Community Art in the time of COVID-19

Almost finished Hold Up Hold On panel, February 2020

a HUHO! panel from February 2020

Just as the Hold Up Hold On! team was successfully engaging participants in Berea, Kentucky middle and high schools…COVID-19 happened.

First, Berea College sent all students home in early March, which meant I lost one of my artist assistants. I remember thinking this might be a slight overreaction but as large area higher education institutions followed suit, including the one where the AmeriCorps program I manage is housed, as well as the area public and private K-12 schools, the surprise and disappointment I was feeling quickly turned to disbelief and then despair. I honestly and pretty quickly was no longer thinking about HUHO!; I was agonizing about my health and the health of my family and the sheer magnitude of the crisis.

The over three months that the pandemic has panned out to date, weeks and weeks of adjustment and survival, coupled with the recent onset of the racial unrest, has finally propelled me into a state in which I must reach out, act out, and figure out how to transform HUHO! into something that can be completed as intended, and further expanded and used by my community to help handle these uncontrollable situations and help heal from them.

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Initial movement in that direction happened in May when the Berea Arts Council, of which I am a board member, offered their windows for a HUHO! display.

I have since made an ask of the BAC, for support in 1) finding a building owner or city government entity willing to donate an exterior wall on which to install these panels; 2) hosting two upcoming events in which the Resilience panel is finished by area artists and in-progress panels are finished as well — with added elements that address equality and diversity.

It is my hope that I can directly partner with the BAC to make HUHO! a success story as of this fall, 2020.

Thanks again to the Kentucky Foundation for Women for helping to make this community art project happen!

The Kentucky Foundation for Women

 

Completion of multi-panel mural project, Colonels Create @EKU

  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • detail of Colonels Create community mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural
  • Detail, Colonels Create collaborative mural

A group of about twenty EKU freshman and leaders in the First Year Experience program helped me finish our multi-panel mural project on December 5, 2019 in EKU’s beautiful Noel Studios. This was the last of four fall sessions, strategically chosen for their position on the academic calendar during challenging times (first weeks of term, pre-fall break, mid-terms, finals). The purpose of the mural project was to provide a quiet, mindful space to create without judgment, as well as teach the participants how taking creative risks can help them learn to be more resilient during tough times and challenging situations. We often can’t change what’s happening, but we can choose how we feel about and deal with it!

As with all my community art projects, participants help design and execute the project. My single contribution to the mural was the word “resilience” — and sponging paint around the edges. Participants collectively and collaboratively chose the color scheme, shapes and their position, and choice and placement of additional handwritten words.

As usual at each session there were folks reluctant to participate who were soon drawing and painting with finesse and gusto. Also as usual we talked while we worked, and about many things including the myth of mistakes (they are really opportunities) and ownership issues when one is working on a collaborative artwork (meaning giving up control, which can be freeing instead of frustrating).

I look forward to similar projects in the upcoming new year!!

The HUHO! Project Progress

On October 30, 2019 I felt I made significant inroads on Hold Up Hold On!, a community art mural project centered on youth resilience and mental health awareness. See the HUHO! page for details.

It has been three years since I was a full-time teaching artist in after school programs, so I am getting up to speed in a hurry on student engagement, which has become even more challenging. I initially hoped for a single, well attended event where we gathered photographs and text — but we got no takers even though we (my creative female team of a high school and Berea College student) distributed postcards and did an informational tabling outside of the cafeteria. But I don’t give up easy, if at all.

Yesterday I was invited into an art classroom to talk to kids face to face, and pitch the project. As always, it was satisfying and stunning to see how some reacted. And we got a participant in the afternoon who helped us brainstorm and update our mural composition. Read more about the experience in the blog!

Healing Through Art Panel, 3/27/19

Flyer I designed for Healing Through Art Panel, EKU

I took three hours out of my busy AmeriCorps Program Director work day to participate in this panel presentation on art and healing. I was one of three writer/artists to participate, although I have twenty academic years under my belt as well and could easily have worn that hat — but I am glad I didn’t. I find so much more meaning in telling my own story (as egoistic as this may sound) because my story is also the story of the underserved by art individuals I have been able to help through offering them opportunities to visually tell their own.

With organizers Drs. Melinda Moore and Judy Vandevenne, and artists Pam and Obiora at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

The artists present were invited to bring samples of our artwork, and I automatically chose the healing artworks I created between 2009 and 2013 that helped me by illustrating my misery, my grief and finally my ability to celebrate my transition from traditional college art professor to teaching artist to the underserved and during a time when many painful memories and truths were being revealed. As a result I will most likely be showing that series of artworks for the first time at a local Richmond, KY gallery — and won’t that be empowering!

Night, 2009, at the Healing Through Art panel, March 2019.

Many thanks to Melinda Moore, psychology professor and leader of the Survivors of Suicide group at EKU for inviting me to speak and share my healing through art story.

Pride

I recently sat in on a prospective AmeriCorps KY READY Corps member interview, during which she was asked to share a most significant project, most complex project or a project she was most proud of — and my heart went out to her and her struggle to find a story to relate. Though I had no doubt she would discover something, and she did, watching that struggle and hearing her openly confess: “Pride? I never really thought about anything I did as something to be proud of…” touched me and made me remember the shame of the homeless in terms of where they lived, what they did and how it got them there. It also reminded me of me as a kid and young adult without any self confidence or pride in myself or my family or where I came from.

That is why it was soooo amazing to be a part of helping the William Wells Brown kids last fall to create these panels because they are all about pride in themselves and the history of their community. But the best part was hearing that the panels would be part of a new exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park, honoring the long history of African American jockey and trainer involvement in the horse industry.

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The panels have also been made into a fundraising poster!

I plan to be at the Park on 7/5/18 when many of the William Wells Brown kidz will be present to see their work on the walls. THAT’s going to be empowering!!