Since my kids were 8 and 10, each year on Christmas day they have gone with me to deliver Christmas meals to elderly people in the inner city. We’ve always done this late morning, after opening presents. Why? To remind my kids, even when we were broke and the gifts rather spare, that there were more important things than worrying about whether or not you got what you wanted. It was one way for me to counteract the excess of Christmas in America; it reminded them of how fortunate we were; and it taught them the joy of giving to someone who truly needed it.
Most of these people live in fairly dilapidated conditions in the East Side ghetto, along streets like Indiana or Cleveland or Prospect. But whenever we show up with the meals, and a surprise gift, man you should see them smile. It seems to mean a great deal to these folks, since many of them are lonely–as indeed many elderly people are lonely. Now that my sons are teenagers, these visits mean a great deal to them too. They’ve come to understand the importance giving–year-round, not just at Christmas. Well, that was part of the plan.
The piece above is by Michael Ferris, one of the best young portrait painters I’ve ever met. The sensitivity and intelligence of the painting speaks for itself, as does the sensitivity and intelligence of the subject. I placed it in the Overland Park Convention Center’s permanent collection because the OPCC is in an area that is mostly white (honkeytown, in other words), and I felt it needed a little racial balance. My client, the city administrators, agreed.
At least in America today, if a region remains primarily white, this is more a result of market forces than overt discrimination, such as I witnessed as a kid in the 60s. But it still ain’t good. Hence anytime I oversee a civic collection, I keep these things in mind. I’m sure my reasons are obvious: art can open doors of perception within the individual viewer like nothing else. I’d say that’s a pretty cool thing.