Art work by Sindhu Surapaneni, made in honor of Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Her inspiration behind it was the notion that “everyone is unique and incomparable.”

Sindhu Surapaneni is a multi-talented 13-year-old artist whose talents have been shared from her home base in the Spokane, Washington, area worldwide through her online channels. She teaches Bollywood dance, creates paintings, spearheads social justice work to mitigate homelessness, and partners with non-profit organizations to magnify the effects of her work.

The centerpiece of this work is her Imaginations 2 Creation channel online, which she launched two years ago at age 11. “This channel started as a way to engage myself during quarantine,” Surapaneni explained, “but seeing the impact I was making on young kids to learn and practice creative thinking and channeling their inner energy to express in the art forum gave me more boost to do much more.”

In the beginning, Surapaneni created two sessions per day. “In 2020 and 2021 summer, I hosted three different six weeks summer camps online to teach art and other creative sessions to kids of different ages,” she reported. “Once school started, I was busy with schoolwork and sports, but made time over weekends and holidays to do online sessions.”

She often stayed up as late as midnight preparing and rehearsing. “These sessions need lot of upfront practice to be perfect during live sessions,” she said, “as these are in front of a live audience and there is no redo unlike a YouTube channel recorded video.

Surapaneni gave herself some adult-sized challenges. “It was not easy to do an interactive session with 500 kids on Zoom,” she said. “My online sessions helped me grow and gave me the courage and confidence to deal with difficult situations.”

There have been some difficult lessons along the way. “There was a scenario in one of my early sessions where one of the girls was cyber bullying me in the zoom chat while I was presenting my session and trying to distract and break my confidence,” Surapaneni recalled. “This experience has made me stronger, and I have figured out how not to be bothered by other bullies and learned to take control of the situation and mastered better use of technology.”

She also finds strength in the importance of her projects and messages. “Due to the war in Ukraine, I taught a class on how to make cards to Ukrainian refugees with positive messages,” she described. “I worked with elementary school kids to create more than 1,080 cards to be sent over.”

In addition to her online sessions, painting has been a major focus. “When I was a kid, we have visited few museums in Washington DC where there was plenty of art on display,” she remembered. “Those paintings might have given me some inspiration to explore art.”

Surapaneni values the possibilities for communication that art provides. “What I like most about art is freedom of expression, it’s easy to translate our thoughts into a picture which can convey a strong message,” she said. “I tend to use my art to provide positive and uplifting messages based on current events happening in the world.”

This is especially true in regard to the issue of homelessness. “Whenever I pass through Spokane downtown, I close my eyes as it breaks my heart to see so many homeless people living on the street,” she said. “Then I realized closing my eyes doesn’t make the problem disappear.”

So she decided to redirect her artistic pursuits toward lending a hand. “There are many things the more fortunate people can do to help them, we can fundraise, and donate things, volunteer, or donate money to organizations that support the homeless,” she said. “More than anything just treat them with kindness and respect because they are no different than us.”

Surapaneni then created the first of her fifty paintings. “My first art was bought by a retired cop named Tom Salberg,” she said. “Right now, that painting is displayed in Liberty Lake City Hall.”

Then, she collaborated with the non-profit organization TANA, charging a fee for her summer online classes for onward donation to charities that support the homeless. “Last year alone, I was able to donate around $4,000 and this sponsored the meals for homeless people for six weeks serving 400 homeless people every Wednesday,” she said. “In addition to donating money, I also volunteered my time to serve meals when I sponsored the meals which gave me immense satisfaction to connect with them.”

Above all, Surapaneni encourages empathy. “Trauma is at the core of every homeless person’s situation,” she said. “Something happened at some point to cause trauma to a person who never got treated for it or never overcame the trauma.”

She challenges her community to respond in a helpful manner. “It is easy to target those who are vulnerable and defenseless,” she said. “It is harder to actually get to know people and understand them.”

Despite her busy schedule online, in the community, and in front of the canvas, Surapaneni can’t stop spreading the joy of art. “A few elementary schools in my area didn’t have an art program and I decided to help,” she said. “I have reached out to schools and started teaching art and am planning to continue to do now through summer.”

And these new commitments haven’t tied Surapaneni to just one region. “I was recently invited to Seattle and my art was chosen to be displayed for AECS 2022 event,” she said. “I presented an Artist talk, a Story telling, and Bollywood Dance performance titled Unity in Diversity in Seattle in April.”

As she moves into her teen and adult years, Surapaneni seeks to combine her passions for art and serving local communities. “Painting lets me express my thoughts and uplifts my mood,” she elaborated. “I choose my painting theme based on things that are happening around me and in the world.”

Right now, she is highlighting her painting Everyone Is Loved Here. “I hope the wonderful community in Washington will come together to assist me in my dream project,” she mused, “for my art Everyone Is Loved Here to be displayed in all the schools in Washington.”

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