Art with a Heart

In the backyard of an Irvine home nestled inside a quiet, gated community, four UC Irvine students sit around a table on a sunny Saturday afternoon. One of the girls reaches for a basket overflowing with different colors of bottled paint, selects a dark brown bottle, and begins to paint a monkey on a slender post of wood. This sight may look strange to some, but it makes perfect sense to these artists. This piece of wood will soon serve as a sturdy leg to a beautiful hand-painted table. Why are they decorating a table? It’s all part of their mission to heal.

These students aren’t doctors who heal with medicine. No, their methods of delivering peace and solace are quite different from the norm. They don’t need years of training and advanced technology. Just give them a paintbrush, a musical instrument, or an open space to dance — soon enough, they’ll work their magic.

Arts for Healing is a fairly new club at UCI that brings together students who are passionate about creative arts, and helps them extend this love to help comfort and heal others. The group holds music, visual arts, creative writing and dance workshops at retirement homes, homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and any other venue in need. All students from any major or talent level are welcome to contribute.

On this afternoon of April 12, four members from Arts for Healing have partnered with Irvine resident Ann Herr to bring support for the club. Herr hosts a weekly radio show on KUCI 88.9 FM called “Operation Community Stimulus” and also builds wooden tables and other pieces of furniture as a hobby. She reached out to Arts for Healing to use her tables as a fundraiser for the group.

As soon as the club members finish painting the table, Herr will sell the table and give the club 40 percent of the profits. In turn, the organization will use these funds to continue their workshops, buy supplies and purchase other club necessities.

Herr’s inspiration to help fund and support Arts for Healing stems from her belief that arts are crucial for all. Along with her weekly radio show, Herr runs a non-profit organization also under the name of “Operation Community Stimulus.” This organization brings together businesses, non-profits, community leaders and citizens to support arts programs and other community causes. Through her radio show and non-profit, she interviews different business owners and community members about what they need to reach their goals. Arts for Healing is just one of the community organizations that she helps support.

Herr believes that arts increase creativity, critical thinking, fluency and originality — a few of the many reasons why she works so hard with others to make sure art is accessible and available to all.

The idea to build furniture arose several years ago from Herr watching her husband work in the construction industry. She wanted to learn how to build furniture, but at the time, her husband believed that women should not be involved in this type of work. Herr defied this belief and decided to teach herself how to make furniture instead. After years of practice, she now creates tables consisting of a wooden base, followed by a concrete board and topped off with Travertine tile. Then, different organizations, schools and community programs come in to paint and decorate the tables as fundraisers. She provides non-toxic paints, and then seals them off with Varathane for a clean, shiny finish.

Arts for Healing decided to decorate their table with a jungle and nature theme. Elephants, monkeys and tigers line the legs of the table, while a blue sky and mountain range adorn the tabletop.

As the club members sit and paint the table, they reflect on why this organization means so much to them and why they joined.

“It’s a great way to combine community service and my love of art,” Sechi Chavez, a fourth-year biology major and treasurer of Arts for Healing, said.

One of her favorite experiences with the club is volunteering at Casa Teresa, which is a homeless shelter for pregnant women over the age of 18. The shelter offers education, training and prenatal care for mothers in need. When Arts for Healing visits, they conduct art workshops with the mothers that help them heal from hardships and other difficult life experiences.

Another enjoyable aspect for the club members is going to a local retirement home and performing music for the residents. The students love seeing the power of music and just how much a simple song can affect the moods of listeners.

With the help of Operation Community Stimulus, Arts for Healing is one step closer to their mission of “empowering hearts to heal with the arts.”