Five years ago, I had written about the non-profit Kids & Art on this blog. I recall being moved and inspired by this organization that helps kids fighting cancer find a few moments of joy and normalcy in their stressful lives.
Then life intruded and Kids & Art receded to the back of my mind till this year when I was looking for an opportunity for my daughter Lori to give back. She has been dealing with the normal trials and tribulations of a pre-teen and I thought it would be good for her to focus on the bravery and courage of others who were less fortunate. With her interest in art, volunteering at a Kids & Art workshop seemed to be a good fit.
On Sunday, May 4, 2014, we set out for the Lick Wilderming, a college-prep high school with a strong arts foundation. The school is set in a fairly nondescript part of San Francisco and looks quite unassuming from the outside but, enter its doors and you are transported to an airy, cantilevered campus that appears to float above its surroundings.
The visual art room, where the Kids & Art workshop was being held, is a long, wonderfully messy room filled with light and art supplies. On this Sunday afternoon, the room was bustling with kids and their families, artists, and volunteers from the Lick Wilderming freshman class.
I met Purvi Shah, the founder of Kids & Art. Her younger son Amaey’s fight with leukemia was the inspiration for K&A. Sadly, Amaey passed away in 2011 at the age of 9, but the flourishing Kids & Art program is the testament to a mother’s love, determination, and desire to honor her son.
In the last five years, Kids & Art has come a long way. Its original mission was to provide a place for kids with cancer to meet and enjoy creating art without the shadow of their illness in the room for a few hours. Today the participants in the workshops include the care circles of the kids—siblings, family, friends—as well as children whose parents have been affected by the disease.
“We have also included kids in hospice care,” says Purvi. “An artist usually visits them at home and the two work on a piece together.” In addition, Kids & Art has reached out to kids in hospitals like Stanford Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, UCSF children’s hospital in San Francisco, and the California Pacific Medical Center.
The workshops are held on the first Sunday of every month and have been held in prestigious locations like Google and Pixar. “Nearly 150 people showed up for the workshop held at Google,” says Purvi.
Getting professional artists to volunteer for the workshops has been one of the bigger achievements of the organization. The roster of artists, once about 15, has grown to about 50-60 and features professionals like Roque (“call me Rocky”) Ballesteros, co-founder of animation company Ghostbot.
“I learnt about Kids & Art from a friend who was involved with the organization,” says Roque. He started volunteering at the Pixar workshop. “I was very nervous the first time,” recalls Roque. “The kids are going through so much and I wasn’t sure what to say and how to say it. But I realized very quickly that these kids, no matter what they are dealing with, are just kids and will let you know exactly how they feel about your art, what they like and dislike. It doesn’t matter what kind of artist you think you are!”
For Roque, volunteering at Kids & Art workshops is also a way of getting back to his first love – painting. “When you are creating art digitally, you always have a way to go back and fix your mistakes. But when you are painting on canvas or a piece of wood, it is like wrestling with the medium. Just picking up a paintbrush, dipping it in paint and applying it – [the process] improves my skills.”
Roque has roped in several of his fellow artists to come and help out with the program. In this particular workshop he helped my daughter and another child develop their individual pieces. While they hesitantly began creating their own superhero characters, he created Doctor Baby, a Pepto-Bismol pink villain too cute to be evil!
I asked Purvi how these workshops were funded. Some of the funding is from grants, but the primary source of funding is from auctioning off the children’s art. “We also license the art to corporates for use in their office spaces,” says Purvi.
An innovative idea that is in play is using the children’s art as backdrops for corporate communication. Tanya Manyak, a dentist with a practice in San Mateo, uses Kids & Art work in the reminder cards patients fill out after appointments. Says Tanya, “When we send out the reminder cards, we always get questions about the organization. ‘What’s on this card?’ Who created it?’ That gives us an opportunity to talk about Kids & Art.” She so strongly believes in the value of incorporating this art in her business practices that she has presented the idea to her dentist study groups. “We now have dentists from Alabama and Virginia interested in licensing our art,” says Purvi.
Kids & Art also receives donations in honor of loved ones. Future plans for Kids & Art include music, yoga, and meditation workshops.
If you are interested in licensing art from the workshops, becoming a corporate partner, volunteering, or supporting Kids & Art with your donations, click here. The new season for the Kids & Art workshops begins in July, so look for a list of the upcoming workshops here.
Kids & Art is also one of the causes being supported by the Sevathon event on June 22, 2014. To adopt it as your cause for the Sevathon Walk/Run/Sun Salutations, click here.
To learn more about the organization, do attend the upcoming exhibition and benefit on June 1, 2014. This event is to celebrate the amazing artists who participate in and support the art workshops and to thank them for their continuous generosity because, as Purvi says, “Without our artists there would be no art for our kids.”