Laurie Anspach is the founder and executive director of Painting for Good Causes, a nonprofit that focuses on delivering compassion through art to children and families most in need. Inspired by the belief that the world is a better place when we focus on simple acts of caring for our neighbors, Laurie tirelessly recruits artists and organizations who share her passion for selfless acts of compassion. From a social capital perspective, the creation of a custom painting results in an intimate relationship between the artist and recipient despite the fact that they are complete strangers, and compassion is a resource embedded in that relationship. We interviewed Laurie to learn more about how this is possible.
About Painting for Good Causes
Painting for Good Causes brings compassion and caring to the families of deployed servicemen and servicewomen, foster youth who are in need of adoption, and seriously ill children and their families. Skilled painters volunteer their time to create portraits of these deserving recipients, delivering emotional support and inspiring community action.
Painting for Good Causes currently partners with the following organizations:
- Families of deployed servicemen and servicewomen: America’s Gold Star Families, HeartsApart.org
- Foster youth in need of adoption: Heart Galleries, Together We Rise
- Seriously ill children and their families: Children’s Cancer Center, Children’s Inn at National Institutes of Health
Learn more at https://paintingforgoodcauses.com
The Paintings: a Vehicle for Social Capital
Why are the paintings your artists create so valuable to the recipients?
“When a family is challenged by the separation that comes with deployment, hospital stays and foster care, their lives are changed forever because of their struggles. It makes a difference to receive something so tangible as the gift of a portrait with the intimacy and compassion that goes along with a portrayal of the family.
A photographer is capturing a moment in time where there was emotion. An artist who paints a portrait is infusing passion, empathy and caring into the painting. A portrait brings meaning to our lives [as artists] and also brings compassion and caring to families’ lives.
For example, I painted a family whose eight-year-old child was being treated for cancer and got to meet them because they live in Florida and wanted to come pick up the painting. The boy’s dad and uncle came the day after the dad gave bone marrow for his son. They were so cheerful and appreciative. They were going to bring the portrait to the hospital so the son could see it through the ICU window. The portrait is a vehicle for compassion that will hopefully lift that family’s spirits and help the boy heal.”
Laurie explains that she believes the “resource” aspect of social capital can be an intangible feeling like compassion. We wanted to explore that more.
Ok, so you’re saying the paintings are the vehicle for social capital, where the resource is compassion. Tell us more about the relationships where these resources are embedded.
“Let’s take foster children and the Heart Galleries. This nonprofit features portraits of the children in public galleries to help them get adopted. I get an image of the child and a short bio from the director of the nonprofit and assign it to an artist.
Artists need to know a person to an extent to paint with heart and soul. The artist is at a distance, but when she engrosses herself in the child’s bio, she forms an intimate bond that is communicated in the painting. She paints the portrait and sends it to the nonprofit who exhibits it to help the child get adopted.
In the process, the director of the nonprofit gets a sense of camaraderie and support for what she spends her day doing. And when artists find out that children they painted got adopted, they get a boost that inspires them to continue painting for good causes and that fills them with a sense of purpose and meaning. Now we are all connected and find meaning in each others’ lives.”
One relationship here is between Laurie and the nonprofit that is working on behalf of foster children. The nonprofit gets more than just a physical painting: they receive support and compassion as a resource embedded in that relationship. The painting helps generate additional compassion in the community for the foster child, which is a valuable resource in helping these children find their forever homes.
The other relationship is between the artist and the child or family receiving the painting. While it may seem that this relationship is weak because of distance and lack of shared experiences, it actually has incredible depth because of the artist’s investment in empathizing with the subject at a deep enough level to infuse meaning into the painting. This is the first example we’ve seen of a relationship that is strong enough to produce social capital in absence of the traditional context of knowing and trusting someone.
Measuring Intangible Social Capital
How do you measure the value of an intangible resource like compassion?
“I measure it by the generation of joy. If we all measured our lives in the number of smiles that we received or gave to others, our society would be greatly improved.
I can measure joy by the gratitude relayed by a recipient or the director of a nonprofit partner. I can measure it by the number of foster children adopted. And I can measure the potential joy by the continued dedication of the artists. Each time a portrait is complete, there is a moment in which the family receives the portrait or in which the portrait is exhibited… and in that moment there is an experience of joy that would not have taken place without our artists.”
We think there might be additional ways to invest in measuring the impact of organizations like Laurie’s that have a more intangible way of serving communities. In The Indicators of Social Capital we talk about proxy indicators proposed by the World Bank’s Social Capital Initiative. If cognitive social capital indicators like solidarity, trust and harmony were compared across similar groups who do and do not receive the outreach of a portrait, we would expect to see higher levels of social capital emerge within those that do receive portraits. Laurie expanded on this idea for us.
“I’m a living example of how ‘paying it forward’ works. I only had 10 years with my mother, but during that time she regularly took me to the places in the community where she volunteered teaching art. That experience stayed with me the rest of my life… volunteering in my community and starting nonprofits. When someone directly sees the impact of reaching out [whether they are on the giving or receiving end], it changes the course of people’s lives.”
This observation that people exposed to higher levels of social capital resources tend to pay it forward and generate higher levels of social capital in their communities is consistent with what Arreon Harley observes with graduates of the Choir School of Delaware. Anecdotally, these students do more volunteering and impact-oriented jobs in their communities as a result of their Choir School experience.
The Artists and Their Ministry
Tell us more about the artists who give their time to paint
“The artists that work with Painting for Good Causes are professional commission artists who exhibit and sell their work and win awards for their excellence in the world of art. Their work is considered highly valuable in terms of dollars, and the time it takes to complete a portrait is not short. Their generosity in painting for charitable causes is immense, and I value their time, talent and hearts. They are leaders in our culture and pioneers in a time when we need more outreach, kinship and emotional connection to each other.
I’ve reached out to easily six or seven thousand [artists]; I spend time every day reaching out. 55 have come onboard, all completely from our heart. We all pay for our own supplies and shipping.
One thing in common with all artists that come on board is that they all say it’s an honor to be able to provide their talents in the form of a painting for those who so deserve it. My artists are beautiful, generous people. They feel it’s a blessing they found the nonprofit.
I’m amazed at the consistency of the words my artists use [to describe why they keep giving their time to paint these children and families]. They have called it a ministry, and many [of the nonprofits we work with] use similar words. I see it as a spiritual connection.”
How do you cultivate bonding social capital within your team to keep artists engaged and motivated when they are so far at a distance?
“My artists are volunteers, and in a nonprofit you need to keep volunteers interested and to be their cheerleader. Initially I wondered, ‘Are they going to get it? Are they going to see and feel it? Are they at too much of a distance?’ Imagine the [physical and emotional] distance of a painter in California whose only contact with the subject of her painting is a short biography and photograph relayed to her from the nonprofit through me.
But they can feel it when I tell them things like ‘the child was adopted because of the portrait,’ or ‘the family loved the portrait,’ or ‘the director cried with joy when she saw the portrait.'”
Laurie clearly has a gift for cultivating bonding social capital among these artists, who are operating at a physical and emotional distance from the people they serve. The simple act of providing immediate, tangible feedback on their impact goes a long way. Even though the artists don’t have relationships with the organizations or people they serve, they do have incredibly strong relationships with Laurie, and they trust that she is representing them well and delivering their work in the best way possible. It’s this trust that enables them to produce the intangible social capital embedded in the painting.
Partner Organizations and Bridging Relationships
How do you choose which partner organizations to work with?
“It’s almost like a magnetic thing. You would think that I’ll just call five nonprofits and five will say I want to partner with you. No way. You have no idea how many nonprofits I’ve contacted and offered this to within our three causes/areas who didn’t want it. I was so shocked. The ones what we’ve connected with… it’s almost like a magnetic thing. They’re not mild about it. They’re just as passionate as I am.”
What do you think drives an organization’s interest in partnering with you?
“I think it comes down to the individual leading that organization and whether there are shared values. There are two kinds of nonprofits: those that are truly truly driven by their hearts, compassion and caring and those that are operating it as a business (figuratively). The first kind is driven by the shared value of compassion. Compassion is a verb, not an emotion. It’s the ability to empathize with and understand another person. You cannot purchase a self-initiated will to reach out to a stranger.
Going back to the families of the children who have cancer. Many have told me that they feel alone. An unusual circumstance can start to separate you from the surrounding culture… the outside world no longer understands. The simple action of reaching out and saying I want to come into your world and share with you whatever I can give you [can change someone’s life]. Not every group is sitting in that value zone; most of our culture is looking at a completely vacant set of relationships and interactions with each other.”
How You Can Help
Laurie’s dream is to reach many more families and groups of people in need of compassion through custom portraits. If the Painting for Good Causes mission resonated with you, please consider making an investment of any kind.
- If you or someone in your network is a portrait artist, you can reach out to join Laurie’s team of artists.
- If you have connections at a nonprofit that serves people who could benefit from Laurie’s work, you can make an introduction. Laurie dreams of serving many more communities including first responders and families who have lost children.
- If you are blessed with financial resources, you can make a donation to help cover the artists’ expenses and fund additional outreach.
- Everyone can share Laurie’s story with their network directly, or through social media. Laurie also loves to discuss ideas with those who want to start implementing similar outreach in their communities.