As we just passed the one-year anniversary of the Covid crisis, organizations everywhere continue to adapt to this new normal, and many have not survived. Before the pandemic, ArtWorks The Naomi Cohain Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York and New Jersey, provided creative arts programs for children hospitalized with cancer and other life-limiting or chronic illnesses.

In a pre-COVID world, ArtWorks provided teaching artists for New York and New Jersey area hospitals to create with Young Artists workshops at bedside and in small groups. Additionally, they provided hospitals with creative materials including art supplies, craft kits, and specifically designed mobile art carts so all children could participate in creative expression programs whether they were mobile or bedridden.

As New York and New Jersey quickly became one of the hardest-hit populations in the United States, the state was put on lockdown to help curb the spread of the virus. This meant organizations, like ArtWorks, were forced to adapt or halt their programs. The Hill recently reported that the “research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, said that in a worst-case scenario, prolonged crisis could lead to upwards of 38 percent of 300,000 nonprofits — more than 119,000 — closing their doors.”

With great luck and adaptability, ArtWorks decided to pivot their program. They developed a new online ArtWorks Creative Library that allowed them to expand their program outside of the New York and New Jersey area during the pandemic. This creative library includes a network of online workshops allowing children to remain creative while remaining safe.

Digitizing their teaching programs has allowed them to reach more children and lift the strain off hospital staff during this chaotic time. “Having art in my life wasn’t just a distraction,” Steve Hazlett, brain tumor survivor and ArtWorks photographer, says. “It was my strength, my hope and my reason to wake up each morning and live another day.”

Pivoting to Survive

Specializing in providing these creative programs and supplies for hospitals, ArtWorks decided to bring their program online. Like many, online resources became the key for continuing to provide services to their partners. This meant developing an online library of pre-recorded videos for children to enjoy from the comfort of their room. Instead of visiting face-to-face, artists were asked to develop their own workshops and upload their videos to ArtWorks’ site.

Children in hospitals can access this creative library on their own devices, hospital devices or sometimes directly on the hospital closed circuit televisions. ArtWorks Program Director, Fran Heyman, says that, when requested, we can provide live virtual programming so that they children can continue to have a “live” experience when possible.

In addition, ArtWorks continues to provide hospitals with all the supplies needed for their workshops. The supplies provided for hospitals include their very own customized kits that are easy for hospital workers to deliver. “That was another real key beyond continuing to provide services. During all of this, the hospitals are packed. There’s a shoestring staff. The crisis was out of control. We’ve specifically designed the program so it’s very easy for hospital staff,” Laura Langley, Executive Director of the ArtWorks Foundation, says.

Celebrating 20 Years

For ArtWorks, continuing to keep children engaged in creative programs is very important. Founded in 2002 by Daniela Mendelsohn, in memory of her cousin, Naomi Cohain, who passed away of bone cancer in 1994. Her dream was to be an artist and she saw great progress when participating in creative activities that provided an emotional outlet. ArtWorks continues to carry on that inspiration, serving as a testament to the healing powers of the creative process.

Before the pandemic, Artworks held Express Yourself, an annual event celebrating the creative works of children who participate in their workshop programs. Due to the pandemic, the annual event has now been paused, but with ArtWorks’ digital expansion, they hope to bring the event back digitally next spring.  

With their new digital approach, children across the country are able to participate in the ArtWorks workshops. Now reaching a wider pool of hospitals, the foundation continues to spread Naomi Cohain’s dream with other children.

For more information about the ArtWorks Foundation and their programs, please visit their website.