To visitors of our growing city, Bradford Brenner is one of many talented artists with a gallery on the Healdsburg Plaza (101A Plaza Street). But to members of a variety of north county school communities, Brenner is much more — he’s the artist who works with local kids to create collaborative paintings he then donates to charity, paintings that will raise big bucks for Sonoma County education this year alone.
This past weekend, a masterpiece that Brenner engineered with all of the 3-to-5-year-old students at Live Oak Preschool sold for $1,700 during the 41st annual Live Oak Preschool Dinner Dance Auction fundraiser.
Earlier this month, a separate painting Brenner did with kindergarten students at Healdsburg Charter School (HCS) sold for $1,300 at a fundraiser for that school’s Parent Teacher Organization.
Brenner, 58, takes nothing for his efforts; all the money raised goes back to the schools
Later this spring, bid-callers at fundraising events for St. John’s School (April 14), Sonoma Country Day School (April 21), and The Healdsburg School (May 5) will auction off three more Brenner-and-schoolkids original pieces. All told, Brenner himself says the five-auction total has a “realistic chance” to eclipse $20,000 — serious money to spark serious change.
“I’ve been so welcomed by this community, this is the least I can do to give back,” he says. “Art is a gift onto itself, but, in this case, the money certainly helps these schools, as well.”
Brenner, who moved to Healdsburg from San Diego in 2011 and graduated a daughter from the Summerfield Waldorf School & Farm in Santa Rosa, started this philanthropy in 2013 with a painting for The Healdsburg School (THS). That first piece fetched close to $10,000, thanks to a battle between two persistent bidders. He has continued to offer the fundraiser to THS ever since. This year, after an inquiry from a kindergarten teacher at HCS, he added other schools to the mix.
The artist’s process for the fundraisers is simple. First, he gets acrylic paints, brushes and other materials donated by Riley Street Art Supply in Santa Rosa. Next, he lets the students paint. In the case of the HCS and Live Oak paintings, Brenner visited the respective school campuses and gave each student about one minute at each canvas. His only rules: No thinking, just paint what comes to mind.
“There are so many moments in today’s day and age where a child’s creativity is restricted,” he says. “My thinking was to let them do whatever they wanted; that way every child in the school would be embodied in each piece.”
Once every student has had a turn, Brenner takes the painting back to his gallery for embellishing and refinement. His goal here: To make the work ready for someone’s wall.
Brenner easily could end his involvement with each of these projects upon handing the finished products back to the schools. Instead, he and his business manager Jessica Parker make a priority to attend the fundraisers in person, interacting with members of each school community all the while.
At HCS and Live Oak auctions, Brenner took the microphone to describe the paintings — an overt attempt to pump up bidding. He says he planned to do the same at the three other fundraisers.
Looking forward, he adds that he’ll continue this philanthropy program “as long as schools keep asking for it,” and as long as event attendees keep raising their paddles.
“Considering how much of my time it takes, considering how much money it generates for the schools, considering how much exposure it brings to my work, I’d say this is a win for everyone involved,” says Brenner. We couldn’t agree more.
Matt Villano is a writer and editor who lives in Healdsburg. His column spotlights good people who do great things in the local community.