Affordable Art: Timeraiser

February 27th, 2009


A few years ago I found myself unemployed (self-inflicted) and going back to school to find myself (update: found). I had some time on my hands and wanted to do something meaningful. Literally a few days before I finished at my job, I came across an advertisement in NOW Magazine for an event that peaked my interest. It was the Framework Foundation Timeraiser, an art auction where you bid your time in volunteer hours for a piece of art.

A quick overview of the event: The first two hours you are able to mingle, eat hors d’oevres, have a drink, look at the art (and make the difficult decision of which one you want the most), and most importantly, talk with agencies to find out which ones you’d fit with the most. There is a huge variety of agencies to volunteer for, from the arts, environmental concerns, social services, health, sports, international development and more. Then, the one-hour bidding period for the silent auction begins. At the end of that you know whether you won your piece and how many hours you will have to fulfill in order to finally receive the piece. What I think is so neat about this event is that everyone who registers to attend the event pledges to complete 20 hours of volunteering, regardless of if they bid on artwork.

The concept was right up my alley and I had been wanting to get into volunteering, so I solicited my friend Marie-Claire to come with me.


“I went to the Timeraiser with few expectations.
The concept intrigued me, though: being pauper poor, but a lover of art, it was just too good to pass up.

And then, of course, I saw my painting and lost my head.


Blue Landscape with Hi-Rise
Jaclyn Shoub, 2000
mylar mounted on masonite
18” x 12”

After winning the bidding war, I set about finding an organization that would have me and keep me for a long term commitment.

I finally found, after some bouncing around, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind: I passed the interview process, I committed to a twice-weekly volunteer schedule of narrating books onto CD, and I started cheking off my hours.

I had one year to accumulate 250 hours of volunteer work before getting my painting and being able to hang it on my wall. Which comes to 4.8 hours a week. Every week. I counted. Obsessively.

I won’t lie, it was a long haul, but the organisation and the work they had me do was a perfect match to me… I’ve scaled back on the hours I do now, but I continue to actively work for them.

The painting itself is probably the single most precious object I own, the one thing I cannot imagine relegating to the storage unit for any length of time.

At first glance, it’s not that much to look at. The colours are overwhelmingly grey and black and blue. It’s mixed media and has a small cityscape lifted off what seems like a photocopy and a bridge to nowhere that dissolves into mist.

The condo I live in now is very minimalist, with few objects and little space. Three of my walls are westward facing floor to ceiling windows, which makes for very bright, very agressive light all afternoon.

I’ve hung the painting in the (seldom used) first floor bathroom.


I like that it’s recessed (and protected from harmful UV rays) where it hangs, and that it contrasts with the orange and coffee brown that dominates the space. It’s one of the few non-reflective surfaces, too, what with it not being behind glass. The painting offers an almost demure alternate vista to the landlocked cityscape seen from our 13th story windows. It’s something you have to peer into instead of being exposed to.

I love it.”


I love how Marie-Claire completely glazed over the process of bidding. People, it was FIERCE! I was watching my piece on the other side of the room and it was noticeable that there was a lot of interest in it, what with all the people hovering about acting all nonchalant (myself included). About halfway through the hour long bidding period, pieces started to go off the auction block. After investigating we discovered that people were just making the rules up on their own and instead of bidding in 5 hour increments, they were just jumping straight to the top (250 hours!–this was about 4 years ago but in recent years they have slimmed that number down to a more doable 150). For about 10 minutes I was very haughty. Then I grabbed the pen and joined the illegal bidders figuring it was me or someone else that was going to make the forbidden move. That piece was MINE (for 250 hours). There was still 20 minutes left so we wandered back over to Marie-Claire’s piece. People were behaving more civil, but not for long. A few minutes before the end Marie-Claire held her breath and dove in, taking on 250 hours with the knowledge that she also had a full-time job to go to.

I worked my hours away helping out with the Contact Toronto Photography Festival delivering catalogs, working the opening party and doing admin work, assisting with activities at Kensington Gardens Health Centre and helping to facilitate youth committee meetings at the Delisle Youth Services yearly youth art gallery project.

My piece:


[Installment in upstairs hallway. The cat is Grover, and don’t let him fool you. He is the most spoiled cat around and lives a grand life of luxury]

Crosstown Drawings: Footbridge
Beth Howe, 2004
Thread stitched into paper

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a proper full shot because it is so subtle looking and the glass reflects everything. So here are a bunch of close ups:




A keen eye may notice that this is the windmill at the Ex and the bridge is the white one that spans from the Ex to Ontario Place. I am a huge fan of local art, especially that which depicts local scenes.

I am so proud of Marie-Claire for completing her hours and getting her piece, as I am myself. Both of us are still volunteering with the agencies we started with.This is my 4th year helping out with the Delisle Youth Gallery. I act on the adult committee, give presentations on graphic design and picking a gallery theme, I help the youth in designing the promotional materials and take photographs at the opening (April 2, 2009 – 2nd floor of the Northern District Public Library, 40 Orchard View Boulevard, Suite 255).

The next Timeraiser in Toronto is March 21. Hamilton, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa all have their own Timeraisers.

I highly recommend the experience.

Photos 1, 4, 5, 6, 7: Juli Daoust
Photos 2 & 3: Marie-Claire LaFlair

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