The Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences has released its fifth annual coloring book. This year, it’s a collaboration with local business partners and a fundraising vehicle in support of an art studio and school called Aza Nizi Maza in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
The books are filled with 18 artworks by art school students, translated into line art/colour illustrations by LBIF Board Member Tracey Cameron and sponsored by the 18 Blai Business members. Each artwork in the coloring book contains the students’ words as text, translated into English.
LBIF member and watercolor painter Olga Choulindina is from Kharkiv and attended the school herself. She and her son, Dmitry Choulindin, are personal friends of the studio owners and have served as public relations contacts.
The Tomko family, owners of Wally’s Restaurant in Surf City, personally invested in the project and funded some of the printing costs. Wally’s is also a pickup location for the coloring books (minimum donation $5) and will donate $1 from every sale of a kid’s meal throughout the summer, as noted on the menu.
“We love giving back to the community when we can and for causes that are special to us,” said co-owner Anya Tomko. David’s Dream and Believe is another organization Wally supports, she said.
Anya Tomko is 100% Ukrainian. Her parents immigrated to the United States in 1949 when they were young children. Today she co-owns Wally’s with her brother-in-law Mike Tomko, who was moved to tears when he saw the Ukrainian children’s artwork.
Dmitry Choulindin said that as soon as “Russia decided to go evil,” he started Doom scrolling. He reunited with family and friends including Aza Nizi Maza owner Mykola Kolomiets, who founded the art school in 2012 with his wife Maria on the principles of education and inclusion. On the day the war began, the studio became an air raid shelter. The current collaboration between Kolomietz and his students, partially depicted in the coloring book, is a poster diary entitled What I See.
The situation in Kharkiv is dire, said Choulindin. Clean water is a problem. Showers can be weekly.
The subway is open again, he was last heard, but “the city is still on life support. Many of the men are fighting, so you have a city full of women and ‘frightened children’ stuck in dangerous and scary conditions. But caring adults can “distract them by letting them do what they do: pull their worries away.” In the present circumstances, he said, art is akin to prayer.
The studio is volunteer, he said, but they keep it open because it helps young artists cope. “It’s a form of therapy; it’s a fun place,” he said.
Money sent to the school helps buy art supplies and anything else the students need, he added.
LBIF Executive Director Daniella Kerner said her heart goes out to the children because she knows firsthand the positive lifelong impact of arts-based summer camp experiences.
The first edition produced 1,000 coloring books; The first stack of 75 at Wally’s went fast according to Tomko, so a second run is planned.
Tomko underscored the need to keep the momentum going even after the initial shock of the news has worn off.
The Tomkos regularly communicate with family members who are still in Ukraine, Anya said, “to see how they are doing, what they need, and we show them pictures” of compassionate volunteers who are fundraising and raising money. “When they see the world coming together to help, it gives them courage,” she said.
“We have to help the children and families,” she added, “because it will take at least three times longer to rebuild than the destruction.”
LBIF plans to fundraise throughout the summer – via lbifoundation.org by sending a check to (or visiting) LBIF at 120 Long Beach Blvd. in Loveladies — and will send a check to Aza Nizi Maza by September 1, Kerner said.
– Victoria Ford