Rumble House exchanges art for good deeds in not-so-new initiative

Calgary artists at Rumble House traded profit for acts of kindness in last week's Wednesday auction

Rich and Jess Theroux at their wedding in Rumble House last August. | ANDREW BOLTON

Rumble House auctions off auctions off art pieces every Wednesday – but last week was a little different.

Instead of money, they traded pieces for donations to non-profit organizations and good deeds.

People mowed their neighbour’s lawn, donated blood, and someone even donated 300 pounds of potatoes to the food bank. More than 30 organizations and causes across Canada received donations as well.

By calculating the volunteer hours in relation to minimum wage, they found about $4,000 hours of good deeds had been donated.

“A need for good deeds arose,” said Rich Theroux, who co-owns Rumble House with his wife Jess.

“The direction of it being political was something that we rolled into comfortably, because it seemed like a good fit.”

While it was a well-timed initiative, it’s not a new idea.

The couple first did something like this back in 2014. They took to the streets of Venice to trade art for good deeds.

Over the course of a month, they traded 40 pieces of art for 40 deeds.

GorillaWagon in Venice – a video of the couple’s first art-for-deeds initiative | YOUTUBE

“It’s not something that’s uncommon for us to do,” Theroux said.

“It’s joyful and wonderful.”

Giving for the sake of is deeply entrenched in their lives.

When temperatures were extremely low last Christmas season, they decided to donate their unused sleeping bags to those who needed them.

The problem? They had already done that the previous year.

So instead, they bought and donated around 300 jackets and blankets. This happened just months before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I guess it’s just an ongoing way that we deal with stress,” said Theroux.

“When everybody else is huddling down and keeping what they have for themselves, there’s just kind of a trigger.”

He or his wife will find a way to donate and give back to their community, doing what everyone least expects.

A move online kept business going

When things started closing, and funds were dwindling because of their lack of business, Theroux had all but lost hope.

“March 15, I made peace with the fact that we were going to lose the gallery by June,” he said.

“Because there’s no way we would have managed what was heading [our way] with the COVID-19 outbreak”

He moved the Wednesday auctions online to continue operations while things headed downhill.

What he wasn’t expecting was that the engagement online would help keep business afloat.

“People at home were looking for somewhere to connect,” Theroux said.

People can now leave their pieces at Rumble House ahead of the Wednesday auctions, and their pieces will be auctioned off at fair prices.

Half of the 30 pieces ‘sold’ in last week’s auction were Theroux’s. He did this because he wanted to be able to respect the artists he works with.

“I don’t like to ask artists who make money off their work to come in and give their stuff away,” he said.

He made about 15 pieces, and then spread the word to artists that that week’s auction was not-for-profit.

“They’re also loving, giving people so they were thrilled to donate their pieces in exchange for good deeds.”

‘It’s addictive’ said Theroux

They operate on an honour system, where people promise deeds without being asked for proof – though videos and photos of the deed are often provided anyways.

Some pieces being posted after last week are still going in exchange for good deeds

This isn’t something they will be able to do often, because the still have to keep the gallery and the artists funded, but they are bound to do it again.

“It’s so wonderful that it’s addictive,” said Theroux.

“In my heart, it was hard to go back to trying to sell their work for money again.”

To contribute to the weekly Wednesday auctions at Rumble House either with art or by purchasing a piece, you can follow them here.

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