Equality through art

The Winnipeg Foundation


Marlene Campbell and Sonia Graboski
Marlene Campbell and Sonia Graboski, close friends of Wendy Wersch.

A memorial lecture series has been inspiring female artists for more than 15 years, and two of its founders could not be more proud. Artists Marlene Campbell and Sonia Graboski are making sure their late friend and colleague Wendy Wersch will never be forgotten.

Ms. Campbell and Ms. Graboski warmly reminisce about Ms. Wersch: from meeting in the Fine Arts program in university and becoming fast friends, to their weekends at the lake laughing, swimming, drinking martinis, and creating. Wendy was a passionate artist who made a point of fighting for women’s rights and equality through artistic expression.

“[Wendy] was a feminist at heart. I think she felt that women were given a raw deal in many factors of life,” Ms. Graboski says. “She wanted things to be fair, for all concerned. Not just for the men, but for the women as well. And she fought hard for that."

A Winnipeg-based visual artist, Ms. Wersch created many installations and photography exhibits. She was known for her “Emergence” and “The New Myth” installations, and her work was exhibited locally and abroad. She spoke strongly through her art which, according to Ms. Graboski, is how she dealt with her feelings and experiences. She was also very involved in the local arts scene, serving on several boards and supporting organizations like Mentoring Artists for Womens Art (MAWA).

Ms. Wersch passed away in 2001 after a courageous battle with lung disease. She is survived by her husband, Gerry, and two daughters, Courtney and Alison.

Discussions about how best to honour Ms. Wersch’s legacy began almost immediately after her passing. Ms. Graboski and Ms. Campbell, together with friends and family, quickly struck the Wendy Wersch Memorial Committee. The Committee knew that to honour Wendy’s legacy, they had to give other women artists a platform to tell their stories and share their experiences. That’s how the Wendy Wersch Memorial Lecture Series came to be.


Emergence installation
Wendy Wersch's Emergence at Ace Art Inc.

The first thing the Committee did was set up a fund at The Winnipeg Foundation. The Wendy Wersch Memorial Fund, established with a gift from Ms. Wersch’s husband Gerry, is Donor-Advised. This type of fund allows the Committee to have a say in how grants are distributed. “Wendy was very intelligent, well-spoken, and had a critical mind. I think a lecture series would have been right up her alley,” Ms. Graboski says. “The fact that it’s for her is very special. Her art, her installations, her life has all generated dialogue. That’s probably what she would have wanted. It’s generated thought, and that’s what I think is important.”

Launched in 2002, the annual lecture series is facilitated through MAWA, which has been instrumental in helping host and organize the lectures. The lectures focus on women in the arts as role models for innovative cultural investigation. The series builds awareness of feminist art criticism, activism, and practice. It has welcomed some of the best and most renowned artists from all over the world, including Woodstock Art Gallery Curator Mary Reid, photographer and Indigenous activist Sheila Spence, and artist Leah Fontaine. These lectures have been on a range of topics, from modern feminism to the suffrage movement to Indigenous spirit mending. All discussions are typically viewed through the lens of artistic expression in all its forms, and the lectures have become a staple in the local art scene.

"She really encouraged women to come out and be proud of themselves and have their voices heard,” Ms. Campbell says. "She worked really hard on that, and that’s why the Committee got together and put this lecture series together."

To date, the Wendy Wersch Memorial Fund has distributed more than $22,000 to support the lecture series.

“Wendy would be so proud. Because women’s voices are being heard through their artwork,” says Campbell. “She just ran out of time. That’s the sad part of it. She had, still, so much to say. Something had to be done to carry on her voice. It’s like when you throw a rock into the lake and you get the ripples. Well, Wendy started the rippling.”

Are you interested in recommending which charities receive grants from your fund? Learn more about Donor-Advised Funds and how they work, visit our Create Your Own Fund page.

Watch this short video to learn more about Wendy Wersch and her Memorial Lecture Series.

This story is featured in the Fall 2016 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.