When Avondale Middle School was awarded the 21st Century Grant, a competitive grant that provides federal funding to establish community learning centers, Assistant Principal Susana Gonzales turned to Phoenix artist Sandra Marshall.
“I came across her Facebook page and saw the amazing work that children had accomplished with her program and under her instruction,” Gonzales said.
Since February, the Avondale Middle School Family Paint Night has attracted as many as 100 participants monthly via Zoom classes.
“We have only heard positive feedback regarding AMS Family Paint Night,” Gonzales said.
“Students are proud to bring their final products to school the day after the event for a group photo. Parents have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate and go on about how much fun it is. Students have told their peers about the experience, and our number of participants continues to increase.”
Marshall — a professional artist, food artist, award-winning author, and mother of two — provides art instruction and presentations to schools via grants and presentations via Nepris, an online program that connects educators and learners with industry professionals virtually.
“My mission in life is to share the joy that creating art brings,” Marshall said. “Creativity should be explored, enjoyed and celebrated. I always start the sessions having everyone unmute their microphones to say, ‘I can’t mess up.’ You really can’t. This takes the pressure off, and then we all have fun.”
Marshall works in all types of art mediums in addition to her painting. Her food art recreation of the 2021 inaugural meme of Sen. Bernie Sanders went viral when it was retweeted by author Stephen King.
Marshall said her version of “Feel the Bern” made from a small potato, kale and eggplant had over 6 million hits on social media.
“Everyone was eating it up,” Marshall said with a laugh.
Marshall’s first book was published in 2016. “One Hot Night at the Veggie Bar” earned a Silver Award in the NIEA (National Indie Excellence Awards) for its combination of clever stories and pictures of her food art geared toward adults.
The now internationally known artist and author has released her second book, “The Razzle Berry Wackadoodle Garden,” to introduce children to plant-based eating through a charming story and layers of her food art featuring healthy fruits and vegetables turned into animals and scenery.
“The children get so excited when they recognize the fruits and veggies in my art. This is a book of exploration and discovery,” Marshall said. “They look at these fruits and vegetables through the eyes of an artist, and it brings a whole new meaning to them. Produce is often taken for granted. This helps everyone see what a gift they truly are.”
Also an entrepreneur, Marshall previously owned Phoenix’s Be..An Artist Studio, where she taught children and adults to paint. It soon became a popular event venue for live entertainment and comedy nights. Marshall closed the brick-and-mortar studio so she could expand into other areas, including hosting painting events for corporations and private parties. In 2019, Marshall was the official artist at the 2019 NFL owners meeting held at the Biltmore in Phoenix. She has hosted events for up to 500 people.
Each of her party attendees receives a kit with paint, brushes and canvas prior to the class.
She started providing online instruction for schools during the pandemic, and families at Avondale Middle School couldn’t be happier.
“Our goal was to create opportunities for families to spend time together, learning in a fun way,” Gonzales said. “We also wanted to provide enrichment activities that our families may not be able to afford. Our goal has also been to help strengthen family units and build positive relationships with families, and Sandra has helped us do just that.”