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Helping Artists in Joplin

(Photo by Randy Stewart)
(Photo by Randy Stewart)

RANDY: This morning you heard about Joplin tornado relief efforts by various artistic and performing groups in Springfield and Branson.  But what’s being done in Joplin itself?  And what needs to be done?  Visual arts—especially the creation of it—is a well-known therapeutic tool to help both children and adults cope with personal tragedy and disaster.  Judith Folwer, Professor of Art History at Missouri State University, is a licensed art therapist who helped out in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  She and her son Gerald packed a 16-passenger University van to overflowing with some $3500 in art supplies, and personally delivered and helped distribute them to schools and universities throughout the hurricane disaster area, in a one-vehicle crusade she called “Art of Wheels.’  She’s at it again after the Joplin tornado with “Art on Wheels II”—but this time she’ll be conducting art therapy sessions, and training artists and teachers to provide therapeutic art sessions in the Joplin area.

JUDITH FOWLER: Art therapy is a very serious study.  It’s very much like a counselor or a psychologist, it’s just that they use art to communicate—especially where they’re young kids and they cannot articulate what’s wrong with them.  That’s where the art image is SO important.  It even helps adults.  They can’t take the time for themselves, and so they’re crumbling inside while they’re helping everyone else.  It’s still pretty fresh—it’s like a war zone in Joplin.  All those people, you know, they’re bound to have trauma inside, even people that are just helping.  So I’m sure people are just in their “survival” mode.  I think grace comes over people, and so that’s what carries them for a while.  But once the groups leave, that’s when it hits—hard.

RANDY: Judith Fowler will hold training workshops and organizational sessions Sunday July 10 at the Spiva Art Center in Joplin: at 1:00pm for artists who want to volunteer to hold therapeutic-art sessions, and at 3:00pm for art teachers.

JUDITH: And so they’ll find out about the program that I want to implement. And this is the therapeutic art: it’s the art that’s not supposed to be any kind of “treatment,” but it’s just to kind of help people cope with what they’re doing.

RANDY: To register for the July 10th workshops, call the Spiva Arts Center in Joplin at (417) 623-0183, or email

     Artists themselves in Joplin are in real need right now as well.  The Springfield Regional Arts Council has been keeping close tabs on the artistic community in Joplin, says Executive Director Leah Jenkins.

LEAH JENKINS: One of the first things that came about the week after the tornado hit was some stories from our artists of losing their tools of trade.  They lost their pottery wheels, they lost their canvases, their musical instruments.  And I know that one of our artists—she stored her work, her inventory, in her husband’s office that was destroyed.  So you’re talking about what could be years of work.  Most of my email conversations and my phone conversations have been very short with specific artists that we work with that live in Joplin, and then the Spiva Art Center.  Just that, “we’re all okay,” but they’re displaced.  They’re living with board members or friends.  So I do feel that, in terms of the arts and cultural community, a lot of our efforts will be focused on kind of mid- to long-term recovery—which means that we’ll probably get some pieces in place later this summer.

RANDY: While the Spiva Center for the Arts was undamaged by the tornado, many regional artists associated with it weren’t so lucky.  Among those who lost their homes and/or art studios is Spiva Executive Director Jo Mueller, and its Board President Ann Leach.

RANDY: You lost your home, did you not?

ANN LEACH: I did, I did.  I myself am a freelance writer and a “graphic recorder,” so I’m feeling their pain!  (chuckles) It’s been quite an interesting process in “letting go.”  At Spiva we take our role very seriously.  Our mission statement is geared primarily to education, and we do that quite well.  But we also believe that we’re here for the artists.  So we have begun to assist them the best we can, just kind of serving as a clearing-house for needs.

RANDY: Joplin has no Arts Council of its own, and Ann Leach says the Spiva Center has long served as Joplin’s hub for artistic activity—a role that right now is more important than ever.  Ann Leach says Joplin’s leaders have long-term goals in place for the arts, and she is currently leading a tornado-relief committee that is charged with keeping that long-term vision for the arts in Joplin in place.

ANN: If anyone out there has an idea for a way to honor the artists and the experiences they’ve been through, or they have an idea for a fundraiser, they can simply contact me.

RANDY: Ann Leach’s phone number is (417) 438-6808.