What was the best welcome you had over the holidays? No doubt, food and friendliness were both involved. Heart and Home, an art exhibit and fundraiser for RIAC (the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council) is offering the same, along with a chance for one person’s artwork to live on in homes across the city.

They’ll be accepting artwork based on the theme “welcome” until the end of the month, when it will all become part of a public exhibit at The Sprout and at Our Art Gallery (located at RIAC headquarters,) in February. During that time, a crew of judges (including Hilary Winter, director of Gallery 24, and Overcast writer, Emily Deming) will pick one piece to be produced as a limited edition print.

Artists are encouraged to imagine the theme of “welcome” as broadly as they’d like- it’s a complicated concept when you think about it, with a lot of possible interpretations, both cheerful and challenging. There are no age limits, and the exhibit is open to professional and amateurs. Graphic design, drawing, painting, photography and most other media will be accepted-  it just has to be able to hang on a wall.

Along with raising money through the sale of the prints and a closing party on February 28th at the Sprout (music and food will be involved, but they’ll announce the details later this month), RIAC also hopes the event will help raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities faced by refugees and immigrants to this province, including those who have been affected by the situation in Syria.

Visual art has emerged as an important aspect of RIAC’s work helping newcomers adapt to life here.  “For some of our clients, art is a universal language, a way to freely express themselves, even as they are working hard to adapt to a new language, new people, and a new reality in Canada,” explains Natasha Blackwood, RIAC’s Fundraising Coordinator (and keyboardist with rock and roll favourites, the Long Distance Runners.)

“They’re in a new place, but they are still able to communicate through drawing or painting, just like they did before they arrived. We see it as a way for them to connect with what they’re leaving behind, but also with their new communities.”

Julia Bloomquist, one of the event organizers, is also optimistic that the event will help artists join in making St. John’s a hospitable place for newcomers, by offering a way to contribute that doesn’t require making a large cash donation.

“So many people are interested in lending a hand these days. Heart and Home is a way to let people contribute to an important cause through art,” says Bloomquist. “I’d also like to give a big shout-out to our sponsors, including Quikprint, Gallery 24, the Idea Factory, and the Sprout, specifically new owners, Greg Dunn and Elizabeth Mysyk. Thanks to all!”

Submissions of art will be accepted at RIAC’s headquarters at 206 Water St until January 22nd. For full details, please visit www.riac.ca.