Saturday, April 3, 2010

Artist Mike 'Chizzy' Chisholm donates a painting to Thurston Elementary School

Artist Mike "Chizzy" Chisholm gifted a painting to Thurston Elementary to inspire children to follow their dreams.
The media room was quiet and I was alone with the paintings displayed in a neat array around the book shelves. I'm a philistine when it comes to contemporary art, so I cannot give you the astute artistic account of the work and its meaning. But, what I can tell you, is that the pictures were really cool!

Artist Mike "Chizzy" Chisholm came to Thurston Elementary School on Thursday, April 1 to speak with the children about his art and to donate one of his paintings to the school. 

"The impression left on him in the Thurston school and art room was so significant, he was inspired to give back," said Sarah Altman, Thurston's Art teacher and an inspired organizer of this event.

Chisholm walked into the room surrounded by the halo of unruly curly hair and wearing a collage jacket in hues of pink and sky blue. It had rhinestones on the pocket seams and the word "love" - one of his life's mottos - was patched on the back. He made the jacket himself, and glued each sparkly bit on by hand. 

He was an instant hit with the children. They were full of questions! It seems children have a natural understanding of expressionism. They saw the flowers and palm trees in the bright and busy collages, they loved the colors. Maybe it's because the paintings look like child's imagination captured on paper, a true self expression of child-like wonder?
Chisholm talked about self expression at length. His fascinating life journey and his unique view of the world was unconventional and fascinating. He is a founder of Chizzy's Charities Artist Network (CCAN) - a non profit organization that brought more 150 artists together to work closely with groups such as Ronald McDonald House Charities, Henry Ford Hospice (Sandcastles family Grief Support), and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Michigan. Both Chisholm and the Artist Network donate no less than 20 percent of their proceeds to these and other charities.
I don't particularly expect the elementary school students to be pragmatic. Therefore, my favorite question asked by students was, "If you give so many of your paintings away, how do you make any money?"
Chisholm told a story about a friend of his who was battling cancer. To cheer her up, he made a painting which he gave to her, while she was recovering in the hospital. The painting's sparkly swirls would cheer her up during the day, and at night would glow, to remind her of the big sky outside. "Sometimes," Chisholm said, "there is no value you can place on a painting. I just wanted to make my friend happy!"
I couldn't think of a better way to explain the concept of "priceless."
It made me wonder if we are really teaching our children the right values, if when faced with the prospect of following their dreams, they ask the question of, "will it be enough money to bother with?" That was my favorite part of the conversation. After all, I am following my dreams of being a writer at the age of 34.
When I came to Michigan from Ukraine, I was 17. An aspiring poet and writer, I was just starting to get noticed and recognized, when the political climate of my home country had forced my family to move overseas. When I came to the United States, I barely spoke English. Now I feel like I am 17 again, just 17 in a new country with a new life and new aspirations. Somehow, at this 17-again stage, happiness and fulfillment are the things I value the most.
I loved meeting with Chisholm. He is a fascinating person, full of energy and desire to give to his community and, I think, he made a big impact on our children. His gift painting - Mrs. Dalgreen's Time Machine - is dedicated to his elementary school teacher, who was the first artistic influence in his life. This painting was a reflection of how he felt when he was a young child in her classroom. It will be available for viewing in the Thurston Elementary School (location TBD) after the spring break.

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