10-year-old puts his art where his heart is: Helping others
CHAMPAIGN – At age 10, Ben Carlton already has an altruistic streak.
"He's long on empathy," said his mother, Tiffany Carlton.
Among random acts of kindness he performs is helping younger kids go down sliding boards at parks.
He takes up long-term projects as well, like growing his hair to have it cut for wigs for cancer patients.
And Ben, a fourth-grader in the gifted program at Dr. Howard School, has given his art for three consecutive years to the Artists Against AIDS exhibition/sale, opening to the public on Friday at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum in downtown Champaign.
Ben, who doesn't personally know anyone with AIDS, decided to donate to the benefit for the Greater Community AIDS Project after a neighbor saw his art, thought it was good and suggested that Ben contribute. In doing so, Ben feels he's helping people with a serious disease that could kill them.
"I might actually save a life," he said. "Art also is one of my hobbies. I thought it would be best for both them and me."
This year, Ben will donate a small booklet of his digital photographs and a framed photo of white gourds he took from insect-level.
He will give a small pen-and-ink drawing of a seahorse and pencil sketches of a pirate boat and treasure map, and a robot head wearing a Mohawk haircut.
Like all the artists who give to Artists Against AIDS, Ben may keep half of the proceeds from the sale of his works. Ben used the money he made last year to buy a small digital camera.
Ben enjoys attending the exhibition as well, calling it huge. "There's art everywhere," he said.
More than 250 area artists donate to the event, now in its 16th year. The art is displayed from floor to ceiling and almost anywhere else there is space. The exhibit covers almost all media including ceramics, glass, metals, painting, photography, prints and sculpture. "Artists Against AIDS is the most extensive art exhibition and sale in the area, a veritable feast for the senses, touching on every artistic medium" said Teri McCarthy, director of the Greater Community AIDS Project.
The proceeds from the volunteer-operated event go directly to the project, a local nonprofit agency that provides housing and other support services for people affected by HIV/AIDS. The project serves about 300 people, with 85 percent of them in Champaign County.
McCarthy said Artists Against AIDS provides nearly one-third of the Greater Community AIDS Project budget and has become increasingly important as grant money becomes less available.
"This is the only way we can provide direct services without the limitations that come with grants," she said.
The single greatest need is emergency assistance, and the cornerstone service is housing. The project now has two houses for people with AIDS/HIV: Champaign House and a house with three apartments recently purchased with a one-time grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"There is a direct correlation between homelessness and HIV infection," McCarthy said. "By keeping people housed, they become stable and can deal with these things. When they're not housed, they engage in risky behaviors."
McCarthy said that AIDS is not just a problem of sub-Saharan Africa, that it exists in our own backyard. In the United States over the past decade, 40,000 new cases have been reported each year. Here, 14 clients of the Greater Community AIDS Project died last year.
"We haven't seen that kind of statistic in years," McCarthy said. "Lots of them didn't have the ability to afford a memorial service."
The project will memorialize them and others during the champagne reception on Thursday evening when it unveils a memorial quilt made by quilt artist Deborah Fell of Urbana. Tickets to that event are already sold out.
"We want to let people living with HIV know that they won't be forgotten," McCarthy said.
"We're very excited about it, and we hope people are stunned by what's going on here," she said, noting that the fastest growing population with HIV is people 21 and younger.
Besides serving people with HIV/AIDS, the Greater Community AIDS Project has a speaker's bureau that provides presentations to businesses, schools, civic groups, religious institutions and fraternal organizations. The project also distributes educational brochures and pamphlets.