Art now, great things later

Amid an orange-yellow dusk on a balmy November night in 2011, two surfers paused off the 28th Street Jetty in Newport Beach.

The night inspired "Shannon Sunset," a color Jennifer Smucker, 36, and Shannon Lindsey-Frugis, 32, would paint onto the 1979 Dodge TransVan they use as a mobile office and arts center for their nonprofit Loveart&, which focuses on art, environmental advocacy and outdoor recreation.

"People at the auto paint store asked, 'Are you sure? That color is horrendous!'" said Smucker, a Santa Monica resident. "We said, 'No, we like it. It's bright and cheerful and sort of like us.' Even the blue of the logo [painted on the van] represents the color contrast of the evening sky."

Noticing the burgeoning popularity of food trucks nationwide, Smucker and Lindsey-Frugis were on the lookout for a van, when Lindsey-Frugis' grandfather donated his to Loveart&.

"The van has a lot of sentimental value because I grew up going on camping and road trips with my grandparents in it," the Newport Beach resident said. "When my grandpop turned 90, he decided he wasn't going on anymore road trips. Loveart& had started developing the concept of bringing our workshops to multiple locations and we needed a vehicle to develop the program."

Smucker and Lindsey-Frugis met in San Francisco more than eight years ago, where they became roommates and close friends who were drawn together by an affinity for art.

"Since art had always been a savior in my life, I wanted to share that experience with other people," Lindsey-Frugis said. "We wanted to give people resources to be creative and then show them that being creative is a tool that can alter their own path in life."

The duo established Loveart& in 2010.

"The '&' in the end of Loveart& represents a spirit of collaboration, which is the essence of our work," Smucker said. "We are always partnering with other organizations and groups, and so it's like Loveart& dot, dot, dot."

Smucker and Lindsey-Frugis run the show, from public relations to teaching to grant-writing.

"Once we have established a connection, we create customized workshops, based on the age of the kids that are going to be there, to promote creativity in under-served youth," Smucker said. "We're local — we take our programming to community centers, after-school programs, elementary schools, and other places that have a need for, but lack funding to provide, the kind of workshops that we do."

Loveart& has worked with youth, predominantly aged between 13 and 18, at the Newport-Mesa Community YMCA, Costa Mesa-based Save Our Youth Center, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Ana and Anaheim, among others. Recently, the duo were also contacted by Fremont Elementary School in the Santa Ana Unified School District, which is the first public school to request they visit classrooms.

"When I was at a younger age, I formed a foundation of things I loved and an identity that is still a part of who I am today," Lindsey-Frugis said. "The experience of art at a younger age helps facilitate cellular memory that is carried on through that person when they get older."

Young people attending these workshops are exposed to tactile and do-it-yourself activities that employ reusable or recycled materials, which, in turn, draws attention to their carbon footprints.

"Kids don't want to hear a lecture about environmental awareness, so we backdoor it through an activity," Smucker said. "Some kids get scared by the word 'creativity,' and think, 'Oh, I'm not artistic. I can't make anything.' But that's not the point. The point is to provide them with an outlet for self-expression and to enable them to think beyond their current circumstances."

Smucker credits an early exposure to the arts for her ability to dream outside the confines of the small, rural Maryland town where she grew up.

"I believe that exposing under-served youth to creativity and helping their brains think on a different path about what is possible can spark something great inside them," she said. "They might not think about it until 10 years later, but it could very well change their path in life."

Loveart& seeks funds to continue providing free classes to "young people who have the potential to do great things, but don't have the resources to get there," Smucker said.

The nonprofit is the recipient of Surfer's Journal's 1% for the Planet donation.

Smucker and Lindsey-Frugis, who also partner with San Diego-based corporate sponsor Cali Bamboo to create workshops on sustainability, will use the funds to organize additional skill-building programs for low-income youth.

"A lot of the people we work with are young girls, and they get to see two girls who took an alternate path in their lives," Smucker said. "A strong influence of women doing something rad can be very empowering to young people."

Lindsey-Frugis echoed the sentiment, adding that each day provides an opportunity to grow — for the youth and for her.

"I love sharing myself and what I have learned with other people," she said. "Human connections and relations are so important in this world. I learn so much from the young people we work with and continue to learn from all of the people I am surrounded by."

Twitter: @RMahbubani

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