Meet our United Way neighbors: Arts for Life

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Here at 50 South French Broad avenue, United Way staff work in the bottom quarter of the building. The rest of the building is rented by tenants from non-profits and businesses. Each month, we will be highlighting one of these organizations to share with you. 

This month, it's Arts for Life 

Arts For Life is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people facing serious illnesses and disabilities. By providing educational art programs, they work to enrich patient’s lives, nurture their minds and spirits, and encourage positive healthcare experiences for children and their families. They currently help children in four chapter communities across North Carolina.

One patient, one camera, one photography lesson: That’s all it took.

In 2001, eleven-year-old Katie was diagnosed with bone cancer. While helping care for her during the long and difficult months of treatment in the hospital, her older sister, Anna, noticed that there weren’t many positive activities available for kids like Katie, activities to help them stay engaged in life. Anna saw firsthand the struggles and triumphs of these brave young patients, and recognized that many of the children’s emotional, social, and cognitive needs weren’t being met. So…she brought in a camera.

At first, Anna taught photography just to Katie. But then she started teaching Katie’s neighbors in the hospital, then five other kids on the unit got involved, then 10, then 20. Patients and their parents responded positively to the art lessons and asked for more. Photography and visual arts quickly proved to be powerful ways to help patients successfully cope with their medical treatments and hospital stays. Overwhelming requests from patients, parents, and caregivers, as well as donations and start-up grants, soon allowed Arts For Life to reach more children. Donations from many generous people and contributions from businesses, such as the Loretta Ho Sherblom Insurance Agency, enabled Anna to officially form Arts For Life at Brenner Children’s Hospital and to keep the program going.

Over the next five years, Arts For Life expanded from Winston-Salem to Asheville, Charlotte, and Durham. Arts For Life grew, offering not just photography but all types of visual art lessons—painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and more—plus music and creative writing lessons, all at no cost to families.

Today, patients and parents count on Arts For Life to be there for them, every day, offering opportunities to do what kids do best: learn, create, and grow.

Arts for Life Heartbeat Sessions

The Arts for Life Heartbeat sessions are a growing collection of musical recordings, highlighting the collaboration between young patients and music professionals in the Asheville community.

Each session involves incorporating a digital recording of a pediatric patient’s heartbeat into a song selected or created by the patient and their family. The song and the heartbeat are recorded together, using live musicians in a professional recording studio.

Watch and listen to Arts for Life's first Heartbeat Session, featuring 10-year-old Jesse’s favorite song: “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen.


The Heartbeat Project: Jesse from Erin Derham on Vimeo.

Learn more at, and stay inspired by these young artists on Facebook and Instagram.


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