Charity Profile: The Art of Elysium
In 1997, Mississippi-born film studies major Jennifer Howell was a fresh Los Angeles transplant in pursuit of a career in the film business. But those ambitions took an unexpected turn after a friend was diagnosed with leukemia. During that time, Howell realized how lonely life can be for patients during hospital stays, especially children. Equipped with artistically inclined friends and a passion for the arts, Howell began volunteering at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital with the goal of making the treatment process a little less solitary. Today, her nonprofit, the Art of Elysium, is enriching the lives of approximately 50,000 people of all ages. “I had no knowledge of art therapy in 1997 when I started the Art of Elysium,” says Howell, a self-described “accidental philanthropist”. “I just believed that art is the one and only thing that can heal the soul no matter what circumstances someone is facing.”
The concept of art as therapy, championing the creative process as an effective healing method, has been steadily gaining ground in America since the mid-20th century. The term “art therapy” is widely believed to have been coined by British artist Adrian Hill, who turned his pencil to pad during a 1945 sanatorium stay as he recovered from tuberculosis. The Art of Elysium’s current reach extends beyond anything Hill could have imagined and continues to evolve as the organization prepares to expand across the United States. What started as a team of 33 people has swelled into approximately 1,624 artist volunteers, including familiar Hollywood faces, who devote their time in venues ranging from children’s medical facilities, hospice and elder-care facilities, homeless shelters and special-needs schools throughout California and New York.
Despite the organization’s growth and development, the Art of Elysium remains centered around art as a powerful catalyst for social change. “The fundamental belief that artists have the ability to bring joy and happiness to those in need is still the basis for everything that we do,” says Howell of Elysium’s programs that span the fine arts, theater, film, fashion design and music. “We have grown so much that the essence of the mission has been taken in more facilities than in the beginning.”
New endeavors include Elysium Bandini Studios, a shared effort by Rabbit Bandini Productions and The Art of Elysium. The project funds and produces the work of emerging artists. Howell is also seeking to move the organization’s direct engagement programs into prisons and veterans’ hospitals. “I believe that the engagement of arts will always bring transformation to those participating at a creative level,” says Howell. “The prison system has always been a priority to me. I believe that so many people have ended up there because they were not given a fair start in life.”
The Art of Elysium believes in creativity as a gift that never stops giving, inspiring and healing, and Howell’s dedication to the arts remains as strong as ever. “It is infinite what we can do with the vision of artists and the support of the community,” says Howell.