The JTMF West Origin Story

JTMF (1)  

By Leah Cavanagh

I was delighted to sit down with Joyce LaBriola, Artistic Director of JTMF West (JTMF stands for James Tolin Memorial Fund), to chat about the cause we’re mutually passionate about, HIV and AIDS, learn more about the event she produces, Artists for Life, and what drives her daily.

In the beginning…

Joyce is a Jersey girl, and her activist roots run deep in her home state. She told me about how, when she was back in New Jersey and attending theatre school, her friend James Tolin died of AIDS-related illness. His memory, and his family, became the inspiration for their first event: a two-night zero-dollar-budget, production of “Jeffrey”.

That first production saw Joyce and three of her friends assume an unstoppable attitude, determined to make the event happen “to help take care of his parents” in light of the extreme financial stress James’ palliative care put on his parents. In two nights they raised about $7000.

Thinking back on that event, Joyce says “you know when you do something, and you try for the first time, and it feels…right? Like, this is my purpose. Which sounds rather trite, but that’s what it felt like.” It was then that Joyce and her best friend Tracy vowed to make it real, and JTMF was born.

In New Jersey, JTMF is still going strong 13 years later. Joyce brought the spirit of the organization with her when she came west, and gave birth to JTMF West.

Honing her powers…JTMF 3

I asked Joyce how JTMF West identifies beneficiaries of the event and she told me, “we always pick beneficiaries that align with who he was,” saying that it’s important to keep James involved, even though Artists for Life is not actually a memorial anymore. HIV Edmonton is “[the] flagship, [it’s] why we started everything,” but that including Fyrefly “for all the leadership work they do and the anti-bullying work they do, it’s perfect for James.” This year, Artists for Life will also benefit the Theatre Network because “it just felt like the right thing to do…it just seemed inappropriate for us not to respond when they needed help.” Just as JTMF was created as a response to James’ family’s need for assistance, so too does Artists for Life respond – they did a similar thing two years ago when YESS lost integral funding.

Changing the world…

When asked about the success of the Artists for Life event, Joyce humbly says “it wasn’t planned at all, you know. There wasn’t a road map, people really latched on to the concept,” adding, “people are so proud to be Edmontonians, and so proud to help. She forgets to add that it’s a fabulous event, in a really cool location, benefiting really great organizations (I might be biased on that last one).

But it is: Artists for Life marries great Canadian talent with a really cool venue (The Club at the Citadel), all in the name of doing some good for the Edmonton community. If you’d like more info on the event, or if you’d like to buy tickets, click here for the JTMF West Artists for Life event site.

Don’t miss this wonderful event on May 2, 2015, and keep your eyes peeled for JTMF West and HIV Edmonton around the city at the Edmonton Pride Parade and the Pride Run. We’re better together and so grateful for Joyce and JTMF West!

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