Interview by Naomi deLuce Wilding
Images by Alex Aristei
“I believe that art heals the soul, and if we can
turn to an act of creation during any time of suffering,
we transcend the confines of the situation.”
— JENNIFER HOWELL
NAOMI DELUCE WILDING
Born and raised in West Wales, Naomi deLuce Wilding moved to Los Angeles in 2000, where she began a career as a fashion stylist. In 2014, she and her husband, Anthony Cran, opened Wilding Cran Gallery in the LA Arts District. The gallery serves as a platform to support local and universal social causes through arts education programming and philanthropic work. Naomi also works as an ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, established by her grandmother Elizabeth Taylor in 1991, which donates 100% of every dollar to helping people affected by HIV/AIDS.
ART OF ELYSIUM
A non-profit organization founded by Jennifer Howell in 1997, The Art of Elysium began as a project to bring art and inspiration to patients at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and has expanded include various populations in need of service and support. Howell was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and relocated to LA after graduation from Emerson College. Howell’s philanthropic work has given many artists a chance to enact social change through Art of Elysium’s workshops in a variety of creative disciplines.
Jennifer Howell is the founder of The Art of Elysium, an organisation which works to make art a catalyst for social change by bringing creativity and inspiration to children, artists and various populations in need of service and support. They provide workshops in the following disciplines: fashion design, fine arts, music, theater/media arts and arts-based self-esteem.
Notable volunteers include Amber Heard, Ali Larter, Hayes MacArthur, David Arquette, Elijah Wood, James Franco, Kirsten Dunst and Eva Mendes. The organisation has also collaborated with Colleen Atwood, Rain Phoenix, Moby, Linda Perry, Cameron Silver, Mark Mothersbaugh, Shepard Fairey, Jim Sheridan, Marina Abramovic and Marc Jacobs for their visionary fundraising events.
Naomi deLuce Wilding: So I know you’re actually from from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and that you came to Los Angeles after film school because you wanted to write and direct. How did that evolve into what you’re doing now? Was there something that happened to you in your life that suddenly made you want to be of service or help others in some way?
Jennifer Howell: I started The Art of Elysium in 1997. I had lost a very good friend to Leukemia. His name was Steven Hatton. He was diagnosed our senior year of high school, and we did a bone marrow drive and found a match. He went into what we believed to be full remission, but the first year I was out here, he relapsed. His girlfriend called and said I needed to come home because he probably wouldn’t make it, and when I got there he was very sick. When I saw him for the last time, he told me that he wished someone would do something for children who had no one in the hospital with them. Really all I’ve ever known or truly been passionate about is art, and so all I knew to do was get together artists and take them to these children. Through that process, I quickly learned that there is so much more we can do through the power of art, and although we started with children in hospitals, we want to help other areas of need and really bridge the gap between artists and people who need to be healed.
NW: In what way do you feel that you’re reaching people? How would you describe the ways in which you and your organisation are helping or educating others, and how do you seek to inspire people with your actions?
JH: I am always very careful to say to people that we are an artist’s charity first. I believe that the charity most impacts the world by impacting the artists who are the hands to make the mission happen. If those are the people that we’re shining a spotlight on in the artistic community, and they grow, and we nurture that philanthropic community of artists, those are the biggest microphones to the rest of the world that we will ever have. So if you see children idolising, and the people who they look up to are actually being of service, they’re going to be able to impact so many more. I think I realised that pretty early on, when in the early years of the charity I oversaw every single program. I took every musician, artist, fashion designer, and I would see the work happening in the hospitals and see how the children, families and doctors were impacted. But what really blew me away without fail was, every time we left a workshop, hearing the effect that giving had on the artists themselves.
I do believe that it’s in giving that we receive, that the children we’re able to serve, those in the homeless community we’re able to serve, the elders we’re able to serve, the gift that they give us is allowing us to give. I think that is the greater message of this organisation, and the way I see this charity giving back the most is by creating a community of like-minded people who see that being of service is the greatest thing you can do in the world.
“That was the moment I understood that art
is the reflection of society,
and that artists are the narrators
of what is truly going on in the world.”
— Jennifer Howell
NW: Do you feel, or hope, that many of the patients whose lives were touched by The Art of Elysium’s programs will one day be inspired to do similar work helping others in their own lives?
JH: I feel that the patients we work with are inspired to look at their world through a different lens by participating in our workshops. I hope that they themselves, their siblings, their parents or their doctors and nurses are inspired to keep creating a different reality for themselves. I believe that art heals the soul, and if we can turn to an act of creation during any time of suffering, we transcend the confines of the situation.
NW: How do you feel about the rising creative scene in LA?
JH: LA is the new Berlin, it’s the new hub of the world!
NW: Do you think (as I do) that organisations such as your own, which not only celebrate artists but are incorporating them into communities of service, are in a way contributing to the current artistic renaissance of Los Angeles?
JH: I would love to say that, but I think that so many artists came here because it was a new frontier, and I think that with the timing of when the charity started, we have been able to grow up with a lot of these pioneering LA artists. I would say that the reason The Art of Elysium has grown, and the way it has grown, is because of the art movement in LA.
NW: Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
JH: My biggest influence growing up was David Lynch after seeing Wild at Heart. He is definitely the person who inspired me to go to film school, and that decision was the beginning to everything that The Art of Elysium has done. Prince was another big influence. When I was about 13 or 14, Lovesexy was released, and I remember our preacher telling us not to buy the album. I was so fascinated that I immediately went out and got it. It amazed me that art could stir up so much controversy, that people would be told not to listen to music. That was the moment when I understood that art is the reflection of society, and that artists are the narrators of what is truly going on in the world.
NW: Can you tell us a bit about where you’re hoping to take The Art of Elysium in the future?
JH: I feel that every day there is a new opportunity – that is the infinite power of creativity. Whenever you bring together artists that have a million new ideas, it’s ever-changing and ever-growing.
This year, we really would like to expand beyond the children’s hospitals, elder care facilities and the homeless community and into prisons and veteran’s hospitals. We’re really striving to build a philanthropic studio which would be a self-sustaining financial model for this organisation, where we are self-funded by the artists who are the hands of our mission. We want to get beyond needing donations. We want to be self-sustaining, so that we can build an endowment and go beyond Los Angeles and New York. We could go to every city where there are people in need of inspiration through art. The potential is limitless.