Dr. Bonnie Henry’s message to “be kind, be calm, be safe” seems more appropriate than ever in today’s world, even if COVID-19 fears are easing along with the transmission rates.
People on Salt Spring will be seeing more of those words as well as Dr. Henry’s image in the coming days thanks to a button pin produced and distributed by the Salt Spring Arts Council. The large button features a portrait of the provincial health officer created by local artist Patrick McCallum and Henry’s now famous mantra for helping people get through the challenging and changing pandemic situation.
The arts council is in the process of sending the buttons out to local businesses as a token of appreciation for sponsoring their programming throughout the years.
“We kind of felt it was time to turn the tables on our sponsors; it was time to ask how we could help them out, because a lot of them are hurting right now,” said Kathy Ramsey, an arts council board member and volunteer.
Ramsey noted that frontline workers in essential services often bear the brunt of the anxiety and frustration felt by the people they are serving. Hopefully the buttons will remind customers to be kind and to share a smile with those workers instead.
McCallum is just one of the many people in British Columbia who was won over by Henry’s demeanor, and her ability to balance strong medical knowledge with a reassuring approach. He decided to create her portrait as part of a self-assigned exercise to produce an artwork and post it to Instagram every day during 40 days of pandemic restrictions.
“During that time I was of course also watching Dr. Bonnie Henry every day. She’s not what you’d usually expect from people speaking on behalf of government — she clearly has tremendous experience and knowledge but that’s not where she’s coming from. She’s bringing this sense of empathy and compassion,” McCallum said.
After McCallum posted his image of Henry to Instagram the Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Club group on Facebook picked it up and spread it even further. Then fellow arts council member David Borrowman informed McCallum that some friends on Bowen Island had seen it and were inquiring about possibly buying a print they could use to poster their local windows with during quarantine.
McCallum did not want to sell the image, but he did make a file available for free to anyone who wanted to use it. That aligned well with the arts council’s desire to do something to help island businesses in recovery.
“I just couldn’t be happier with the response, and at the end of the day as an artist, to have something to contribute means a great deal to me,” McCallum said.
Distributing the button throughout local shops and services serves another famous Henry catch phrase, which is about getting through the pandemic together as a province.
“I love the idea of a unified look for all the businesses on the island,” Ramsey said. “Even though there may be friendly competition, we’re all islanders, we’re all in this in together. And art is such a perfect unifier. This seemed like the perfect moment.”
The arts council ordered 500 buttons for the initial run, which was paid for by an anonymous donor. They may do a second run for heath-care workers but are working through the businesses first.
“Our priority right now is to put a smile on the faces of those people behind the cash register and at the pump, where they are facing other people all the time,” Ramsey said.
“It’s been really super positive,” she added. “We’ve had lots of smiles, lots of thanks. We’re really happy to give back to all these amazing businesses on the island that have done so much to ensure Salt Spring has a vibrant arts and culture community — and it’s still here. It will be back and stronger than ever.”