Arts For Life plugs seriously ill kids into art

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2001, Anna Littman spent a lot of time visiting her 11-year-old sister, at the time a cancer patient at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem.

Seeing her sister and other children with serious illnesses at the hospital inspired Littman to do something to try to lift their spirits and shift their focus to creative activities.

So she rounded up donations of cameras, film and journals that her sister and the other kids could use to document their experiences in the hospital.

That effort led Littman to form Arts For Life, a Weaverville-based nonprofit that in 2011 provided over 257 hours a week of art and music programs for over 5,000 children and their families in hospitals in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham and Winston-Salem.

“It provides the children, both in-patient and out-patient, the opportunity to be involved in either art or music activities that divert their mind from having to deal with serious health issues,” says Don Timmons, the nonprofit’s Clemmons-based director of development.

Operating with an annual budget of $400,000, Arts for Life also employs four program directors who are based at Brenner, at Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville, at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Durham, and at Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

The organization generates all its support through contributions, grants, sponsorships and special events, including support from the four hospitals.

Working with volunteers and paid arts fellows, those directors make art and music, including materials, instruments and lessons, available to seriously ill children and their families.

Breaking the gloom of a family visit to a sick child, for example, a music fellow may knock on the door of the child’s hospital room, and then walk in pushing a cart filled with guitars, drums and other percussion instruments.

“In 10 minutes, the dynamics of the room have transformed to the entire family singing a song together,” Timmons says.

To help generate more support and expand its programs, Arts For Life in 2012 held “Princess Balls” for girls that raised $5,000 and $2,000, respectively, for its programs in Winston-Salem and Asheville, and plans to hold similar events this year in Charlotte and Durham.

It also has launched “The Hope Mosaic,” a collaborative project to benefit its program at Presbyterian Hemby.

The event aims to raise $40,000 and involve up to 100 local artists, children and teens, each of whom will paint a 6-inch-by-6-inch canvas, all of which then will be stitched together to form a large mosaic that will be exhibited at two Charlotte locations before being unveiled this spring at the hospital.

Timmons, who joined Arts For Life in July after serving for 4-and-a-half years as regional director of the Central and Western North Carolina chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, says he also will be holding lunch ‘n’ learn workshops for any companies or other organizations that would like to know more about the organization and becoming sponsors.

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