Kids Being Kids My experience volunteering for Kids and Art, the organization that helps kids fight back cancer with art and creativity...

Art can heal in many ways. That's exactly what Kids and Art revolves around. They use art as a therapeutic healing activity to for kids, their siblings and parents who were touched by cancer. My journey with them begins at an art gallery.

How it all began

My talented artist friend Reiko Moranaga invited me to an event at the SOMArts gallery here in San Francisco. Her signature style is vividly colored abstract dedications to Monet. Right after a deep conversation about how she manages to stay upbeat and vibrant even through the toughest times in life, I ventured alone into the sea of crowds churning through the vast expanses of the former industrial warehouse with blocks of art baring dividers. Somebody stood out from the crowd. A sleek girl with piercing eyes who seemed to walk with purpose and determination. I lost track of her as she disappeared into the crowd and I continued on browsing through the various styles of paintings representing many different artists who were participating in Art Span's Open Studio.

I stopped in front of a bright orange painting with a distinctly playful style. While I was engrossed in the details of this painting, I sensed somebody's presence standing next to me from the corner of my right eye. It was the girl I spotted earlier. I rarely start conversations with strangers, but I had to ask her what drew her to that painting. Our conversation ended with us exchanging business cards. Once I got home, I added her organization KidsAndArt.org to my Twitter feed. She started following me from her personal Twitter handle: @oneheartmind

First Workshop

One day, out of the blue, she contacted me asking if I know anybody who can take video footage of an event they were organizing. I decided to nominate myself. I really didn't know what to expect. I usually shy away from anything that deals with tragic circumstances or emotional situations. I packed my DSLR camera and tripod into a backpack and took the Caltrain to Burlingame, CA and waited anxiously outside the station waiting for her to give me a ride to the event. She came in a baby blue Mini Cooper and took me to an experience that was nothing like I ever imagined it's going to be like. Kids from all ages splattering and mixing paint having a good time. Kids just being kids. There was virtually nothing in there to even remind me it had anything to do with cancer.

New York based artist Brendan Murphy was leading a workshop showing kids how to be carefree and creative letting paint drip around and mix on canvases. I interviewed Kids, their parents, relatives and volunteers and put together this video trying to capture the mood of that event:

I was very moved by the stories and sentiments I heard during these interviews (only a small fraction of the footage actually fit in this short video but there were many more) so I didn't think twice when they announced another event. This time I was just helping out, taking pictures, unpacking and packing art supplies and all the other details that go into making these workshops possible. I was surprised how each one seems to have a personality of it's own. They are never exactly the same with some hint of the familiar lighthearted atmosphere.

Filming at Pixar

I've watched every single animated movie Pixar made to date (including the shorts that came before their first feature length films). My diverse work history through a multitude of art+technology melding industries cut right through some intense years of working in the visual effects and 3D field in the Philippines and Indonesia all the while looking up to giants like Pixar and Dreamworks for aspiration. But even after moving to California, I've never actually been to Pixar. So when Kids and Art announced that they are holding a workshop at Pixar I jumped right in.

Maybe it's something in the water or the light blooming through the giant windows or the rivets on the metal beams that Steve Jobs famously asked to install by hand as not to leave scratch marks by machinery, there is certainly something very artful and creativity inducing about that whole campus. Inspired by "Monsters Inc" (one of my favorite Pixar movies) the kids painted, sculptured and stitched all kinds of colorful monsters you won't necessarily get startled by. This workshop was such a playful and sometimes downright joyful event for something that involves a dreaded monster like cancer.

I made the following video. This event also inspired me to return to the same location about an year later to actually run an art activity.

Searching for the perfect shot at Google

This was one of the largest workshops I've been to so far was the event at Google. There were so many kinds of activities to do and I met many more new people who were also volunteering. One of them (the first person who speaks in the following video) invited me to her own art events and that lead to meeting some of the most interesting people I've met in the city including one I became close friends with later on.

Photographing the Circus

Kids and Art organized a grand circus themed art auctioning and fund-raising event which I was asked to help photograph. Once again I gladly accepted to play any part as long as I get to be in it. Between figuring out faster ways to inflate dove shaped balloons with helium and helping the lovely pink haired musician Katherine Park with her electrical issues, I managed to capture a few hundred still photos that captured the essence of this event. Here are some thumbnails of some random selections.

Inside Out Coffee Friends

By now I've been behind the camera several times admiring all the great creative things the volunteering artists do. So when it was time to have another event at Pixar, I decided to cross over and actually run one of the art tables with a unique activity tied into the theme of the workshop, "Inside Out" - the Pixar movie about feelings.

I designed a series of characters inspired by the protagonists in the movie. They are coffee versions of the feelings: Joy, Anger, Sadness etc. I wanted to show the kids how to make these coffee based characters out of coffee. So I did some experiments with many different types of coffee and settled to brew about 25 shots of espresso as the medium of choice. I also printed out a series of guides that kids can use either to look at draw or trace over.

With the help of another Adobe colleague, Claire, I helped many kids explore their creative skills using only coffee and things you find in a coffee shop (cups, stirrers, plates etc but no brushes or other art tools). I think the activity was a great success as virtually all pieces came out as a unique balance of controlled chaos of coffee stains and drips that vaguely depicted a coffee version of an Inside Out character. Towards the end, one of the other volunteers Charu Clark also had a go at it. She seemed to be a natural. Turned out, she works for Pixar and actually worked on the actual Inside Out movie.

Painting on iPads Workshop at Family House

A group of Adobe employees teamed up to create a special digital art workshop with Kids & Art at Family House (familyhouseinc.org). Naturally I had to check it out myself. I helped several enthusiastic kids experiment with an Adobe experimental app for iOS called Paint Can. It allows anybody to draw paint brush strokes that magically map on to an underlying picture.

Here are some highlights from that event:

Hand bunny turned into paint bunny
"Let'stake a picture in front of the mural" somebody suggested
"Better make funny faces instead" she said
One of the kids made a special request to make a Batman
Also tried turning him into his other favorite super hero - Ironman

My colleague Lisa made a more complete list of some of the paintings that came out of that event along with a Spark Video at the end:

My Thoughts So Far

Ever since I was a little kid in school back in Sri Lanka, I liked volunteering for various causes. Doing things that may take just a little effort on your part but has the potential to mean something a lot more to somebody else is a very rewarding experience. Later on while in high school in Italy, my interest in doing good grew with me. From raising money to help displaced kids during the crisis in Bosnia, to teaching computer skills to refugees in Rome, I learned that even just the simple gesture of acknowledging and showing you understand somebody else's need can go a long way.

Here in California I'm fortunate enough to work for a company like Adobe that highly encourages its employees to participate in volunteer activities. I was also happy to be a launch member of it's internal pro-bono initiative that matches employees with skilled volunteering opportunities. From helping kids learn design skills with Interact Project to promoting the importance of clean drinking water with the Blue Planet / Thrive Network, to preserving endangered languages with the Long Now Foundation, serving dinner at the ECS shelter for the homeless, helping skilled immigrants polish up their job seeking skills with Upwardly Global or protecting endangered species with lasers and drones for the Hard Shell Labs, my experience with hands on volunteering helped me expand my view of the world tremendously. Among all these and many other organizations, my involvement with Kids and Art has been one of the most gratifying ways to spend my free time. All these experiences helped me gain enough confidence to join the board of a local arts non-profit in San Francisco - CounterPulse.org - that help risk taking artists who take unconventional approaches to expressing their views and spreading socially relevant messages.

Nobody likes cancer. Nobody wants to talk about it. But when you step into a Kids and Art workshop, you don't think about any of it. It's all about Kids being kids. Living in the moment, enjoying and exploring something delightful and inspiring. I highly recommend volunteering for them as an artist, or even just helping out with many little things that go into making these events a success.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on twitter

P.S. Thank You Kids and Art for doing what you do and thank you Kids and Art volunteers and supporters for making it a meaningful experience for everybody. ( Below is a lantern I handcrafted during a special volunteer appreciation event hosted by Pinterest )

Created By
Kush Amerasinghe
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