Look for the bear necessities

The Winnipeg Foundation


Kal Barteski
Artist, Kal Barteski love for polar bears led her to set up a fund for them.

Winnipeg artist Kal Barteski is “completely obsessed” with polar bears, and she’s started a fund 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 kids (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 Polar Bear Fund is a Donor-Advised Fund, meaning Ms. Barteski will work with The Foundation’s Grants Team to decide which projects receive financial support. 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 people that are not just scientists, people that are not just conservation [staff]… 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.”

Setting up the fund was easy and took less than a week.

“[Foundation staff] were so helpful in answering my questions and guiding me through the process. I am an artist so there are a lot of things I had never heard of and didn’t take into consideration.”

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 – Google #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.”

For more information on Kal Barteski and the Polar Bear Fund, go to www.kalbarteski.com

To hear an interview with Kal Barteski head to rivercity360.org

Endowment funds at The Foundation

Interested in creating your own fund?

The Polar Bear Fund is Donor-Advised, meaning you get to recommend the charities that receive grants from your fund.

There are a range of different fund options for you to choose from, depending on what you’re interested in and how involved you want to be. Visit The Foundation’s Create Your Own Fund webpage for details!