Area day-school youth boost sick kids spirits with art

Third grader David Brown of Palo Alto drew a large, smiling sun on his brightly colored greeting card, then composed a short message.

"Dear to whom it may concern, I really really wish for you to get well. The best way to cure sickness is to smile. Smile, and may all your wishes come true. From your friend, David."

The 8-year-old, along with other students at Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School in Palo Alto, was a happy participant earlier this month in a unique program called Project 9865.

The Jewish day school is one of the first in Northern California to join the project — a creative art therapy program which will involve 30,000 California schoolchildren as well as 4,000 children in pediatric hospitals and oncology camps, who are seriously ill with cancer or AIDS.

The children are combining their efforts to paint several huge canvases that will cover what is now an ugly, 15,000-square-foot oil rig tower on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. The schoolchildren will prime the canvas for painting, while the ill children will do the actual artistic work later.

Project 9865 is named for the rig's address. When completed, it will be the largest such monument in the western United States and, at 155 feet, will be three feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. When complete, each side of the tower will depict in colored flowers one of the four seasons.

At the Mid-Peninsula day school, students clustered around the large canvas covering much of the floor in the auditorium. The students, under the guidance of artist Bernie Massey of Los Angeles, eagerly pushed large roller brushes across the material, applying a base coat.

Project 9865 is the philanthropic brainchild of Massey and his brother, Ed, also a Los Angeles-based artist. The brothers, who are Jewish, have been using art to promote what they consider to be burning social issues.

Judy Citron of Menlo Park, parent of two Mid-Peninsula students and a helper in the auditorium, heard about the project from My Jewish Discovery Place Children's Museum, a traveling museum in the Bay Area.

"The project goes hand in hand with bikur cholim — part of our school's philosophy and teaching — helping the sick and needy through mitzvah," she said. "It is a perfect connection for these students to help others."

Citron's fifth-grade daughter, Arielle, said, "I thought it would be fun to help children in the hospital. It will make them feel good because other children care about them."

Another student, Max Roth, 11, of Palo Alto, said, "I think this is a real mitzvah and great project for all the children in the hospital. Hopefully, they will feel better and happy by getting their minds off their illnesses."

On her greeting card, 8-year-old Laura Cooper of Palo Alto wrote, "Dear friend, You are a brave spirit that should live forever. Get well soon. Keep up the good work."

Recipients of the cards will also receive a kit containing a hat, a wood towerand a set of paints to use on a picture of the tower covered with flowers.

The S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education is encouraging participation of its local affiliates through the agency's Family Education Project. Other participants will include Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael and Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Project 9865 has received support from individuals, foundations and corporations. For example, Nike donated sneakers that convert into "shoe paint brushes" for children who can't use their arms.

Massey just finished training 70 Stanford students who will be partners this month with patients at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Massey will be in the Bay Area one week each month until the project is completed next spring. The canvases will be installed in the summer of 1999.

During a recent meeting of Bay Area Jewish educators, the Masseys introduced a second project to appear in area synagogues and JCCs. That project, dubbed "Box for Change," emphasizes both the brothers' justice-through-art agenda and Jewish values.

Participants will decorate palm-sized boxes with art that addresses homelessness. After the boxes are completed, the Masseys will assemble them for a touring art exhibition.

For information on Project 9865 or "Box for Change," contact Vicky Kelman at the BJE (415) 751-6983.