FOUNDER, JENNIFER HOWELL
Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Jennifer landed in Los Angeles shortly after graduating from Emerson College with a B.A. in Mass Communications and Film. She has since become an inspiration to tens of thousands of children and their families, and set a new precedent for social responsibility within the entertainment community.
An accidental philanthropist, Jennifer had a movie career in mind before fate dealt her a different hand. “There really is no rhyme or reason to it,” she explained. “I wasn’t looking for a change in my life. I was super excited about being in LA and starting a career in the film industry.” But only after a close friend was diagnosed with Leukemia, and experienced first-hand the loneliness of children forced to suffer in a hospital bed alone, did a simple conversation turn into a totally different perspective. “For some reason, that story just redirected my life,” she said.
Soon after, Jennifer began volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles with a group of friends, most of whom were artists. But after several weeks of regular visits, she found herself in another unexpected position. “They took me in this big board room with a whole bunch of people,” she explained. “They said, ‘We never in a million years thought you would follow through. We love the artists you bring in and so do the children, but if you want to keep doing it, you have to start a non-profit.’” Reflecting on what became a major career change, she joked, “I was 22 at the time. I didn’t even know what a ‘non-profit’ was.”
Nevertheless, she was determined to continue what she had started. And in the fall of 1997, the Art of Elysium was born. What began as a group of friends with a mission to make sure no child goes through treatment alone, became a new way of looking at art and its capacity for social change. “I believe in the power of creativity,” said Howell. “If you can teach a child to see a hospital room as a totally different world, and allow them to create their own reality through the means of creative expression, then you have given them the gift of imagination and the true healing power of art.”