Art has long been used as a form of healing the body, mind and soul. For some Metro children, creativity and restorative care come by way of an art center on wheels.
Haley Brunelle has seen just how much art can make a difference through her son, Felix, 5. “Felix was born with a one-of-a-kind chromosome deletion, presenting as several different physical challenges, medical complexity and the need for a 30-plus strong medical and therapy team to follow him on the regular,” says Brunelle. So, when Felix encountered Ziggy’s Art Bus, a bus that serves children with life-limiting illnesses by indulging their creative minds, his creative self took flight.
Felix’s first creation at Ziggy’s Art Bus was a birdhouse he made three years ago that is still used today. Brunelle says, “We enjoy the chickadees that make this little birdhouse a home in our cherry tree every spring. Although Felix is nonverbal, he reminds me [of his art] when we’re watching the birds move back in [during the spring]. He points to [the birdhouse] in the tree and then to himself—he’s clearly quite proud of his work.”
Founder of Ziggy’s Art Bus Gina Zaffarano of Minneapolis says she knew this artful idea had to come into play when she was introduced to Crescent Cove, a respite home and care facility for children in Brooklyn Center. “I realized when working at Crescent Cove that there was not a lot of space for creative endeavors for these children ... Art is such an equalizing experience for everyone, regardless if they think they have artistic ability or not, and it is something that takes people out of their heads and into their hearts,” she says. From there, Zaffarano drafted the idea of an art bus to make the experience as accessible as possible for every child.
The art bus travels year-round to Metro area facilities, including Fairview Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and Crescent Cove. “We want to bring joy to children with life-limiting illnesses. That is our sole foundation for Ziggy’s Art Bus,” Zaffarano says.
When the bus shows up at the hospital, the volunteers are there to help facilitate the art-making process for the children. Sometimes it is very hands-on for volunteers, or the kids take over the projects themselves. “We generally curate these art projects based around the demographic of kids we are seeing that week,” Zaffarano says.
Lake Elmo resident and lead volunteer of Ziggy’s Art Bus Erica McNair Marsden has a passion for people in need. Marsden is a part-time death doula and grief educator, and serves on the board for Ziggy’s Art Bus and is one of the two lead artists.
Marsden says she knew she had to be a part of Ziggy’s when she heard about her friend Zaffrano initiating this beautiful idea. She was involved in the initial fundraising in 2019 and decided to get more involved with Crescent Cove.
With Marsden being an end-of-life doula and her having a magical combination of loving the arts and helping people, Ziggy’s was a shining opportunity. “I really started volunteering because I had a strong pull with end-of-life issues,” Marsden says.
The volunteers also receive a biography of the children they are working with prior to the bus arriving in order to provide the most enjoyable and engaging experience possible. “Seeing the kids engage in art in unexpected ways is beautiful to see. It’s important they have a space where they are seen—art can truly be an escape and a pause from their everyday lives,” Marsden says.