Artists share their abundant talents with worthy causes.
By Linnea Jessup
A creative spirit drives artists to make unique statements with their work. But artists also express their individuality through their efforts to help others. Whether locally or across the globe, artists use their resources and energy to support humankind in myriad ways. Through hard, hands-on work and monetary contributions, members of the art community not only improve the lives of recipients but also inspire legions of others to join in the campaign.
In the 20 years since Mike and Linda Koligman have operated Renaissance Galleries in Southern California and Las Vegas, they have planned many special events and artist receptions with charity components.
“We have auctioned off original sketches and contributed proceeds to Ronald McDonald House; Operation Homefront; Susan G. Komen Foundation; Habitat for Humanity and, nearest and dearest to our hearts, the Helen Woodward Animal Center,” says Mike Koligman. At one such event, the couple auctioned off a Thomas Kinkade sketch for $13,000.
The center rescues animals and has a dog-therapy program. The Koligmans’ adopted dog is a therapy dog, and they join him to visit nursing homes, children’s facilities and hospitals. “We have raised more than $25,000 for this charity through our artist events,” says Koligman. “We know that millions of animals are euthanized each year because they cannot get a ‘forever’ home. We volunteer here because we are passionate about doing what we can to help this facility. Charities matter!”
Under her grandmother’s guidance, Marta Wiley began painting at age 2. Today, she is both a philanthropist and a prolific painter, and she credits her grandmother for helping her develop her art skills and foster an affinity for helping others. Wiley strongly believes in the connection between art and giving.
“I think that the arts reflect the higher values of life,” she says. She feels particularly compelled to share her talents and energy with children and animals.
“I have always believed in the spirit of giving,” Wiley says. “I am a better person for it. When you give, something happens in your being, … and kindness begins to permeate your life. The more I give, the more I get back. It’s a universal law of nature: Giving of ourselves is the right course of action.”
Wiley has supported 30 charities with art and paintings. She has donated 100 paintings to Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix for distribution to young patients and also recently created 1,000 watercolors in 30 days, which she donated at Art San Diego in November.
The recent death of Robin Williams spurred David Fenton, who creates large-scale etched-metal photography, to create a tribute piece to the beloved comedian. He donated the art to a local National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) fundraising event in Northern California, where he resides.
“Robin’s death awakened something in me and made me want to give more,” he says, acknowledging that he has faced personal challenges with depression.
Fenton has supported many causes throughout his career. He previously donated artwork to the East Bay Agency for Children, which connects families in San Francisco with local resources for help with basic living needs, mental-health counseling, child-abuse prevention and treatment for children with severe behavioral and emotional disturbances. He also donated art pieces to Healing Horses Kauai, in Kapaa, Hawaii, which provides therapeutic horseback-riding sessions to children and adults.
“The power of art to move and inspire people can be tremendous. Art gives them a “feeling of being more connected to humanity,” he says. “Art on a wall, a film, music—all of these arts can motivate and inspire action.”
Fenton is currently exploring new ways of working with entrepreneurs to help world causes through grassroots efforts that allow small donations from many people. He hopes to build game-changing funding for causes that strive to end child slavery and hunger.
“I’m trying to be more positive and thoughtful and helpful to others. My goal is to be constantly thinking about others,” he says.
Julia Carter, of Queensland, Australia, has donated a large painting to Wesley Hospital in Brisbane along with other works that now hang in a hospice in England. She donates her time and talent to many organizations, including Ronald McDonald House, Beyond Blue for Depression and a foundation for child-safety awareness. She also supports Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) with monthly monetary donations.
“I prefer to donate my paintings where they give the greatest benefit,” she says. “I am constantly mindful of wanting to help others, and I keep an open mind and look for the next opportunity. I would love to continue donating and make bigger contributions all around the world.”
Her inspiration for charity comes from her gratefulness at overcoming serious injuries she incurred more than 10 years ago in a workplace accident. “Painting was an important part of my recovery and took me on a wonderful path,” she says.
Her large-scale, vibrant nature scenes reflect her positive attitude. “Artwork lifts up the spirit and can take others into another world, where they can be free from pain and suffering,” she says. “I think artists are in tune with their souls and have an innate desire to help others.”
After creating watercolors and pencil drawings as a student, Irina Gretchanaia settled on oil as her favorite medium, often focusing on trees or other plant forms. She now teaches private art classes for adults and youth and is currently working with an autistic child.
“He can communicate through art,” she observes. “I am overwhelmed by the amazing people I meet that inspire me every day, who challenge me to be a better artist.”
Based in Ontario, Canada, she donates both her time and her artwork to local fundraising events, including the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario.
“The center is our outlet for fine art,” she says. “It survives solely on sponsors and volunteers. It’s important for me to be part of this cause because it gives our community and the next generation a chance to become connected to the art world.”
An award-winning photographer and gallery owner of Artblend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Michael Joseph attributes his desire to support charities to both his parents and his wife.
“Charity comes from the heart and from your upbringing. My parents were very generous, kind and loving individuals. However, the person who has had the biggest effect on me and motivates me to do good deeds every day is my wife, Elaine Joseph. She has the largest heart and capacity I have ever seen to do good deeds for others.”
The pair has focused on Toys for Tots, Sunshine Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association as their main charities.
“Any time you have the opportunity to teach, donate to a cause or help someone in need, I see that as an opportunity for growth and character building. In business, it seems it is all a give-and-take situation, or ‘You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.’ But with charity, it is different. It is really fun to do something generous … no strings attached.”
Joseph notes that art tells a story. With charity, the message is hope and faith. Whether artists are creating or giving, he says, “There is a spiritual connection—peace, love and understanding.”