Arsh Pal, 12, of Dubuque, has spent the past four years selling his artwork to raise money for charities. (Courtesy of Arsh Pal)
Arsh Pal, 12, made his third $1,000 donation to St. Jude in January 2021. (Courtesy of Divya Pal)
For several years, Arsh Pal, 12, of Dubuque, has volunteered to teach art classes at a local nursing home. (Courtesy of Divya Pal)
Arsh Pal had bold ambitions when he started selling his artwork at age 8: He wanted to raise $1,000 for charity.
Four years later, he has far surpassed his goal. Arsh, now 12, has sold hundreds of his acrylic and watercolor paintings, the proceeds of which have totaled more than $15,000. Apart from a small portion he takes to buy supplies, every dollar has gone to charities that support children.
“Young people have the power to change the world,” Arsh said from his home in Dubuque, which is also his art studio.
Arsh has always been artistically inclined, his mother said. When he was a young boy, Divya Pal and her husband, Sanjeev, signed their son up for extracurricular activities such as piano, karate and gymnastics, but “he would lean toward art,” Pal said.
For his eighth birthday present, the Pals bought a watercolor set for Arsh. He spent all his spare time in front of an easel.
Soon, a stack of completed canvases began piling up, “so I decided to give them away to friends and family,” said Arsh, who also displayed some pieces at his school that people asked to buy.
Around the same time, Arsh was frequently visiting a nursing home, where his mother works as an occupational therapist. Spending time there inspired him to start selling his art for a good cause.
“Just by talking to the residents and the people there, it just made them smile and that really made me smile at the same time,” he said. “That thought made me want to help people in need through my paintings.”
And so began his fundraising initiative, which he called “Art by Arsh.” He sells his paintings at local art shows, restaurants and libraries, as well as on his Instagram account and Facebook page.
He donated his first $1,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2018, and has since expanded his reach to support other charities, including Easterseals, Compass to Care, the Riverview Center and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Arsh mainly contributes to child-focused organizations, he said, because “I wanted to help kids.”
Although he stopped counting long ago, Arsh said he estimates that he has sold about 500 paintings in the past four years.
The price of his work, he explained, ranges based on size and complexity. For instance, small pieces have sold for $10 while larger paintings — which can reach 5 feet — have sold for $800. He auctioned two pieces at an event last fall for a total of $10,000.
“That is very impressive,” said Pal, adding that she and her husband are blown away by their son’s commitment to the project. “He is doing amazing work. When he started doing all of this, we never thought it was going to go in this direction.”
Arsh mainly uses acrylic paint, but he also works with watercolor and mixed media. He particularly enjoys crafting abstract pieces.
“You can express yourself through abstract art,” he said. “Everybody thinks differently about it.”
Arsh now mostly makes commissioned pieces, and several of his customers have come back wanting more. That includes his neighbor, Jolene Schaver, who has five of Arsh’s creations hanging in her home and has purchased many more for friends and family.
“I can’t stress enough how amazing he is,” said Schaver, who is retired and lives next-door with her husband, and has known the Pal family for seven years. “I was amazed at how talented he was at such a young age, without any formal training.”
Plus, she added, “he has such a generous and giving heart.”
Arsh aims to be detail-oriented, and larger pieces can take a month or more to complete. Although Arsh never took art lessons, “my mom helped me,” he said. “She’s probably my main teacher. Me and her learn techniques together. She just helps me get better.”
Pal and her husband also manage the logistical elements of Arsh’s initiative. They coordinate with customers, deal with shipping and supplies, and ensure all the funds go to charities of Arsh’s choice.
“He has never asked us if he can keep the money,” Pal said, adding that Arsh has been asked by his peers why he doesn’t buy himself some expensive new gadgets and toys instead.
“He is not getting impacted by what others are saying, he’s impacting others with what he’s doing,” Pal said.
The charities that he has supported are grateful.
“I’m always so encouraged to see the enthusiasm of a kid wanting to do what they can to help out other kids in need,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and chief executive of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude. “Kids like Arsh help raise funds that ensure families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, so they can focus on helping their child live.”
Arsh also teaches art lessons at Stonehill Communities, the nursing home where Pal has worked for nine years. His younger brother, Yuvan, 7, assists with instructing the classes.
“It just touches my heart,” said Pal, adding that the nursing home residents regularly inquire about her sons, and look forward to their visits. “He’s a kid, and he’s inspiring adults.”