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Ali Larter & The Art of Elysium

Bringing art to communities in need

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A lot of nonprofits ask celebrities to lend their name, but rare is the organization that asks them to spend time and give back in a true and meaningful way. The Art of Elysium, which connects artists to communities in need, does—and it's why actress Ali Larter has been active supporter and volunteer for 15 years.

"Art heals—it's as simple as that," says Larter to explain the nonprofit's impact, which aids a number of communities, from the elderly to those with special needs to children in hospitals, and celebrates its 22nd anniversary this month. In 2018 alone, the group worked with 2,022 creatives—from all fields, whether film, design or the visual arts—who, in turn, worked intimately with nearly 30 thousand individuals in the midst of challenge or crisis. Each and every one of those relationships makes a difference. And when you take in the breadth of The Art of Elysium's good works, it's simply staggering—in the most wonderful way. "When you're in there, holding their hands, playing the guitar or just being present—it's a powerful, powerful thing," Larter says. "Caring for someone and connecting with them—that's really the beauty of it.

Ali Larter wearing the Sean dress

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Q&A

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Tell us about The Art of Elysium
The goal is to connect artists to communities in the midst of challenge or crisis. Founded by Jennifer Howell, the organization does about 120 programs a month—working with everyone from children's hospitals and homeless shelters to special-needs schools and elder-care facilities. Jennifer has always had a deep love of the arts and actually studied film in college. The Art of Elysium has four creative pillars: fashion, fine art, film and music..  

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What was the inspiration behind it?
Jennifer’s dear friend Stephen was diagnosed with leukemia in college. During his hospitalization, he noticed that many children were alone during their stay. Jennifer and Stephen, along with their artist friends, would bring creative projects into Children’s Hospital and work one on one with these children. The impact on both the children and the artists was so profound that Children’s Hospital asked Jennifer to form an official nonprofit organization so that she could continue to grow and support their patients. When Stephen lost his battle with leukemia, Jennifer kept her promise to him by continuing to support those in need and give artists an opportunity to use their gifts in service.

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Why is this cause such an important one?
Art heals—it's as simple as that. And now more than ever we need to remember the power of art and the power of kindness and compassion.
 
What kind of support does The Art of Elysium provide?
There are different types of workshops, from holiday plays and mural making to improv workshops.There's one program coming up where we're doing a senior prom at an elder-care facility. We're bringing in set decorators, photographers, fashion designers… The Art of Elysium also offers 12-week self-esteem workshops to help youth who are suffering from emotional issues due to facial disfigurements or dysplasia.
The Art of Elysium ultimately provides anyone who is in the midst of challenge or crisis the opportunity to become inspired through creativity in the face of challenge. Something so simple as being able to experience a brief moment of joy through creative expression has the power to transform lives. The Art of Elysium believes that our ability to support is as limitless as creativity itself. When you give the power of creativity to someone who feels bound by their circumstance, you give them the power to change their lives.  

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What's the reach and impact?
In 2018, The Art of Elysium served 29,459 individuals in need and 2,022 volunteer artists. The goal is to be every city in this country. The group is working towards building an endowment so we can expand to new York, Austin, Nashville, Boston… 
 
What's the story behind the name?
In Greek mythology, Elysium was the inner sanctum of heaven, where heroes go after they die. The Art of Elysium translates to The Art of HEAVEN. Regardless of religious beliefs or lack of, we all come from a point of creation. We believe that it’s that point of creation that ultimately unites us all. This is our HEAVEN.
 
How involved do the artists get?
They're all working artists—so some might be gone for a year working on projects while others volunteer regularly. We try to make it as artist friendly as possible. We have some volunteers who have been with us for 15 years!
We insure that we create healthy boundaries for our artists and for those we’re serving. Some of the circumstances that the people we serve are experiencing are quite intense. When creativity is the focus, rather than the challenge, that’s the sweet spot where transcendence occurs. It’s actually a great life practice!

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What inspired you to become involved?
Jen and I met about 15 years ago—I've been involved since then. With ever fiber in her being, she believes that art heals. That's why Art of Elysium has lasted so long and why its values are in the right place. A lot of nonprofits ask you to lend your name but not to help in any meaningful way—The Art of Elysium does and that's what really struck me about the organization.
 
What do you love about the charity?
You're giving a gift by spending time with communities in need. It is essential to take care of others when they are facing difficult times. To go and work with children, and see their faces light up… that part is so simple and beautiful.You really see how your time, love and art can truly heal.
Sometimes it can be difficult when you talk to the parents and hear their stories. But you have to curb your emotions, and be strong for them. This isn't about you; this is about helping others. And when you're in there, holding their hands, playing the guitar or just being present —it's a powerful, powerful thing. Caring for someone and connecting with them—that's really the beauty of it.
 
What are some of the milestone moments in its 20-plus-year history?
The first Girl Talk. Launching into elder-care facilities—that was really an eye-opener. People need to be aware of how we're treating our elders. And the flash mob The Art of Elysium did with blind children. These kids are not used to moving for joy. They're used to moving for necessity, so to move freely for music because it inspires you—that's such a new thought process.  The freedom that comes with joy or a brief respite from fear, is what creates the miracles and magic that we see every day.
 
And what about your most memorable moment with The Art of Elysium?
Working with the children—reading, coloring, playing music, doing art projects with them… Plus, my husband plays Santa every year…
 
Any tips to get involved, either as an artist or to help a community in need?
Contact Leslie Culp to sign up for The Art of Elysium’s one-time orientation! Here email is lculp@theartofelysium.org.

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