By Smarty Guest Blogger Lisa Farley
Last Thursday, on October 5th, 200+ women (and a few good men) gathered at Charlotte Country Club for a breakfast gala in support of one of Charlotte’s amazing charities: Arts for Life. This annual fundraiser, the Rise and Shine Breakfast raised money and awareness to help sick children have a spark of hope. I sat down with event Chair, Christina Cottingham, to learn more about how she got involved. Her story goes back almost 15 years and it’s neat to connect the dots looking back.
Smarty Mom: Christina Cottingham
Married to: Daniel Cottingham, 10 years
Mom to: Nora Jane, 6 years and Joseph, 4 years
Years in Charlotte: 12 years
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Part of Charlotte you call home: Myers Park
Alma Mater: UNC Chapel Hill, Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Photography
Occupation: Artist and Volunteer
What is Arts for Life and how did you get involved?
Arts For Life supports pediatric patients and families through arts education and engagement. We provide art lessons to patients, siblings, parents and even grandparents. As you can imagine, creating art not only enriches patients’ lives, it also nurtures their minds and spirits. Arts For Life helps children in four communities across North Carolina including at Levine Children’s Hospital here in Charlotte.
I actually caught wind of Arts For Life when I was studying at Chapel Hill in 2005. My mom introduced me to this great organization. When I moved to Charlotte years later, I joined the Junior League and got re-connected with Arts for Life. I volunteered in the hospital about once a week for about 2 hours at a time. I went room to room doing art projects like painting or crafts with patients. I also celebrated the holidays with Arts For Life patients in the rooms designated for kids to come for lessons and create beautiful art pieces.
I took a break for a few years when I was having children of my own. Then in about 2015 Rachel Zink, who also knows my mom and is the present Executive Director, reached out to see if I wanted to attend the first Rise and Shine breakfast event. After attending, I was hooked. The following year I served on the committee and recruited table hosts and this year I was the Chair. I just really believe in the work this organization is doing and I enjoy telling people about it! And it’s working. We grew from about 100 people at the breakfast last year to almost 200 this year. It’s exciting.
Sounds like you had a model for giving back from an early age? What did your parents teach you about volunteering? What do you hope your children will learn from your involvement?
Yes, my parents were a unique combination. My dad was born in Saint Louis and his family started the Buster Brown Shoe Co. He later became a professional tennis player and is in the real estate business and my mom’s family was in the engineering, fashion, law and art world in NYC/NJ. That said, they raised us in Asheville, NC and were also bringing us up with faith and a sense of giving back. We often went on mission trips and served our community in a number of ways one of which was serving at the homeless shelter on a regular basis, and I think it instilled an ethos of volunteerism in all of us kids. In fact mission trips were something that brought my husband and I together. We went on a couple hurricane Katrina relief trips when we were dating and took a local youth group to Rio de Janeiro two weeks before we were married. I also admire my husband and in-laws and the impact they have made in Charlotte. I hope our children will count their blessings, expose themselves to other cultures, grow in empathy for others and push themselves to make a difference.
In addition to volunteering for Arts for Life, you’re an accomplished artist yourself. How did you get started and what is your specialty?
My mom, sisters and lots of friends were/are accomplished artists growing up in Asheville, and I studied fine art and art history in high school and college. I was also influenced by the art museums and architecture I was exposed to when traveling as a kid. I learned from seeing Mount Rushmore or Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the US to Gaudi architecture in Barcelona or the Sistine Chapel in Italy. I soaked in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe or the Louvre in Paris and everything in between. I also traveled abroad to Japan and Italy during college and enjoyed weekend excursions and adventures around Europe during those years as well. I appreciate all types of art from fashion to architecture, photography to sculpture, and painting to decor, and one of the most influential art experiences I have had was visiting the Guggenheim in Venice and touring La Biennale di Venezia Arte in 2003. I now paint primarily large scale commissioned pieces in the abstract expressionist style.
What is abstract expressionism and where do you find your inspiration?
Abstract expressionism is a kind of spontaneous art where you start with an idea and sort of “paint it out” start to finish. I am not painting a specific subject. It’s about composition and color. My eyes have been trained to see things a certain way and it’s expressed through the camera or the paint brush. I generally have to find inspiration or be in a particular mood when painting. Inspiration can come from art books or magazines, even boutiques or from getting home and seeing things with fresh eyes after traveling. There are often natural elements in my paintings. I think growing up in the mountains in Asheville influences many of my works subconsciously.
Tell us a little bit about growing up and how you met your husband.
I grew up in Asheville with my two sisters. We played a lot of sports, traveled and enjoyed living in the mountains. After attending Chapel Hill and studying photography I moved to San Francisco for a brief stint to explore photography more. When I was ready to settle down I moved back to Charlotte to be closer to home and met Daniel Cottingham. We were both realtors at the time and made a great group of friends here in town. I married Daniel Cottingham about 10 years ago and we have 2 kids who I am raising while he maintains his Real Estate practice. In addition to my painting, tennis and the kids, I have really enjoyed re-engaging with Arts for Life these past few years and seeing it grow.
How can our Smarty Moms get involved and support Arts for Life?
There are opportunities to volunteer at the hospital teaching or helping patients do art work. In addition, donations are of course appreciated. You can learn more here: http://www.artsforlifenc.org/get-involved/
Other fun facts:
What are you reading: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu and Decision Points by George W. Bush next I’m planning to read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
Favorite Hobby: Tennis
What you’d do on an unexpected day off? Find a cozy spot to read
Best date night spot? Fig Tree
Best part of being a mom? Watching my kids excitement when they accomplish and learn new things.