By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton
“I helped establish The James Toleman Memorial Fund (JTMF). We produce a fundraiser called Artists for Life every year. It started in Jersey, which is where I’m from. James was a good friend of mine in university. When he died a group of his friends got together and we did an event to raise money for his parents because it almost bankrupted his parents when he was sick. And then I moved to Edmonton in 2007 and formed JTMF West here. We still do fundraisers, it’s just not in James’s name. All of the money stays in Edmonton. This year we’re supporting YESS and Kindred House. In the past, we’ve supported HIV Edmonton and Camp Firefly.”
“Because we use Artists for Life as our mandate, we try to make it arts based so the show itself takes on a different art form each year. One year we did the films of Trevor Anderson, one year we did dance, one year we did an all women lineup, this year is all music so we have all Edmonton-based music acts as our performance, and then we have a silent auction where we really focus on local artists. So there’s the performers, the donors and those of us on the committee, plus there’s fifty artists donating their time for this event.”
James was an actor. We did musical theatre together. He was every cliche—he was a gay man in theatre who loved the Wizard of Oz … how does that even happen? He died in 2002. That was at the tail end of when people were dying fast and furious of AIDS … The arts and the AIDS movement have been intertwined since the beginning, so to be able to translate that into something that resonates here has been pretty astonishing. I’m not from Edmonton and James was never in Canada, but somehow Edmontonians have supported this event started by bunch of Jersey people.”
“I really love Edmonton. It’s a small city compared to New Jersey—I grew up in the shadow of Manhattan—so Edmonton feels like a small city to me. Edmonton’s got this can-do attitude about it where you can do things like start up JTMF and people will actually support it. They actually encourage you to go out on your own and try something. A lot of communities aren’t like that.”
Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
Ross Armstrong was an activist and he wanted life to be better for those living with HIV. After his diagnosis in 1984, he became a part of HIV Edmonton’s (previously the AIDS Network of Edmonton) team and emerged as the public face of AIDS in Edmonton. Ross died on July 1, 1986, two short years after his diagnosis.
The challenges and suffering Ross endured and the courage he displayed during those first years of the local epidemic led HIV Edmonton to name the hub of our agency – the drop-in centre – the Ross Armstrong Centre, which is a safe, caring place for HIV positive individuals to meet, have a cup of coffee, or share a nutritious community meal.
The Ross Armstrong Centre is a constant reminder that HIV is not always the biggest issue that our clients face. The biggest hurdle for most of our clients is accessing what they need to survive – their basic human needs. Our client programs allow us to support and assist our clients during the most chaotic times in their lives and to alleviate some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis – such as securing the 500 calories that are required to take their HIV medications. In order to continue to support our clients in this way, we rely heavily on the generosity of donors.
All money raised during this campaign will go towards supporting our clients who, in addition to living with HIV, struggle to meet their basic needs such as food, shelter and access to health and social services. It would be amazing if we could reach $5,000 by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating: http://tilt.tc/U2VI