A Global Vision of Compassion
“Visual art, literature and music have always been important parts of my own creative expression,” says Elizabeth Nguyen-Espinoza. “But as a person who had experienced hardship as a child, I know that in order to be a fully creative person, our basic life needs have to be met – including good health. When I shared my ideas about starting a gallery as well as a foundation that would be part of making positive change in the lives of children, the artists in my community showed great interest and followed up with their support.”
The founding of the non-profit Rosa Thay Nguyen Children’s Foundation and the artists’ collective ISEE Gallery, allowed Liz to bring together her passion for art (she is a working painter and sculptor) and her background as a business person. After retiring from a successful career in government, Liz was able to focus more of her time and energy on making her own work. But she also knew she wanted to take that creativity and direct it to community service.
Born in Vietnam, Liz and her immediate family came to the United States in 1975. “It was difficult as we didn’t speak the language and had to reestablish our entire lives in a foreign culture.” Liz’s parents worked multiple jobs in order to give their children a chance at a much better life. “I named the non-profit after my mother. She gave so much. She had such a huge sense of compassion. The foundation is really about the big vision of a better humanity. It’s echoed in the words of the Dalai Lama ‘Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.’”
The foundation acquires funds through a number of avenues including charitable contributions, grants and the funds raised through the donation of art and proceeds from the sales of art via the ISEE Gallery. “Our community of artists is very strong here in Southern California. There has been such an outpouring of love and support for the work the organization does. We’ve been involving more and more people through local exhibitions, fundraisers and networking with local arts organizations. What we are looking to do now is to get artists from other cities and states involved. This is definitely about growing our network, about getting our message out to the world.”
The work of the foundation is primarily driven by the needs of children, especially children in developing countries where access to first-rate medical care, surgery and medications isn’t always available.
Bringing Artists Together to Create Change
The ISEE Gallery dovetails with the foundation as a way to raise funds for children’s global health. “The big idea behind the gallery was to create a site that was both owned and operated by artists. Collectors can purchase either original works in a variety of media or if they decide that an original work is outside of their budget many of our artists create high-quality prints of the originals as limited edition works.”
The participating artists have agreed to donate a portion of the work to the charities supported by the Rosa Thay Nguyen Children’s Foundation. “We’ve worked very hard to think about the ways we can get work into the hands of collectors, both private and corporate. One of the ways we do this is, through our Motivational Art Collection, we offer services in which a work of art is personalized. Our artists can be commissioned by a client to create a special painting or sculpture for either a business associate or for an organization. We also encourage our corporate contacts to think about how they can incorporate the giving of original artwork into their company culture. This kind of gift can be so meaningful. It can send a positive message of gratitude and care to the recipient, especially if they know the sale of the work benefits children.”
The gallery features several artists working in a variety of styles, focusing on nature and genre scenes, bright colors and pleasing subjects suitable for public spaces. “Our artists are really interested in celebrating life and all of its beauty. That could be the intricate patterns of flowers and landscape formations in the work of Linh My Nguyen, Machiko Naganuma, Mary Jo Stauner or the dream-like paintings of Timothy Smith that take on a more collage or cubist perspective. We’ve worked hard to curate the work of artists that can appeal to a wide audience and to suit different environments.”
Besides being a retail gallery, ISEE also organizes, hosts and collaborates with other local arts organizations on events and educational offerings. “From poetry readings to classes on photography and drawing, we are always working on finding ways to build community and to encourage creativity in every day people.” Liz continues. “I’m so grateful for the path my life has taken. Although I didn’t work in the arts during my professional years I never stopped loving the arts. It’s a real honor and joy to be at the place where I can devote my life to art and to finding new ways to bring art into the service of other people – especially children.”