Fox student paints a better future for South Philly

Miles Christenson earned a job at the KIND Institute.

Miles Christenson may be a junior marketing major, but he considers himself an artist at heart, whether it be with painting or music.

“My motto is, ‘Paint music, hear color,’” said Christenson, who occasionally spends time selling his paintings in Center City.

Maria Pandolfi and Ron Kustrup, founders of the KIND Institute, a new after-school arts program and gallery space in Point Breeze, were among the visitors who saw his work firsthand during an art festival in September. Immediately recognizing Christenson’s potential, they offered him a job as marketing consultant and he started the next month.

Christenson’s painting—which depicted Pope Francis a few days prior to his visit to Philadelphia—caught their attention. “Pope Art” depicted the pontiff eating a Philly cheesesteak, and “Smells like Pope” was another painting of him emerging out of a toilet.

“He was a character,” Pandolfi said. “ I was really surprised that a business major could do such great art.”

Christenson’s diverse skill set led Pandolfi and Kustrup to believe that he would be a great fit to work at the KIND Institute.

“He has the motivation, he’s extremely intelligent and he has a passion to help others,” Pandolfi said. “Everyone here has to be self-motivated and care for others.”

Pandolfi and Kustrup, both high school art teachers in Philadelphia, founded KIND in 2013 in hopes to bring arts education to local children.

“Some kids do not get the opportunity to have art at their school,” Kustrup said. “After doing research on how many kids weren’t being exposed to art, we decided to open KIND in Point Breeze.”

Starting this month, the KIND Institute will have after school programs offering classes in art, language and nutrition for children from first to eighth grade, Monday through Friday.

KIND stands for Knowledge Inspring Nonviolent Decisions, according to Kustrup.

“It’s called the KIND Institute because we teach kindness and use art as a catalyst to be more humane,” Pandolfi added. “We want the kids to be imaginative, analytical and motivated to be leaders.”

So far, Christenson has written content for KIND’s website, created press releases and promoted events to local elementary schools, art institutions and donors. But his role goes beyond marketing, as the KIND Institute also serves as an art gallery that welcomes artists in the community to display their work and “connect with each other,” Christenson said.

“A typical day is not very typical,” he added. “We each have different roles such as teachers, curators, social media and marketing. We have meetings down at the paint gallery and talk about strategies.”

“I love working with them [Maria Pandolfi and Ron Kustrup]—they are positive and determined to make a difference,” Christenson said.

Outside of school and working at the KIND Institute, Christenson also manages three bands, including his own, The Millennials.

“Within the last year, I was part of four different plays and two live shows”, Christenson said. “I have also sold 200 pieces of art and my work has been featured in the Philly Magazine and the Metro paper.”

Christenson plans to embrace his skills in both business and art to go into independent marketing and contribute to institutions like KIND, which is currently asking for donations through its Indiegogo page to remain open.

“He’s a great kid,” Pandoli said of Christenson. “He’s going to make big changes in the world.”

Tatyana Turner can be reached at

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