Sunday, September 25, 2011

Joplin Globe Editorial and Dave's Essay

— Hundreds of Joplin area residents helped create a design — and later paint it — for a mural set to be dedicated at 2 p.m. today at 15th and Main streets.

The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce’s Cultural Affairs Committee, working with David Loewenstein, the project’s lead muralist, envisioned the project as the first of many community-based murals in Joplin. Sharon Beshore, vice chairwoman of the committee, said: “It’s something that’s very visible to the public. This is hopefully the first of many community-based murals (in Joplin).”

Loewenstein 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 was 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. Then, on the last weekend of August, members of the community were asked to come apply the paint.

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.”

Loewenstein, at the Globe’s request, has written a column about the project.

‘The Butterfly Effect’
by Dave Loewenstein

If you had asked me a year and half ago what I’d be doing right now, I doubt I would have given this answer: “Painting butterflies on a wall in Joplin, Missouri.” But here I am, along with what’s now been more than 300 Joplin volunteers, engaged in a challenging and wonderful project painting a giant mural on the Dixie Printing building at the corner of 15th and Main streets.

But why make a community mural here and now? What makes murals different from other art forms? These are questions I often hear at the first community mural meetings. My answer usually starts with this quote:

“The highest, most logical, purest and most powerful type of painting is mural painting. It is also the most disinterested, as it cannot be converted into an object of personal gain nor can it be concealed for the benefit of a few privileged people. It is for the people. It is for everybody,” Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949).

I like Orozco’s quote because it distinguishes murals from other types of painting, and puts them in a field more closely allied with collaborative arts like theater and music, which for the most part are not hidden away and are rarely considered objects to be bought and sold.

This is important to me because my mural projects — and Joplin is a good example — are at their heart an exercise in collaborative community action where the finished work is important, but is not the only goal. Writer Arlene Goldbard, author of the book “New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development,” says it much better than I:

“Someone taking part in a collaborative theater, for instance, is able to have a very full and rich experience of citizenship: to be one among many whose ideas and efforts are welcomed equally, who pursue common aims in a climate of respect and affection, who together make something meaningful to themselves and the whole community. Even in a dark time, this experience foreshadows true democracy and full vibrant citizenship.”

And here in Joplin it was apparent when I visited in early June that residents of this community were focused and sincere when it came to discussing issues of history, identity and a vision for the future, all of which would be essential in creating a meaningful and resonant mural. Young people have been especially candid and expressive. We worked with more than 200 children at the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and Spiva Center for the Arts making drawings about their idea of “home” in preparation for our mural.

Drawing with kids is illuminating. Kids, up to a certain age, draw the way grown-ups sing in the shower — full-force with heart and emotion and with little concern for how they sound to others. This is especially true when you give them just enough of a prompt to get their wheels turning and then get out of the way. The drawings Joplin’s youths made are remarkable — remarkable for their beauty and their honesty, and remarkable for the way they examine and illustrate the joy and sorrow of living in a time of confusion and contradiction on one hand, and unparalleled community spirit on the other.

Like a visual poem, the drawings created by these young people and their older counterparts on our design team form the heart of our mural. It’s a mural we’re calling “The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight.” It’s a bit silly for me to try to describe the mural in words when you can go down to 15th and Main streets at 2 p.m. today for the dedication and see it for yourself. But that said, here’s a sort of caption that might be written under a photo of it in the future:

Inspired by the metamorphosis of butterflies, the myth of the Phoenix, and the capacity for renewal expressed in the imaginations of children, the design is like a short picture story in three chapters.

In the far left panel, a miner standing atop giant crystal formations points out toward the future and a young George Washington Carver examines the roots of a plant specimen. Above the figures is the first part of a quote from Langston Hughes’ poem “In Time of Silver Rain.”

In time of silver rain
The butterflies
Lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry.

Dividing this panel from the rest of the mural is a large serpentine shape taken from the Wilders Restaurant neon sign on Main Street. To the right of the Wilders sign, two children sit at a table drawing. Their pictures activate an imaginary landscape that unfolds in front of them, beginning with a small butterfly that floats above the surface of the wall.

At the center of the mural, images made by children in our drawing workshops depict cleanup activities after the tornado. After the challenges of the storm, new flowers bloom, trees sprout new leaves, and children come out to play. Butterflies float magically over the surface of the mural carrying its images within their wings.

In the far right panel, divided from the imaginary landscape by a neon sign inspired by Wilders Restaurant, eagles carved from tree stumps downed during the tornado are illuminated by the light of a Phoenix that has taken flight. Inscribed above the Phoenix is the second part of the quote from the Langston Hughes poem “In Time of Silver Rain.”

And trees put forth
New leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky.

This short description pales in comparison to seeing the mural firsthand, so please come visit us as we add the final touches.

Thank you Joplin for working together with our mural team with such serious purpose and for being such gracious hosts. I hope the mural we have created together will inspire others. You have many great stories to tell and many big walls calling out for a little color and imagination.

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