Monday, August 20, 2012

Healing Joplin Through Art

Personal artistic expression

Great art is always born from great pain.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Joplin, MO.  In fact, after last year’s tornado, one could say that there is currently an art renaissance taking place here.  From the murals painted on various buildings throughout the city to the “Art Angels” (wall hangings created from tornado debris by local artist Tricia Courtney), to the “Dear World” photographs displayed at the Spiva Art Gallery, expressions of gratitude, hope, and rebirth dominate the local art scene.  Individuals who never before considered themselves “artists” have utilized various creative outlets in an effort to express their emotions and tell their stories.  Songs have been composed, paintings drawn, books written, and buildings constructed in an attempt to combat the damage, distress, and suffering so many have experienced this past year.

Three weeks after the town was devastated by a deadly storm, the Joplin Downtown Alliance hosted its June Third Thursday Art Walk to a record attendance.  Residents and artists alike flooded the downtown area to participate in the monthly community event.  I was there, guitar in hand, determined to perform beautiful music and provide the audience an opportunity to escape from the daily grind of rebuilding that had become a part of our everyday lives.

Why art, though?

“The immediate response to an event that is happening to us that we can’t understand is to create something,” says Meg Bourne, founder of Art Feeds.  Art Feeds is a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping children express themselves through various art forms such as writing, painting, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.  While the organization has been helping area kids for several years now, they found the need for their services dramatically increase after the tornado.  Meg says that Art Feeds grew from the realization that whenever she found herself struggling, art provided her the opportunity to lose herself in her creativity.  She wanted to provide children with this same sense of relief from their own sadness and thus Art Feeds was born.  After the tornado hit and left so much destruction in its wake, she and her team saw an immediate need for children to communicate their emotions through their creativity.  They provided Art Journals to local students and encouraged them to design something that would express their feelings about a day they remembered.  Naturally, many of them chose to focus on May 22, 2011 and their personal experiences from that day.  The students’ artwork provided an outlet to convey outwardly all that they had internalized; freeing them from the fear and grief they faced on a daily basis.  As Meg explains, “The mental and emotional well-being of our children is important because they are our future leaders.”  As a result of their efforts, Art Feeds students have experienced an 86% decrease in depression, anxiety, and fear since the beginning of the 2011 school year.  Joplin and its future have benefitted greatly from the efforts of the Art Feeds team.  Additionally, Meg and her team at Art Feeds have been named finalists in this year’s Do Something Awards, which air August 21 on VH1.
The view from Cupcakes by Liz

Liz Easton, owner of the local dessert boutique Cupcakes byLiz, spoke of her need to create something beautiful after the tornado destroyed both her home and her business.  “I looked around my new building and realized that all of God’s art was gone.  There were no more trees, grass, or landscaping.  There was no color.   I wanted to use my own art to fill that void.”  Liz and her aunt (who also lost her home in the storm) combined 
their creative energies and drew a beautiful mural on the upstairs wall of the newly completed boutique.  Liz also proudly displays artwork sent to her by area teachers, students, and other residents.  While it will take several years for the area surrounding Cupcakes by Liz to overcome the devastation that took place last May, it is encouraging to find that Liz and her supporters have used their artistic abilities to create an oasis of beauty in the barren space that resulted from the tornado.  Their efforts demonstrate our need to create something lovely to overcome the ugliness of sorrow and despair.
Original artwork inside Cupcakes by Liz

Interior, Cupcakes by Liz

In Joplin, we have learned that art provides us the opportunity to start over.  It also offers a glimpse into another’s world and viewpoint.  Art gives us the ability to see the world through another perspective – and when you are faced with something horrific, that new viewpoint imparts a sense of hope, optimism, and faith that grants us the strength to move forward toward complete recovery.


  1. So true. Art reaches us in a deeper place to heal, comfort, connect. Many of the patients I work with can no longer express themselves through speech. No more thoughts connected in sentences, for some all words are gone. BUT, on more than one occasion, the right song played or sang for them stirs something deeper than speech and they can sing. They sing all the lyrics, all the words ... It's amazing. Art reaches deep and it's been so exciting to watch its role in healing our community! Thanks Dawn, and is that your tattoo?!? Because it's awesome!

    1. Amy, how interesting that art is such a vital part of your therapy at work. I have grown so much this past year in my appreciation of art and its role in our world, and know that I still have such a long way to go. Thanks for stopping by, and, no, that is not my tattoo! It IS a cool one, though, isn't it? The woman who designed it told me it took her several months to arrive at the perfect drawing to give the tattoo artist.