Winnipeg artist Kal Barteski is “completely obsessed” with polar bears, so she’s doing something to help them.
The Polar Bear Fund, held at The Winnipeg Foundation, supports innovative, non-invasive polar bear research and projects that honour bears – especially mother bears – and their place in the Arctic ecosystem.
Manitoba has one of the largest denning areas for polar bears in the world, Ms. Barteski explains.
“We are kind of an epicentre for mother bears. It is our responsibility to make sure they are being treated with respect and care.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. According to Ms. Barteski, mother bears are the ones that are usually equipped with radio collars.
“[Researchers] essentially run them down with a helicopter or drop into their dens and surprise them, tranquilize them in front of their [cubs], do a bit of an assessment, put a collar on that’s too tight and makes life for them really a lot harder.”
This approach is contrary to what should happen, she says.
“You would think if you wanted the population to flourish you’d treat the moms with cubs – the moms with the future generations – with the utmost care and respect.”
The fund is structured so that 40 per cent of gifts are flow-through available for immediate grant-making, and 60 per cent are endowed to create permanent support.
“The Donor-Advised Fund was important to me because things are always changing and it was important to be able to look at the projects that were happening each year… instead of being one of those large organizations that works more in marketing.”
She’s looking to support innovative and creative projects and would like to tap into the knowledge and experience of those who live amongst bears, especially in Churchill.
“I think when we allow only one sort of genre of thought we can’t come up with that many new ideas but when we can incorporate [more] people…the ideas will be bigger and better and hopefully more successful for our bears.”
Keeping the fund Manitoba-based, and having it managed by The Foundation, was important to Ms. Barteski.
“This is where polar bears live, this is where we can make a huge difference, this is where we have to care about them.”
Ms. Barteski – who is world-renowned for her illustrated typography work – first became interested in bears while studying Advertising Art at Red River College. One of her assignments was to go to the Assiniboine Park Zoo and sketch animals. She was “really taken” with long-time zoo resident Debby the polar bear, who passed away in 2008.
“I kind of just developed a bit of a one sided relationship with her.”
Ms. Barteski’s love for polar bears was solidified after Animal Planet took her up to Churchill a few years ago as part of its TV series Wild Obsession.
“I was just completely set on fire, I think that might be the only way to describe it. I was interested in polar bears before that trip, but I was just completely obsessed after.”
She’s been to Churchill seven times now, and is heading back this summer.
Ms. Barteski’s illustrated typography work is extremely popular – check out #kbscript to see – and she’s working hard to introduce some of those fans to her work with polar bears.
“I kind of have two sides and my goal artistically is to eventually find a way to get them to meet in the middle.”
Ms. Barteski is developing the Polar Bear Fund in a number of ways. Proceeds from the sale of some of her artwork will go towards supporting the fund, and she is planning a multi-artist benefit show in October which will include artists, photographers, spoken word poets and more.
Despite the sometimes less-than-positive outlook for polar bears, Ms. Barteski is confident they’ll be around for generations.
“The endowment fund, the permanence, appealed to me because I am just going to believe 100 per cent that polar bears will be around for a long time.”
Hear an interview with Kal Barteski on River City 360.