I just got back from South Central LA, where for the 24th straight year, we held a Christmas party and art workshop for inner-city kids. More than 500 children lined up around Loren Miller park for a few hours of uncomplicated fun. They all received toys and little goodie bags with some holiday treats they might not have gotten otherwise. Those who wanted, got a little face time with Santa, and everyone got to paint.
Every year, there is small army of volunteers that comes down to help. Invariably they tell me it’s one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve ever had. I know it is for me.
These days, as the number of kids we serve has steadily grown, I have to function as a sort of an organizational ringmaster, the one overseeing the project, supplies, and logistics – the big picture. I was lamenting to my husband this morning, that in some ways I miss the early days when the kids measured in the dozens and not the hundreds.
Those days, I got to sit with a table-full of little ones, side-by-side, and jump in – just making art. It wasn’t just rewarding, it was fun. For a few minutes, that piece of construction paper in front of them, with paint and glitter slathered all over it, wasn’t just the most important thing in the world — it was the best thing in the world. I used to think it was because those kids were from the most impoverished neighborhoods in L.A., and have so little in the way of material bounty. But that’s not it.
Earlier this year I was on a flight from New York, enjoying a rare first class upgrade. Across the aisle was a 7 year-old-girl with her mom. She wore designer clothes, and was watching a movie on her iPad. As I often do on planes, I took out some markers and started to play. When I noticed her staring, I asked if she wanted some markers and paper. Within 3 minutes, that little piece of paper in front of her wasn’t just the most important thing in her life, it was the best. She reminded me of myself at 7 — begging my mom to postpone lights-out for just ten minutes, so I could draw one more silly monster.
I think it has nothing to do with race, or gender… or age or privilege. I think we all have this overpowering need to create something that is uniquely ours. It may be as essential as any drive a human being has.
Or…it may just be fun.
I could seriously go on about this for hours, but I just discovered an unopened box of colored pencils left over from our workshop today…. and lights-out is still ten minutes away… so, I gotta go.