Arts / Museums

Seven-year-old Wunderkind Artist Buys Coats for the Homeless

This Kid’s a True Dallas Difference-Maker

BY // 11.03.15
photography Rachael Wise

Gia Woodrum is using her artistic talents to help make the lives of those living on the streets in Dallas a little more comfortable. The first-grader is mounting her second art show in a year, a silent auction on Thursday, November 5, 6 to 9 pm, at the Ornare showroom in the Dallas Decorative Center. Proceeds from the sale of her paintings go to buy coats, shoes, water and backpacks filled with food and necessities for homeless people living near the Dallas Design District and downtown.

At a previous auction held earlier this year at the showroom, Gia sold about 20 works and raised $3,000 for her cause, Help Gia. “We hope to raise a lot more this time,” says her father, Geoffrey Woodrum, an interior designer with 5G Studio Collaborative.

Gia’s artwork runs the gamut from abstract to figurative to just for fun. “She doesn’t really have a style yet,” Woodrum says. “We take her to the museum with us all the time, and she sees things that she wants to try.”

Gia’s large-scale Pollock-inspired drip paintings on canvas are created using salt shakers, squirt guns and a turkey baster. She dons a respirator and wields a spray can to create graffiti-style works worthy of Banksy, using homemade stencils of Disney characters. Her father built her a device — composed of a motorized ceiling fan mounted inside a wooden frame — that splatters paint in spin-art fashion onto the canvas. He holds her as she stands on a chair, leans over and drips paint into the whirling blades. Her newest interests include ink drawings made with vintage pens she discovered at an antiques store in Bishop Arts and explosive creations where she literally punches paint into canvas with her boxing gloves.

Most of her artwork is improvised — she doesn’t plan what colors she’ll be using or how it’s going to turn out. I watched one afternoon as she painted a base coat of pale blue on a large board, then sprayed black paint over a Mickey Mouse stencil. She gave him red lips, eyebrows and allowed a band of crimson to drip slowly down his face. Then she was done. “Is there more canvas?” she asked her dad. When I asked her about her artwork — why she likes to paint, how does she know when a painting’s finished — she responded like a typical 7-year-old: with a shy smile, a shrug and “I don’t know.” But she speaks up readily about why she sells her paintings: “To help people stay warm.”

A young woman in her makeshift studio at Ligne Roset’s warehouse.

The budding artist’s grassroots charity had its beginning on a chilly evening last fall. “We were coming home from the office on a really cold night,” remembers Geoffrey. “We were where McDonald’s is, near Continental and Riverside, and there was a guy out there wearing a T-shirt. Gia said, ‘We should buy him a jacket.’ Then she noticed there were a lot of people who didn’t have coats, and she wanted to buy them all coats.”

When her father explained it would be too expensive to buy so many, Gia decided she could sell some of her art to make money to buy them. She was already selling her art at soccer games (her mother, Jessica Perez, is a high school varsity soccer coach) to earn cash to buy snacks, says Geoffrey. Her parents created a website to help sell her works, and it’s generated about $1,000 in sales so far (see her newest piece on Instagram).

What started out as a way to provide warmth for a handful of needy people has turned into a weekly outing for Gia and her parents. Every Sunday, they hand out water, food, clothing and backpacks across from the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown, where many homeless people gather waiting for the building to open. As of mid-October, they’re 2,198 bottles of water into their goal of distributing 10,000. They’ve passed out 968 bags of snacks and 360 popsicles and ice cream sandwiches. Now that the weather’s turning cooler, they’ll start handing out coats, socks and shoes. Many of the recipients know Gia by name, and she knows theirs.

“It’s so much more than just handing out a bottle of water,” Geoffrey says. “It means a lot more to sit there and have a conversation with someone and relate to them as a human being, to take them out of their situation for a minute. It’s really changed me more than it’s affected Gia. Kids don’t see people through filters yet. She just sees people as people, and these are people who need jackets in the cold.”

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