ArtsCan Circle collecting donations of musical instruments in Sarnia

A charity that sends musicians and artists to remote Indigenous communities will be collecting donations of musical instruments Friday at an album release concert in Sarnia by its founder, Mike Stevens.

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A charity that sends musicians and artists to remote Indigenous communities will be collecting donations of musical instruments Friday at an album release concert in Sarnia by its founder, Mike Stevens.

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ArtsCan Circle was created about two decades ago after Stevens visited a Indigenous community in Labrador while on his way to perform in the Arctic. He encountered teenagers in the community sniffing bags of gasoline to get high and later formed the charity that takes music and the arts to young people in remote northern communities.

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Friday, Stevens and a band of local and visiting musicians will perform at the Imperial Theatre in downtown Sarnia to celebrate his most recent release, Breath in the World, Breath Out Music.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. and, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the theatre, ArtsCan Circle will accept donations of musical instruments, such as fiddles, guitars and keyboards.

Laura Vukson, the charity’s executive director, said she and her husband will be on hand with a truck for the donations.

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“We also have a gentleman coming from Windsor with a vanload of instruments,” including amps, guitars, keyboards and microphones to donate, she said. “That equipment is going up to the James Bay coast.”

According to its website, ArtsCan Circle has organized artist-led creative workshops in 16 host communities since 2002, shipped more than 40,000 donated instruments and affected 20,000 Indigenous youth.

ArtsCan visited four communities and shipped instruments to five in 2023, Vukson said.

Vukson said a shipment of instruments and equipment recently left for a school in Nunavut where an ArtsCan Circle visit, including Canadian pop-rocker Barney Bentall, is set for March.

“They’re going to meet up with the instruments and do workshops, put a little concert on for the community,” she said.

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Volunteers and partners, including music companies, work with ArtsCan Circle to send instruments and equipment to remote communities.

“I think because Mike has been doing this for over 20 years, it has a solid reputation,” Vukson said. “When people are trying to unload their instruments, we’re usually the first ones they give them to.”

In 2016, Stevens travelled to Rideau Hall in Ottawa to receive a Meritorious Service Medal from the governor general for his work with ArtsCan Circle.

“The communities really like fiddles,” Vukson said of instruments they hope will be donated in Sarnia. Guitars, amps, keyboards and shakers are also sought, she said.

ArtsCan Circle
A young James Bay-area resident holds a guitar in this photo provided by ArtsCan Circle, a charity created by Sarnia musician Mike Stevens. (Supplied) Handout

“Those are the ones that are always requested,” she said. “We don’t send anything up that’s not needed. We work really hard to fit the community’s needs.”

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Drums are more of a challenge to ship to the communities, “but we can do it,” she said.

“We shipped two pianos last year,” Vukson said. “One was a baby grand to Pikangikum” in northwestern Ontario.

It was a challenge.

“We called so many moving companies,” Vukson said. “Everyone said, ‘no.’ ”

In the end, volunteers drove the pianos in a rental truck to the region to be flown in.

“I really believe anything can get up there,” Vukson said.

Financial donations are also welcome to help with travel and shipping costs.

Sending two artists north for a week can cost  $12,000 to $15,000, she said.

“Finding musicians, that’s the easy part,” Vukson said. “I have artists emailing saying, ‘
Is there a trip coming up?’ ”

Shipping a crate with six or seven guitars to remote Northern Ontario can cost about $500, Vukson said. “It does add up.”

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For more on ArtsCan Circle, visit

Vukson has joined a few artist trips north and said, “It’s really magical.”

Often, youth in the communities are very quiet when workshops begin, but by the middle and end of the week, “they’re laughing,” joking with visiting artists and asking when they’ll be back. “That’s the heart-breaking part,” Vukson said.

“They’re very talented, very creative,” she said of the youth ArtsCan Circle works with. “They’re incredible, these kids. They have so much magic in them.”

For ticket information for Friday’s concert, go to

[email protected]

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