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Jeffery Brooks grew up in a children’s theater, and when it came time for him to give back he ended up, to his surprise, starting his own non-profit organization that works just as hard to help underprivileged kids seize the same opportunities and achieve the same goals.  The Life Through Art Foundation helps kids realize there is art around and within them, and the possibilities are endless.

Love and Water- How did you start the Life Through Art Foundation?

Jeffery Brooks- I grew up in a children’s theater non-profit organization called the Metropolitan Educational Theatre, and Alex H. Urban was the person who influenced me the most.  He had a gift of teaching children theater and was adamant about education.  It taught me focus and discipline and helped me find a passion for what I loved.  When it came to me finding a way to pay that back, I started by helping one young girl who was completely passionate about theater, and it snowballed from there as I found more ways to help others do the same.

L&W- What has happened since you started in 2003.

JB- We sent one girl to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and part of the challenge with that was trying to find a non-profit organization that could help me with that.  So when we founded our own we decided that non-profits could interact more with one another by working together.  What we started to do in that way was sending our kids on field trip performances to see performances and to museums, and work out a deal to send then at a fraction of the cost of what it would normally cost, and then raise money for transportation there and back.  That way the money was going to another non-profit at the same time as it was helping the kids.  We started Art in Public Places to remind people that art exists everywhere, so we were able to go into parks in Los Angeles and have people participate in projects with their families, which was wonderful.  The other wonderful accident that happened was that we were introduced to an organization called Inner City Arts.  We sent teachers into their program to learn how to bring art into the classroom, which we knew would have a really long term affect.  So we continue to do that, sponsoring between eight and ten teachers every year.

L&W- What gives you the most satisfaction in leading Life Through Art?

JB- The fun part is just seeing how much art really influences kids.  As I work with the kids, seeing them paint for the first time or learning a skill that excites them and that I know they will benefit from in the years to come, that’s a great feeling.  In 2006 we did World Without Art Day, which was designed to try to show what the word would be like without art.  And it was a wonderful exploration of how much art is around us everyday.  Everywhere we look there is art- from the color of our cars to the clothes we wear to the signs we see.  It was really wonderful to see the kids’ reactions.

L&W- What is the most moving experience you’ve had so far with Life Through Art?

JB- 99th Street School, where we are every Thursday working with kids on art projects.  My wife was helping one day and there was this little kid who was sitting there with his paints and his paper and he wasn’t doing anything.  And my wife asked him what was wrong and he said, “I don’t know how to do this.”  So she started to help him, and she told him that he could just paint from his heart, and he started to get some of his work onto the paper.  At the end of the day we went around the room and asked the kids what they learned that day, if there was one thing they learned.  And that same kid stood up and said, “I learned that I can paint from my heart.”  These are mostly underpriveleged kids who don’t always have a chance to hone in on their artistic abilities.  It was definitely a moving experience and one that makes me work harder for the organization on a daily basis.

L&W- What are some of the ways that people can help support Life Through Art?

JB- One of the things that we find is that the gifts are quick and simple.  We get a lot of letters saying thank you to us for the opportunities we’ve given the kids we work with to move forward.  I think that anyone can help people discover art.  Monetary contributions are obviously great, but to also volunteer to help in other ways can be deeply gratifying.  We’ve had people help us with our website, help us with programs for the kids, and with anything else we may need to keep the organization running.  A financial contribution is not the only way to help, and something as simple as coming to a school with us for one day and working with some kids not only helps us tremendously but also can leave an impact on the volunteer that is hard to put into words.  We love to collaborate with artists as well as teachers, and we welcome all ideas.

Visit Life Through Art here: http://ltaf.org/site/