Monday, September 26, 2011

Joplin Globe Dedication Article

JOPLIN, Mo. — More than 100 Joplin residents, artists and city officials gathered Sunday near 15th and Main streets to dedicate a community mural that, to some, has become a symbol of the city’s healing.

The mural, titled “The Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight” is the brainchild of Dave Loewenstein, an artist, writer and printmaker from Lawrence, Kan. Loewenstein enlisted the help of more than 200 area children and about 15 local artists to develop the theme for the community mural. It occupies an exterior wall of the Dixie Printing building.
Students from St. Mary's Elementary School singing their school song at the mural dedication.

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. He said he was inspired by the way children depicted the dramatic and chaotic events of May 22, when an EF-5 tornado destroyed about a third of Joplin.

“Without the fear of phantom reprisals, or allegiances to social or business interests, children are free to tell it like it is, and they do,” Loewenstein told the audience at Sunday’s dedication. “Kids, up to a certain age, draw the way we grown-ups sing in the shower, with full force and heart, emotion, and little concern for how they sound to others. “Without ever mentioning the tornado, children in this community expressed the complicated, heroic and tragic stories of the storm and its aftermath with an honesty and integrity that adults would be wise to emulate.”

In his opening remarks, Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, talked about images of “butterfly people” that several children who survived the storm reported seeing. Those images made their way into the mural as well. “I think they were our guardian angels looking over us,” he said.

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 students at a table drawing a design; those designs appear in the mural, and near the center are chaotic images of the tornado’s destruction. The right side of the mural is a hopeful image of the future, with a phoenix flying into the sun. Two stanzas from Langston Hughes’ “In Time of Silver Rain” are featured in the design.

State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said his daughter and a friend of hers were among many in the community who helped paint the mural. Now, he said, they have a real sense of attachment to it. “My daughter and her friend got a chance to help paint this; they took ownership of it. Now when we go by, they say, ‘There’s my flower,’” He said while viewing the mural from a distance. “Would you rather have a blank wall here, or would you rather have something like this?”

Ashley Bilke, an artist and Joplin High School senior, was the youngest member of the design team. She said the opportunity to work on the project is something she will never forget. “It was an incredible experience, especially to be treated not for my age, but as an artist,” she said.

The project began months before the May 22 tornado destroyed about 7,000 homes and claimed the lives of 162 people. Organizers said the timing of its creation, and the community support it received, seemed perfect for a wounded but proud community. “What’s behind me is something that is so important to Joplin,” Jo Mueller, director of Spiva Center for the Arts, told the crowd. “It is the perfect gift to us right here, right now.”

Loewenstein said the effect of the Joplin mural highlights the possibilities of future community art projects to bring communities together. “This project and other ones like it remind us that we can make beautiful things and meaningful things together, even when we may not agree on certain issues of the day,” he said. “We can be colleagues, and we can be friends, and also disagree sometimes. This may seem like a mild statement, but these days, in some circles, it may seem radical. If we can do this, what else might we do?”

Music and more
The dedication ceremony included musical performances by Rick Banfield, and Robert and Drew Pommert, as well as a choral performance by students from St. Mary’s Elementary School. Mayor Mike Woolston read a proclamation. The finishing touches on the mural will be completed this week.

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