The Pure Art Foundation’s extended family seems to have increased every day since its start about four years ago.
Its flagship Pure Art boutique in Hudson expanded to Westmount last year, its group of volunteers who build houses in Peru every March is bigger than ever and its projects in the developing world will soon extend to Africa. So there are many people who count themselves part of the ever-widening Pure Art family.
But at the core of this community group is a real family — Brigitte and Robert McKinnon and their five gifted sons, who are an integral part of the foundation’s activities.
The eldest son, artist and illustrator Sebastian, 22, has created an original line of Christmas cards with 100 per cent of profits going to the education of children in a poverty-stricken region of Peru. For $10 a package, the One School for All campaign (which happens every Christmas) hopes to finance a year of school for 265 students and is under way right now.
But all the McKinnon brothers play a big part in their parents’ foundation.
Benjamin, 21, is a filmmaker whose work can be seen on the Pure Art website, among other places; Samuel, 18, studies international business and Liam, 17, pursues a career in journalism. The youngest is Renault, 14, a student at Collège Bourget who “helps out in countless ways and keeps the wind in our sails,” says his father.
Pure Art Foundation is a registered numbered Canadian charity and its store is also now a member of the Fair Trade Federation.
“Fair trade has always been our way of doing business,” Robert said. “But we are very proud to be a Fair Trade Federation member. What it means is that you must be screened to be in compliance with the nine principles of fair trade — principles like capacity building that go beyond just prices and costs.”
For both Pure Art co-founders, sustainability is the key to everything they do.
“What we realized when we got into this world is that you need to create ongoing programs,” Robert said. “You don’t just come in for a one-time deal.”
Added Brigitte, “Right now, there are six sewing machines supplied by Pure Art in the Amazon. The women of the Shipabo tribe who use them are helping lift their children and communities out of poverty by creating the beautiful products you see in our boutiques — and moving on to making other things as well. They had these remarkable skills. We just gave them some tools and a market for their work.”
Robert elaborated: “We want to remain long-term partners with these artisans and bring forward other projects as well,” he said. “There are lots of issues, of course — quality control, for example. And you pay in advance of purchase, not afterward. So it’s about commitment on both sides.”
Brigitte McKinnon never buys a product for the Pure Art boutiques without personally checking where it comes from and how it was produced.
“We are extremely careful about the products we carry,” she explained. “Before we agree to carry any item, we make sure that it is produced according to Fair Trade practices.”
The McKinnons will be heading to Tanzania in a few weeks to visit a women’s centre in Moshi at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro where Canadian doctor, Karen Yeates, is helping care for the women there. Yeates’ proposed project to found a mobile health clinic to screen women for cervical cancer has the McKinnons especially interested.
“We’re very inspired by what Dr. Yeates is doing,” said Robert. “No doubt this kind of clinic aimed at preventative medicine will encounter the wide range of other health issues that also threaten these women, including HIV and AIDS.”
During their January trip, the McKinnons will be seeing what crafts by local artisans can be brought to Canada for sale, with profits sent back to Tanzania to fund the mobile clinic.
“Art can heal,” said Brigitte McKinnon. “I’ve known that for a long time now.”
As Pure Art expands its mission, it seems to be a vision more convincing every day.
For more information on the Pure Art Foundation and how you can obtain Christmas cards, go to: www.pureartfoundation.org