“Emergency” art kits give cancer patients a dose of inspiration

Brad Bailey never left his house without four essential items: wallet, keys, phone – and art supplies.

That’s why, last winter, when he woke up in the hospital without anything to draw on or with, he felt completely lost.

“I thought, this is unacceptable. Totally wrong,” says the professional artist, who spent his career at Kaman’s Art Shoppes, a company (the largest of its kind in America) that trains and hires the artists who paint faces and draw caricatures at amusement parks.

Mr. Bailey was at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Center for treatment of his sarcoma. Previously, complications had caused him to lose a leg, and he now uses a wheelchair. His spirit undeterred, Mr. Bailey saw an opportunity to focus his art on more “romantic” subjects: he taught himself watercolors and began spending warm afternoons out and about his hometown in Oberlin, Ohio, painting street scenes and landscapes.

“I’m a punk,” Mr. Bailey says good-naturedly. “I specialized in caricature; my art made fun of people. But now, I’ve found the beauty in beauty, if you know what I mean.”

Hatching a plan

As he looked around his hospital room that winter day, longing for his supplies, Mr. Bailey’s eyes fell on a small, greeting-card size tin that was being used to store medical supplies. “And it hit me that this tin could be used for something else,” he says.

By the time he was discharged, Mr. Bailey had a plan.

With help from members of his church, he and his wife, Tammy, raised enough money to buy 200 tins and set about creating art kits for hospitalized patients.

 “I wanted to help other people,” he says. “Art anchors me. I remember who I am and I don’t get lost in the hospital bed when I have art.”

The gift of inspiration

Inside each limited-edition Brad Bailey Emergency Art kit, you’ll find 50 pieces of card stock, three assorted travel-size colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, one ultra-fine Sharpie pen, one mechanical pencil, and over 50 sketching ideas.

Mr. Bailey says that the small size is intentional. “You can put it in your glove box so it’s there when you need it, like a spare tire.”

The kits were lovingly assembled by members of Mr. Bailey’s church, who got together on a Saturday afternoon to help their friend realize his vision.

“Nineteen people worked for two hours to put the kits together,” Mr. Bailey says. “There was an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old. There was such a great vibe!”

Lisa Shea, Art Therapist at the Taussig Cancer Center, is helping to distribute the 200 kits to patients at Cleveland Clinic main campus and The Gathering Place.

The very first patient to receive a kit was Amir Williams, a 37-year-old Cleveland native who was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in April 2017.

Brad Bailey’s meditative mantras:
1. Seek inspiration
2. Foster kindness
3. Slow down

Follow the hashtag #seekinspiration to see examples of the art inspired by Mr. Bailey’s kits

Mr. Williams is an artist as well, although he never pursued it professionally.

“My wife didn’t believe me a few years ago when I told her I could draw,” Mr. Williams says. “She said, ‘Why hadn’t you told me before?’”

He is now working on a portrait of her.

“Art is a really inspirational thing,” Mr. Williams says, adding that he was very grateful to receive the kit.  “It was a good outlet for me, an opportunity to create some beauty.”

Like Mr. Bailey, Mr. Williams believes in paying it forward. A civic activist, he appreciates that the cancer has given him a platform to raise awareness and spread education about the preventable disease.

“This is something that crosses political divides,” he says.

“I see it as a blessing, this opportunity to show other people what they can get through. We’re all going through something. Attitude is 90 percent of the journey.”

Adds Mr. Bailey: “People start conversations with me from a place of pity. But I don’t want to focus on the negative. I turn to them and say, ‘I’d like to give you a gift.’” He mimes handing someone an art kit. “And then I ask, ‘What did you create today?’”