A new company is putting people to work with paintbrushes in hand and healing in mind.
VanGo 4 Kids hires independently contracted adult artists to paint outdoor murals and other artworks for customers.
“It’s just to spread joy. We are wanting to employ people to help inspire others to overcome adversity,” said owner Gary Miller.
Ten percent of proceeds will be donated to local organizations that help children. The idea came after a spontaneous painting session in Miller’s backyard.
“I was going through some difficult times myself,” Miller said. “For me spiritually, I just let God have my hand and just painted and the outcome was really cool.”
Miller, who has a doctorate in behavioral health, has spent the last four years on the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.
He’s been its vice president since January. In June, Miller announced he would not seek re-election. He is also opting to avoid the congested morning commute into the Valley and spend more time with his family.
“It’s really forced me to be creative and to be able to work locally,” Miller said.
His new venture undertook its first mission at Maricopa Elementary School in July: a pro-bono project featuring a lighthouse mural reflecting the school’s new Leader In Me status.
VanGo 4 Kids’ first resident artist, Kyra Richards, helped Miller sketch and illustrate the painting on the school’s gymnasium wall.
Richards is a recent Maricopa High School graduate who will pursue a degree in art therapy next year – unsurprising given her background.
At 7 days old, a car accident caused swelling and bleeding in her brain, seizures and other complications. She was unable to express herself with words.
Her mother improvised.
“My mom gave me crayons and paper and said, ‘Show me how you feel.’ I just moved up from there,” Richards said.
A combination of self-teachings and formal art instruction has helped Richards find her voice in unconventional media.
“Honestly, (painting) feels freeing,” Richards said. “I do what I want and how I want it, so it’s like I have control and I have my imagination. It’s just like on an airplane. You feel nothing; you feel free.”
Miller wants his VanGo 4 Kids artists, and even his customers, to learn financial responsibility.
His son Frankie, 13, is already planning how he’ll save, spend and donate money he plans to make by selling his own art.
“I usually like metal and wire. I have good vision,” Frankie Miller said.
His dad envisions VanGo growing from mobile mural company to a company leading art classes, and even building a brick-and-mortar gallery one day.
And no matter if it’s the artists or the art lovers, Miller said he hopes VanGo will inspire catharsis.
“In some way, shape or form we are dealing with some type of adversity,” Miller said. “I discovered how well art can be in the healing process for all of us, whether it’s the artist or the person who’s buying the art.”