The Ultimate Man Cave

December 4, 2023: When our visual arts teacher, Sharmila Karamchandani has a class, we know magic happens. Her art challenges are always creative and meaningful, but even we weren’t prepared for … creating a man cave? Yes, that’s what she asked the artists of the Arlington County Detention Facility Community Readiness Unit (CRU) to imagine. On her Facebook page Sharmila wrote, “…I am always surprised to see the end result what comes out during these sessions…I always leave with so much to think and contemplate about. I feel blessed to be able to do this type of work in the community and let art be the vehicle to create meaningful conversations and hear people out. Each person has so much to offer if we care to listen.”

Top left: This person has always loved this retro design chair, speakers, a carpet where he can pray, a singing bowl and bowl to burn sage during his meditation.

Top right: This person has put colourful lights that drop from the ceiling, a table at the center to sit and play games. A library of books as he loves to read, bean bags to sit on, a big TV and all four corners have speakers for surround sound.

Bottom left: This person drew icons of what would be prominent in his man cave. Definitely music and peace and balance.

Bottom right: This person has a sacred place where he can go pray, meditate. He didn’t want any other distractions. He said he can process better in silence and recharge when there are no distractions.

A Reason to Celebrate!

September 27, 2023: The ask came pretty late. Could we support the City of Alexandria’s Recovery celebration? Led by the city’s Opioid Treatment Program team, this event celebrates those in addiction recovery. In years past we offered a creative writing seminar, and this year was a little different. They had already purchased canvas frames and markers – could a Heard artist lead this event? Was our Heard visual artist, Sharmila Karamchandani, even available?

Yes, she was. Phew. The hard part was over. And we weren’t really sure what Sharmila was walking in to. It was a new venue, with other activities happening simultaneously. Would anyone even stop by?

And of course they did, and Sharmila made that happen. She wrote: “At first, the visitors were apprehensive to draw or paint anything. We had different size canvases, paint markers, regular markers, and different colored papers. Most of them started by saying they couldn’t draw or paint. or they would say “I am really bad at art.” I then invited them to give it a chance, come sit with me and color and just feel how the pens felt against the canvas, I offered to write their names in an abstract way or Realistic (their choice) and then they could just fill in the colors or make designs of their choice. Also, they could quiz people to find all the letters in their names.

Art revealed its Magic. They were amused by this. Slowly, people started giving it a chance and very soon a one-hour session turned into 3 hours with a table full of visitors engrossed in coloring and feeling happy with working on their pieces. In the end, most of them who gave this a chance left with personalized canvases and big smiles A lot of them said how therapeutic this time felt when they were coloring. Two of them said it felt more enjoyable than their other therapy. Feel blessed to be able to do such meaningful work in the community. I truly had a great time.”

Puppet Masters

July 12, 2023: With just two days’ notice, Sharmila Karamchandani led the most amazing visual arts class with the alumni of Together We Bake (haven’t tried their chocolate chip cookies yet? They are amazing). Sharmila said she asked the women to “… create puppets of a person who had the most positive influence on them. There was some very interesting sharing and there were so many lessons hidden in what people shared. I am so humbled with the trust all the participants had and openly shared some very personal stuff. So grateful for today’s experience.” Here’s four of the new puppets below, and the heartwarming stories that accompanies them:

“She made a puppet of her daughter who has immense compassion. Her daughter pushes her to be a better person and is constantly focused on helping everyone. Even strangers. Some personal stories were shared and we were all in tears with so much compassion shown by a 12-year-old.”






“She made a puppet of her 7-year-old and told us how her young daughter is truly her sunshine. Her daughter and her profound comments encourage her every single day and makes her feel like she is a rockstar. Her story and the details about certain events left us speechless as to how this young child is such a blessing in her life.”






“She made a puppet of her mom. Her mom was an eccentric person. She is gone but our artist feels her presence. She shared how her mom was always saving all the animals. She was taking care of a wolf and a wolf puppy and they had all sorts of rescued animals at home. Growing up she found these things weird but now she appreciates these aspects of her mom.”

Who is Renting your Head Space?

May 25, 2023: When Together We Bake requested an art class with Sharmila Karamchandani, we knew we’d have a winner! Sharmila’s art projects are always equal parts fun, insightful, and inspiring, and it has been several years since she had done a Heard project with them. And, it was even more magical that we had dared to hope!

Leading with the prompt “Who is renting your headspace?” Sharmila asked the 20 participants to think about the negative voices and positive voices inside our heads. How do we know if it is our voice, a cultural voice, a parental voice or the voice of peer pressure? How do we know what’s ours and what has been imposed on us?

Sharmila shared later (edited): “What an amazing expressive art session we had this morning!! [T]he participants dived deeper into their headspace and whatever no longer serves them good they were supposed to do a scan and throw all the bad renters out to make room for the good renters.

I applaud this group for their honesty, vulnerability and bravery when they shared what they had drawn. There were lot of triggers, a lot of tears were shed, some found that they were not alone who were facing similar trauma. There were some very personal stuff discussed. What I loved was the group was so nurturing and loving to each other. They really build each other up.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

May 12, 2023:  If you don’t follow our visual artist Sharmila Karamchandani on Facebook, you should! Aside from being a generous, beautiful human being, she writes the best Facebook posts about her work with us! They are so insightful and detailed that we admit to cut/pasting/minor-edit them here. Her Mother’s Day project with the Casa Chirilagua kids, done over the last two Fridays, was no exception and one of the sweetest posts out there:

“A very happy Mother’s Day to all mother angels around us. Our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, teachers and friends who mother us. We made special wall art to honor our mothers. Kids created wall art with angels drawn on them to give to their moms. To begin with I showed them inspiration of two angels gifted to me by my sweet angel sister Marga Fripp who makes these wonderful angels. The kids were excited to see the collaged and painted angels made by her and made their own versions. Last but not the least endless gratitude and ever flowing love to my sweet Angel mom Anjana Khushlani.” A few of the 20+ super cute pics of the kids and their angel cards (the last one is for his departed doggie):

Robot Helpers for Household Chores

April 28, 2023, Casa Chirilagua: Given a chance what kind of a robot would you want to help out with household chores?

Always weaving kindness, generosity, and even history into her art projects, Sharmila asked her 1st – 3rd graders to create a helper robot for someone in their family. They couldn’t make it for themselves. They had to think of someone else first. Since so many kids wanted to make a robot for themselves, Sharmila told them the first robot will have to be for someone else (mom, dad, grandma or some one in their family) and they could create a second robot for themselves if they had time. Here’s a few of the “helperbots” the kids came up with. Aren’t they just cute? And don’t you want want one to do the dishes?
1. (left) Her robot is for her baby brother so he could hug him and care for him when she is at school.
2. (center) He made a robot who resembles his dog who passed away. This robot, “Doj,” guards the house.
3. (right) Her robot does all the laundry and gives big hugs to her mom