Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joplin - Beginning the Process

After a whirlwind week of meeting folks and giving presentations, I finally feel like I'm getting my bearings here in Joplin. Thanks to all the generous people who have made us feel welcome.

The presentation I've been giving starts with a super-condensed ten-minute art history lesson that begins with the Mona Lisa and then quickly  moves through the development of murals from cave paintings in France to community-based murals in Chicago.
The "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre in France

Cave paintings in Lascaux, France
"Where Are You Coming From? Where Are You Going?" by Olivia Gude
With that as a starting point, and after a little little  background about my work and past avocations as a superhero and aspiring Chicago Cubs pitcher,  I ask "What do you think?" and "What can you imagine in your minds eye for our wall?" It usually spurs an open ended conversation, actually more like a speakeasy where everyone gets to have their say without criticism or interruption. And it's then, when we begin to project our memories and dreams into a shared space, that the design process actually begins.
Community meeting at Spiva Center for the Arts
It's amazing to me how with a little prompting and a serious purpose, people will engage themselves so fully in this difficult task. Especially here in Joplin where the challenges are so great and the troublesome memories so fresh. Witnessing these conversations reminds me how much it seems we need and want to talk to each other, share our stories, and examine experiences in life that perplex and amaze us. And doing this in the service of creating a community artwork, as opposed to meeting at city hall to debate a controversial development project, for example, appears to help humanize and focus the way we talk to each other.

"Joplin at the Turn of the Century" by Thomas Hart Benton
Starting a new mural project in an unfamiliar town, one of the first things I do is to find all the other murals that are already there. I go looking out of curiosity, but also because it can be really helpful to see how other artists have told Joplin's stories through murals as we begin ours. And in Joplin there is a unique and wonderful pair of murals no one should miss. They are the grandfather and grandson pairing of murals by Thomas Hart Benton and his grandson Anthony Benton Gude installed at Joplin's City Hall. And as an added bonus, there is a fabulous display of the preparatory drawings, research materials, and correspondence associated with Thomas Hart Benton's mural. Anyone interested in the process of creating public art should go visit this unique installation on the first floor mezzanine at city hall.

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