After winning national contest, Ann Arbor student will expand efforts to distribute art kits to kids

Ann Arbor student Mariel Gupta recently won a $2,000 grant in a national contest, allowing her to expand her efforts to offer art supplies and classes to children who otherwise couldn't access them.

Gupta's family members nominated her last year for Allowance Grants, a national contest recently launched by Hillshire Farm's SNACKED! brand and Youth Service America. The competition is designed to to bring 4th- through 6th-graders' dreams of creating change – whether in their communities or globally – to life.

"When I first found out I was surprised and excited about winning," Gupta says. "It's really amazing, because I love art and I love my community. Now I can share what I love."

Gupta is using her grant funds for a project she created called ArtKits4Kids. Her aim is to increase access to art through the distribution of art kits to those who might not have access to art classes or supplies. After the items are bought, the kits are lovingly put together by hand. Each contains marker kits, beginner paint kits with brushes, pencil cases, and more. The kits are then delivered or mailed out.

"I use art in many ways every day. It really helps me express myself and makes my days better," Gupta says. "Some people don't have the money for supplies and some schools don't have good programs or any programs at all. I want to help these people."

Additionally, through a partnership with the nonprofit ByKids4Kids and Bryant and Northside community centers, Gupta has been organizing weekly virtual art classes, led both by local artists and creators from across the country. Interest has been strong and there are plans to showcase students' creations in community galleries in the near future.

"Maybe everyone won't come away loving art, but some will, so I want to give them that experience," Gupta says. "Not everyone has a way to try out art or get classes, and kids should at least have a way to try it."

Gupta says she's proud of the impact and difference that ArtKits4Kids has already been making. She estimates that about 30 youth have benefited. She hopes to continue to help youth across Michigan, and across the country, connect with their creativity. Down the road, she would like to work with community centers, as well as local organizations, to offer houseless youth the same experience.

"We've provided a lot of art supplies already and I think that there are still a lot of people who could use our help,'' Gupta says. "It's a lot of work, but I'm happy that I have a way to do it."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Mariel Gupta.