an art auction with a twist. Instead of money, people bid with volunteer hours.

The artists involved get paid; Timeraiser invests old-fashioned cash in the art community, buying original work based on reco's from city-specific teams of art experts. In turn, their local non-profit partners get fresh volunteers.

And the winning bidders? They might get more out of it than anyone — especially if they're lacking the cashflow to start building an art collection.

Winners get art they love — and they're introduced to volunteer opportunities and community groups they might not have known about before. (The organization says it puts a priority on finding "skill-based" opportunities across a variety of sectors.)

Alongside Lee and Lo's mural, Timeraiser is showing a broad selection of the works that'll be up for auction at their Toronto event, May 24 at the Power Plant.

Through Sunday, you can catch this sneak peek alongside Lee and Lo's work. There are 23 works by artists including Michael Vickers and Nicole Charles.  

This piece by Farihah Shah, "Untitled P8 Prefix," will be auctioned at Timeraiser's Toronto event at the Power Plant. (Courtesy of Timeraiser)
"Your Gold" by Michael Vickers will be auctioned at Timeraiser's Toronto party May 24. (Courtesy of Timeraiser)

As for the mural, it might be hard to see how it fits into the project — which is why visitors should take an extreme close-up look.

Underneath the painting, which features a pair of pillowy nudes — familiar iconography for the two — they've created a pattern of three dimensional shapes. There are letters and numbers and "quirky" characters and objects. If you grab some of the crayons and paper provided on site, make a "rubbing" of the wall.

Volunteers will be collecting everyone's artwork because the papers will be transformed in an upcoming art installation, one that's going up at Timeraiser's Power Plant gala.

It's helped me think more about the purpose of my art.- Ness Lee, artist

As Lee tells CBC Arts, she had never heard of the initiative before submitting work for their auction this year. The fact they pay artists, she says, is "empowering," but she says she's benefited from the project in other ways.

"It's helped me think more about the purpose of my art and what I'm doing with it," she says. "Just the intention that you put forward with your work — not just for creation or self-improvement and introspection, but also what your art does to others, for others and how it exists in the world. It made me think about that way more."


Jaime Robson, managing director of Framework Foundation (which produces the events), says this year's offering will cover more of the country than they've been able to in the past, thanks to a Canada 150 heritage grant.

Because of that funding, they're expanding to hold 10 events in 10 cities (Calgary, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Halifax, Montreal, Regina, St. John's, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg).

In addition, they'll launch something called Online 150 later this year, which takes their art-auction model online, opening it up to artists and bidders and non-profits everywhere in Canada, not just those 10 cities. (An artist search for that project begins later this spring, Robson says.)

According to Robson, they plan to invest a minimum of $200,000 in original art, purchased from emerging artists in their partner centres, with a goal of acquiring between 300-400 works in total. (The average "price" of a piece at auction is 100 hours, according to their website.)

They're still in the process of selecting items for all the events, Robson says. The details of their non-profit partnerships are also a work in progress, although this year's applications for both categories are both closed.

Like the "sneak peek" at Honest Ed's, Robson says there are plans to stage similar previews in all 10 cities. So far, Montreal is the only city with confirmed plans. They'll be at the C2 conference in May, showcasing auction pieces at Arsenal.


For some artists, the opportunity to show work in one of these events can have real-world benefits — professional connections, or just the opportunity to be exhibited in institutions otherwise out of their reach.

Devan Patel, a Toronto art consultant and gallery owner, represents Lee and Lo through his company Art Works Consulting. "It's such a great context for an emerging artist to have their work in the Power Plant," he says. "Having institutions feature emerging artists' work is such a big deal."

Patel is currently a member of the jury that selected art for Timeraiser's upcoming Toronto party, but before working with the organization, he says he found himself discovering new talent through their events. He cites photography and installation-based artist Matt Waples as an example. "I personally purchased his work and did a show with him. And that was how I became aware of his work."

For Lee, though, she's gotten something different out of the experience. "It's [offered] another purpose to art beyond buying and selling and collecting and everything." She laughs: "That's been much of my world as of late."

"It's a nice perspective shift, just realizing there's a more wholesome life through art, too."

An Honest Farewell. To Feb. 26 at Honest Ed's, Toronto. ("Time and Place" by Ness Lee and Tessar Lo is accessible through all festival tickets.)

Timeraiser 150 Toronto. May 24 at The Power Plant. (Info on events happening in 10 cities around the country can be found at their website. Some details TBA.)


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