ARTIST Stuart Semple says he has been inspired by feedback from families helped by a fund he set up with Dorset Community Foundation to help even more people in poverty.
The 40-year-old, who earlier this year opened a gallery in his home town of Bournemouth, set up the Designs For Humanity Fund with Dorset Community Foundation two years ago, using profits from the sales of thousands of special edition Christmas art tins through his Culture Hussle website.
At Christmas the fund donated £20,000 to provide 352 Christmas hampers, toy vouchers and other goodies to 352 families through Christchurch, Poole and Wimborne foodbanks and Citygate Church in Bournemouth.
Mr Semple, who opened GIANT at The Avenue in February, said: “We had originally thought of setting up our own charity but being a partner with Dorset Community Foundation made it so easy and we were able to get the fund up and running really quickly. The way the fund is done well and properly, and it’s thorough and robust.”
He met the community foundation through its sponsorship of the Dorset Art Prize at Bournemouth and Poole College, where he first studied art. “I got to know them and thought it is a really beautiful and simple way to give back at a local level that actually made total sense,” he said.
The community foundation provides a yearly impact report that shows how the fund has helped, together with feedback from the groups it funded and their beneficiaries. One mum who received a hamper from Wimborne Foodbank wrote: “I was a bit overwhelmed at the amount of items, thoughtfulness and generosity. It means a great deal to receive this help, making those of us who are struggling feel like human beings.”
Mr Semple said: “You read the report and you think ‘wow, this is real, these are real human beings here that we helped’. It’s awesome, why else would you do it?”
He said the impact it has had on people has encouraged him to think about expanding the fund. “I think fundamentally it would have to be more fundraising because, whether we like it or not, art is a bit of a luxury,” he said.
“The reality of it is telling people in poverty ‘here’s art’ when they are thinking ‘I need nappies and I can’t get to work because I have no petrol’. So art comes a lot later in the process because you have to deal with the direct need.
You read the report and you think ‘wow, this is real, these are real human beings here that we helped
“There needs to be some understanding of how we can help families in poverty, what they need and what a route out of poverty looks like. Is it about raising aspirations of what’s possible?”
He also plans to use the new gallery to encourage the next generation of artists, just as he was when he studied at Poole.
“We are thinking about an education programme and how we can integrate the community and also how we can bring bigger, more inspiring and challenging work to Bournemouth,” he said.
“It seems to me that people need a way into art, there’s an apprehension about it so we are looking at being an encouragement to get them in the door an interacting with it and not making it scary or elitist or weird. I don’t know how we get there but we will.”
Dorset Community Foundation director Grant Robson said: “Stuart is an inspiration not just to lovers of art but to all of us in the voluntary sector because his passion for helping people is so strong.
“We are delighted to work with him on Designs For Humanity and really excited to see where his energy takes it next.”