Written by Sophiia Tiapkina

The ancient river flows by narrow greenways and tight-knit communities, backlit by the misty Blue Ridge Mountains. River Arts District of Asheville, NC, is bursting with color of murals, art exhibitions, glassblowing venues, printmaking shops, and much more. A stretch of former warehouses and mills transformed into one of the most concentrated creative hubs in North Carolina. This is where Andrea Kulish Wilhelm, an artist, and a proud UNWLA Member-at-Large, founded her art studio. We asked her to share with the larger UNWLA community her story, life lessons, and formula for effective fundraising.

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Her story is an inspiration for both Ukrainians and Americans. How would a single person leverage her passion, skills, and talent to raise over $60,000 for the UNWLA Humanitarian Fund? How would they achieve such incredible results, all while following their heart?

 Growing up in upstate New York, Andrea traces her lineage back to a small town near the historic city of Poltava in the heart of Ukraine. Her father and grandfather were Ukrainian Orthodox priests. Her mother, originally from Ternopil, was an art teacher, sharing Ukrainian culture and traditions with her daughter. As a little girl, Andrea sat in on her mother’s lessons and made traditional Ukrainian pysanka eggs. The ritual of beeswax dying, kistka-mastery, and unique symbols follow her throughout her life.

Her pursuit of education led Andrea to Boston, where she later became a professional graphic designer. Working full-time, Andrea spent her nights and weekends writing pysanky and regularly showcased her work at crafts fairs. Nine years ago, she moved to Asheville, North Carolina, following her husband’s music career.

With the move to North Carolina, Andrea faced a new creative challenge. She had to establish her freelance business and lift it off the ground. Additional work responsibilities skewed her work-life balance, something she has been struggling with her entire artistic career. The autonomy of her business meant that Andrea was her own accountant, PR manager, and operations director, in addition to a dozen other hats. “At least I have someone else to do my taxes,” she jokes.

The dream of owning a store while she was sitting inside her mother’s small shop in upstate New York finally came to life. The new studio and the wonders of traditional art helped Andrea better connect with her Ukrainian side. Andrea spread her love for Ukrainian culture to her customers and even made some new Ukrainian friends by showcasing the pysanky she has been creating since she was five.

Through one of them, Andrea learned about the UNWLA and joined the organization as a member-at-large. She immediately started organizing small events and coming up with creative ideas for Branches. “UNWLA is so reliable,” Andrea said when asked about her experience as a member. The sisterhood became one of her support pillars. Having faced personal loss, Andrea notes how belonging to such a bonded organization brings her the stability of belonging.

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Andrea’s pysanky. Courtesy of StudioA

Nothing could have prepared her for February 24th,  2022. The day Russia launched a full-scale invasion, Andrea shut her shop’s door and put up a sign: “Closed: too upset about Ukraine.” After reopening, she welcomed a couple who purchased two pysanky and an egg stand. On the spot, Andrea decided to donate 50% of the sale to the UNWLA. Afterward, all proceeds from her work went to support Ukraine. She connected with the media and got excellent publicity. People were flooding her studio. 100% of the profits went to support relief efforts in Ukraine, including the pysanky she made specifically for Ukraine and generous donations from other artists. Andrea followed her heart in every decision she made.  

Her heart led Andrea to host pysanky workshops in her studio and other venues, teaching the traditional art she inherited from her mother and showing the beauty of Ukrainian culture to the world. With her heart, she recorded a podcast, “Spreading Ukrainian Culture (and Good Wishes) with Andrea Kulish.” With her heart powering through, she co-organized benefit concerts for Ukraine, featuring Asheville musicians, spoken word performers, speakers from Ukraine, and silent auctions. Andrea’s fundraising initiatives brought more than $60,000 to the UNWLA Humanitarian Aid campaign.

5 Tips on Creative Fundraising From Andrea Kulish Wilhelm:

  1. Follow your heart.
  2. Plan ahead and engage other soyuzankas and Branches.
  3. Have various meaningful Ukrainian items (artwork, stickers, ribbons, sunflower seeds.)
  4. Display the information about the UNWLA on flyers/handouts.
  5. Have a big tip jar out!

Following her heart and passion kept her spirit and motivation from collapsing throughout the months of the war. While Andrea feels that the rush of the customers has waned a bit, someone is coming in every day. People remain supportive and always donate something. Americans’ advocacy, humanitarian aid, and simple solidarity remain strong. Andrea Kulish Wilhelm’s story inspires us to consider what we have to offer and how to utilize our skills to support our communities and Ukraine.

This material is prepared by Sophiia Tiapkina, UGS Student and UNWLA Summer Intern 2022.