[EDITOR'S NOTE — Difference Makers articles share stories of the local heroes making a difference during the extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This section is made possible by Eastwood Mall and named in honor of Mark Eckert, who made a difference in the Mahoning Valley.]
YOUNGSTOWN — Christa Franklin doesn’t create art just for art’s sake.
Franklin, owner of Once Upon A Time Art Line, donates her whimsical, fairytale-inspired art pieces to — and raises funds for — local and global service projects and organizations.
Franklin, who is a personal health nurse, uses all of the proceeds from her artwork to fund her service projects, or "missions," as she calls them. She either donates the money directly to an organization or uses the funds to restock supplies for her block art that she makes free for cancer and other hospital patients.
Once Upon A Time Art Line is located at 818 Elm St. just above Culturehouse Coffee Company. Customers also can find Franklin’s art at Cultivate Cafe, 901 Elm St., and on her Instagram and Facebook pages.
Franklin created Once Upon A Time Art Line four years ago in dedication to her mother, who died of cancer when Franklin was 12 years old.
According to Franklin, she uses canvases and upcycled wood and cloth to make her artwork. She said her background in nursing and witnessing her mother’s fight against cancer made her “have a heart [for] anybody that's going through any medical issues.”
Initially, Franklin only planned to create free block art for cancer patients, but as her business grew, she expanded her reach to all patients, and then to aid communities outside of the United States, including India, Russia and Pakistan.
During her annual mission trips to India, Franklin has used Once Upon A Time Art Line funds to purchase water filters; provide clothing; make art projects and put on festivals for children, and teach composting and plant small gardens.
“All of the proceeds to do this all would come from my art sales, and it still does. Literally, every art sale that is done here, all of the money is straight for like humanitarian work and for when I do overseas work,” Franklin said.
Locally, Franklin said she has worked with a variety of health care facilities, including St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, Akron Children’s Hospital and Farrell Family Center, but shifts her beneficiary depending on the need.
“It just varies on whoever reaches out to me. Sometimes, if I have a feel to help somebody, I’ll reach out to them, but a lot of times people have reached out to me. So it switches up a lot,” she said.
Right now, Once Upon A Time Art Line’s proceeds are going toward funding supplies for “homeless bags,” which contain items such as hats, gloves and personal items.
“Here, I mostly target helping those that are sick, or those that are homeless with the homeless bags. But when I get out of the country, it's like bigger projects there when it comes to helping out because they have a lot less than us,” Franklin said.
Franklin said she started doing art at five years old, with encouragement from her parents who were both artistically inclined.
“I didn't really want to make profits off of what I do because it was just [for fun]. But then I realized that I can actually, you know, make these and use those profits toward helping others,” Franklin said.
“I price [my art] very low, which is probably the lowest you will find for art from any local artists, which is another thing that my studio is known for. I try to make it affordable so that I can get sales,” Franklin added. “Because of the fact that it's not used for my personal, you know, expenses, it's used to help others. I mean, I’ve had art as low as $5.”