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Philanthropy Focus: Free Arts Arizona

Touring the exceptional new campus of Free Arts Arizona, in the heart of central Phoenix.

One of the greatest joys of my philanthropic journey has been to witness the transformation of nonprofits that have been long-time partners of The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation. I remember first learning about Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona (Free Arts) a decade ago, back when it was a 10-person organization operating out of a small, rented office space with no street frontage, prominent signage or space to gather.  Their mission –transforming children’s trauma to resilience through the arts—is both critical and beautiful.

For years it had been a dream of Free Arts’ leadership to have a space where Free Arts alumni, volunteers and, most importantly, youth impacted by the homeless and foster care systems could call their own. With the opening of their new center, The Bob & Renee Parsons Place for Art & Transformation (“Parsons Place”), Bob and I are so proud to have helped make this dream space a reality.

The gorgeous new building was finished in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. I finally had the privilege to tour it last week and it was so worth the wait!  When I pulled into the parking lot, passing the enormous mural gracing all who drive by, I could feel the energy emanating from the building. Alicia Sutton Campbell, Free Arts’ Executive Director, greeted me along with Free Arts’ alumna Niya, and we dove right in to experience the center firsthand. 

Renee Parsons & Niya at Free Arts
Niya and I

Each time I connect with Niya, I learn so much, not only about Free Arts but about her life experiences. Now a Free Arts alum, Niya had experienced homelessness herself and participated in Free Arts’ programming as a teen. Today as a young adult, Niya is taking advantage of the alumni program, staying closely connected to the organization in many ways, including taking part in programming and becoming a leader at Free Arts. 

Niya shared with me how the building and its many rooms are special to each child who walks through Free Arts’ doors. It’s a safe space and one that belongs to the children and the community. During my visit, I had the opportunity to witness how transformational this new space truly is. In the span of an afternoon, I observed foster parents and siblings, Free Arts volunteers and staff, as well as a foster care agency come together to support the wellbeing of 40+ children in their care. 

We wrapped up the visit with intimate conversation and our own art project. Niya and Alicia included me in the Free Arts’ Affirmation Card exercise, where we crafted inspirational phrases and decorated cards to be sent to Free Arts’ children across the state as a reminder to continue on the path of resilience. If you’d like to take a creativity break with family, friends, or colleagues, I invite you to click here to create your own Affirmation Cards. 

Free Arts remains an organization that is incredibly close to my heart. Needless to say, I had an amazing afternoon seeing and sharing in their mission firsthand.