Monday, August 29, 2011

Joplin’s public mural holds message of hope, pride 

By Josh Letner   Joplin Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. — After making a preliminary trip to Joplin last December, artist Dave Loewenstein was excited about the prospect of creating a community mural. But after the May 22 tornado destroyed a third of the city, Loewenstein said, he wasn’t sure how much enthusiasm remained for the mural project. “Things changed here quite a bit,” he said over the weekend. “We weren’t sure exactly how that was going to change what we were going to do, but we came down in early June and met with some folks, and they said, ‘We want to do this more now than ever after what’s happened.’”
Philip Ledbetter, an employee of St. John’s Mercy, contributes to Joplin’s public mural on Saturday at 15th and Main streets. A wall of the Dixie Printing building is the showcase for the project. GLOBE/BILL STEWART

Loewenstein is the lead muralist for the Community Mural Project, a community-based project that seeks to develop high quality works of art through a collaboration driven by local people. Last year, Loewenstein completed murals in Tonkawa, Okla., and Newton, Kan., as part of the project. Joplin is the latest stop on a six-state mural project.

The Joplin mural’s canvas is an exterior wall of the Dixie Printing building at 15th and Main streets. An army of artists took up brushes Saturday and Sunday, completing the mural portion that could be reached from the ground. The mural crew, over the next several days, will finish the upper portion while standing on scaffolding.

After arriving in Joplin, Loewenstein’s team collaborated with more than 200 area children and about 15 local artists and other residents to come up with the theme for the community mural. Although the organizers never intended to feature tornado-related images in the project, Loewenstein said, the storm was a recurring theme in the children’s drawings. “What we discovered when we worked with the kids at the Boys & Girls Club, even though we never mentioned the tornado once, many of them, because they lived through it, were drawing about it,” he said. “So we included some of the challenging imagery that they made in a portion of the mural to show how Joplin has been challenged with a lot of things recently.”

The mural is a depiction of the Joplin community. If viewed from left to right, it begins with historical images of a miner and of George Washington Carver. Next is a depiction of a student at a table drawing a design, and near the center are chaotic images of the tornado’s destruction. Loewenstein said the message is one of hope and pride. “The last part of the mural shows the enormous community and nationwide response to what happened, and a real vision for the future,” he said.

Assistant muralist Amber Hansen said it is important for people to realize that art is not only about a “lone artist” toiling in solitude to create a masterpiece that is purchased by a wealthy buyer for his personal collection. “That’s not the full potential of what art can do,” she said. “Art can bring together a community. It’s an outlet for sharing your feelings and your experiences, and the kids and the design team displayed that immediately for us.” She said it is important for the community to “beautify and not just clean up or pragmatically build.”

Carissa Fisher, whose home on Arizona Avenue was destroyed by the tornado, dabbed green paint into the mortar between bricks Saturday as she said the mural project is a good way to show her children, her 3-year-old daughter in particular, that the community is rebuilding. “When we drive through town, it’s so horrific for her still, but every time she sees something that’s been rebuilt or a painting like this, it makes her feel so happy,” Fisher said. “It is important that everyone who was affected by it sees that not only is Joplin coming back, but it’s coming back with more beauty.”

Lacey Eagleshield, first-year art teacher at Joplin High School, said she encouraged all of her students to take part in the mural project. She said art can be a useful tool in helping children express their emotions about traumatic events. “It helps with the healing process,” she said. “If they’re not able to express in words how they’re feeling, it helps to draw it out. It’s kind of a therapeutic process.”

For Loewenstein, the project shows the power of art and the effect that it can have on a community. “Something that’s important to me is to show that art has a much higher purpose than we’re accustomed to,” he said. “It’s not just that thing in a museum, and it’s not just that thing that is on the refrigerator, although those things are fantastic. It can serve a real community purpose, and by doing this out here at this time, I think we’re making that case.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Joplin Globe Article

Community mural to be painted on wall in Joplin

Artist Dave Loewenstein welcomes visitors recently to an exhibit of children’s 
drawings at the Gryphon Building at 10th and Main.

Everyone — artist or not — may help turn a blank wall at the corner of 15th and Main streets into a mural honoring the city of Joplin, said Sharon Beshore, vice chairwoman of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Cultural Affairs Committee  “It’s something that’s very visible to the public,” she said. “This is hopefully the first of community-based murals (in Joplin). ” Dave Loewenstein, the project’s lead muralist, said it is important for Joplin residents to have this opportunity. In a blog for the project, the Lawrence, Kan., artist wrote that creating the mural could give people “an outlet” and could help in the healing after the May 22 tornado.

“Our project has always been centered around the opportunity for community-driven art to inspire, remember and envision,” he wrote. “As Joplin begins its long process of recovery, our project and how it can engage the community may be more relevant and useful, pertinent and powerful than we could have imagined. ”The mural will be painted along the south wall of Dixie Printing, on the northwest corner of 15th and Main streets. Beshore said the committee had first scouted downtown locations for the mural before switching gears after the tornado. She said a centrally located mural could draw attention and spur interest in a section of Joplin that will need to be rebuilt. “We moved it to 15th and Main, which is halfway between the tornado area and the downtown, so it can kind of be what we call a gateway — a transition from one area into another area,” she said.

The design was created based on views from about 100 Joplin residents who attended a handful of recent meetings. More than 200 children from the Joplin Family Y, the Boys & Girls Club, and Spiva Center for the Arts also were consulted, Loewenstein said. “The drawings that the kids made were some of the most beautiful and insightful works we’ve seen during our whole visit here,” he said. “They have this ability to draw with a real kind of honesty, and they don’t self-edit the way that adults do. ”Loewenstein and a design team distilled those images and suggestions from the community meetings into the mural’s final design, which includes historical references as well as some tornado references. “It’s a visionary sort of image that is magical, I would say, in some ways and culminates in a very positive and hopeful future, I think, for folks who live here,” he said.

Beshore said the team did not want the mural to be a “tornado wall,” though she acknowledged that it was difficult to separate the storm from the design. “Of course, this is post-tornado, so you can’t just wash your mind of what happened,” she said. “Quite frankly, you can’t separate what’s happened from people’s ideas. If this (the art project) had happened a year ago, this would have been a completely different mural.”

Tom Jensen, owner of Dixie Printing, said the mural likely will draw attention to the building, which faces a parking lot and is in a “wide-open view” for passers-by. “Primarily, it’s just anything that we can do to promote this town,” he said. The mural will be the second in Joplin through the Art in Public Places project, which falls under the chamber’s Cultural Affairs Committee. The first project brought a mural by Anthony Benton Gude, grandson of Thomas Hart Benton, to City Hall. It also will be the third mural regionally to be created with the support of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, which last year supported community murals in Newton, Kan., and Tonkawa, Okla.

“There’s a big push for public art — art that people can just enjoy in their everyday life,” Beshore said. “You don’t have to go to a gallery to see it; it’s just out there in the public domain.” If you go,
AS SPACE ALLOWS, the public may help paint Joplin’s new community mural between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the corner of 15th and Main streets.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Called to Walls" the documentary

Help support the documentary by pledging on Kickstarter!

Out of view of the high art world and the hip gallery scene comes this heartening story of unlikely partners in Middle American communities working together to reexamine their histories, celebrate what makes their towns unique, and imagine their futures in the form of monumental community murals. This film is part road movie, part inspirational small town drama, and part art documentary. Working in conjunction with Mid America Arts Alliance's "The Mural Project," this compelling story follows Kansas artist Dave Loewenstein, on a three-year journey around the heart of the US, helping to reignite a sense of civic pride and creative possibility in places often overlooked. "Called to Walls" is a thoughtful and uplifting film that leaves viewers not only admiring the serious work and good will of these artists, but also with an itch to go out and do it themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Joplin - The Design Team

Making the transition from community meetings into design work means finally sinking our teeth into the big question - What of the countless interesting, memorable, and beautiful things suggested and drawn can we weave together to make a great mural?

So we know they really want to do it, the fifteen or so people who make up the design team select themselves.  They join Amber, Kyle, Josie, Nicholas and myself, to help distill and shape the input that's been given into a theme that resonates in a beautiful and meaningful way. 

At our first meeting held in our newly converted studio space, we asked the team to consider the all material we have collected, and suggestions we had heard,  and then imagine a sort of concrete poem that encapsulates the spirit of and vision for Joplin at this moment in time.

To do this, we made what I call 'word pictures.' Making a word picture is pretty straight forward. First you draw a large rectangle that has the basic proportions of the wall for the mural, then you fill that rectangle with words and phrases that refer to the imagery to be included in the design, with the size and position of these words and phrases written to correspond to their relative importance.

We worked on these for a while and then presented them to the group. The conversations that happen around these presentations are always some of the most compelling and fruitful. It seems that holding up an artwork you've made, no matter how modest, stimulates a person's capacity to articulate their intentions by allowing them to speak through the imagery they have created.

What we learned is that although people who live in the same town may share certain cultural and historical symbols, (In Joplin those would include mining, Route 66,  and the eagle mascot) their deeper sense of identity is much more personal and is built from first-hand experience. And whether it's kids or grown-ups, this is where the richest material for art is found - in those specific and personal examples of how we know, remember, and envision our home.