Sunday, October 7, 2012

24 Hours: Post-It Self-Portraits

Sometimes I just get an urge as an artist. This semester, during the first 24 hours of my time as an art educator, I decided to have the people I was in a room with make a self-portrait. The orange ones are members of the Joplin Regional Artist Coalition who I worked with at the Beehive Monday night. The yellow ones represent two classes of art majors at MSSU, Art Theory and University Experience.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Thank You, Percolator

A beautiful late September Final Friday. Some local Lawrence artist friends came to see the closing of Dear Diary at The Percolator. Thanks Jenn and Jerry, Suze and Joe. My brother and some of his friends came from KC. We ended up seeing the shows at Lawrence Arts Center and getting some wings on Mass St. At my show, two kid bands rocked it hard out front. The Ramones, for God's sake. Fantastic. Had some lovely conversations with some like minds. Always good for the artist soul!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hardworking Bunch of Volunteers

It is such an honor to chair the Spiva Education Committee. I just felt the need, after last night's meeting (fiesta), to post about this great group of people. Several years ago when I joined the Board of Directors at Spiva Center for the Arts, this committee was essentially non-functioning. Over six years, I've worked alongside the staff and various volunteers to build what is sitting at the table. Karalee McDonald is a capable, generous Director of Education. She was a non-trad art education student of mine at MSSU. She has taken the classes and programs at Spiva to never-seen-before levels. Left to right, we have Beth Lawson (Carthage art teacher), Melanie Miller (Neosho art teacher), Amber (Webb City art teacher), Elaina (Joplin gifted teacher), Karalee, Amber (Creation Station teacher), Martha (ArtLounge and Tween Scene teacher), Nellie Mitchell (Webb City art teacher), and Dani (parent extraordinaire). 

There are always more programs to consider and people to reach out to with the power of art, but we are on our way. I just have to show up now and watch things happen. Bravo!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This IS the Butterfly Effect

Look it up, the ripples...the reverberations. Here is a lovely one from a student of a colleague. Her reflections on the Joplin Community Mural one year later are profound. This is what public art can do...

By Madison Kyger, MSSU student :
Every summer when I was younger, we would go to Shreveport, Louisiana, to visit family. And as we drove on the highway past downtown, I loved seeing a huge mural of a girl in a blue and yellow dress. I’ve always loved it, but it’s hard to describe why. Then, I spent a year abroad in Germany, and saw many forms of graffiti that were just as beautiful in their own way. The murals on the Berlin wall are amazing, and provoke feelings you are unaware that you have. And now, I have that here at home.

I remember the first time I drove past the Joplin Mural, it was about half finished. There were still lines on the white primed wall. You couldn’t quite tell what it was just yet, but in a sea of destruction, it was still beautiful. I watched its progression online from pictures friends posted, but still never put it together. Finally, while on my way to visit my grandparents, I had the chance to drive past it, and finally see it whole.

The first things I noticed were the butterflies and the colors. I’ve always seen butterflies as not only a symbol of transformation and growth, but because of an aunt, I’ve seen them as a sort of “guardian angel”. Immediately, tears started to well up. Then, I saw the children drawing, the world being picked back up, and the new life and the phoenix. And I loved the quote from Langston Hughes.

I never noticed the storm clouds, the made up creatures, or the destruction. Not until after we discussed the mural in class, and I went back and looked. I only saw the beauty, the rebuilding, and the hope. When I first saw the mural, we all were still in a state of shock, and the town was still being cleaned up. I think my brain ignored those things, because it didn’t want to see it. And I’ve not really had an opportunity to stop and really look, other than when I drive past and smile at the first sign of beauty we had after the tornado.

I’ve only heard good things about our mural. Friends from out of town who saw it online loved it, as well as some friends from the Joplin area that tend to be skeptics. Working at Walmart, I’ve seen hundreds and thousands of volunteers and groups come through the store, and they ask us about the storm. They comment on the spirit of the people of Joplin, how they can’t believe how much has been rebuilt. And often, we hear about the mural and other bits of art that have come after the tornado; The painted tree on 20th street, or the carved eagles, and the “stars of hope” that line our streets. It is a representation of how our town pulled together and never gave up.

I think having art in any community is important, not just ours, but sadly, it is often overlooked. I was walking around the square in Carthage with my brother last year during Maple Leaf, and he saw the mural on the south side of the square, and said, “When did they do that?” It has been there for years, and he’s been by it dozens of times. And as often as I’ve heard positive things about the mural, I’ve also had people not even know it exists. “We have a mural?” is the usual response.

Art isn’t just something that looks pretty; it provokes feelings in the people who see it. Most people don’t always see that at first. Like the story Ms. Mai told us about the man in Lawrence who started to paint over the mural on his building. Not everyone understands art. It can also be a sense of release to the artist. The children who helped in the design, as well as things I’ve seen from the projects Art Feeds does in the Joplin Schools; art helps them heal. Therapists use drawing and art when they work with children and teens, and sometimes adults as well. Our Mural wasn’t just a release for the people who helped make it; it was also a beacon of hope.

Public art, as well as art programs, help to enrich the local culture. And I think we need more of them. There are plenty of empty walls that just seem drab and boring, if you added a bit of color, a story, and some elbow grease; they could become enriching pieces of art, pieces of our history.

Like the cave paintings of old, or the art of the ancient Egyptians, people in the future can use them to look back at how we lived, learn our stories. And years down the road, our children will ask us about the tornado, and we can explain and show pictures that were taken, and we can show them the mural, and let them experience what we did. We can show them the transformations we made that mirror the images on the wall.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dear Diary at the Percolator

The show is open. Kelly at the Percolator was an angel helping me hang the show. Had a total blast working with 5 brilliant young Lawrence artists to create text-based pieces that are hanging with my work. I hope to see them at the closing reception on September 28th. The small canvases pictured here are meant to be interactive. Viewers can rearrange the pieces, take a photo, and text the photo to me. This is the first one. I will continue to post as I receive them. FUN!

Please patronize the Percolator in Lawrence, Kansas and read all about them here:

Here is the second one:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Beehive Collaborative

SO, it's been a couple months since I've posted. It's mostly because my own space called to me, and I'm responding. I opened the Beehive in May at 509 Grant in Carthage. It's an old building just south of the square. It's slow going, partly because it's summer and partly because it's the hottest summer on record!

Read all about it at the blog:

or on Facebook:

I am certainly still a working artist and a professor. There will be much more to share. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gifts for Art Center Volunteers

It takes a ton of volunteer hours to make an art center run. I was asked to make some small original art to give as gifts at this year's Volunteer Luncheon. Me and five other local artists were happy to do it.

Dear Diary at Spiva Center for the Arts

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dear Diary at Spiva Center for the Arts

Dear Diary: Paintings, Drawings and Installation
May 3-31st, 2012
George A. Spiva Center for the Arts
222 W. 3rd Street
Joplin, Missouri

Reception Third Thursday Artwalk, Thursday, May 17th 6-8pm

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kilts, or Why I Teach

During an art theory class discussion about Feminism and Art, somehow we talked about cross-dressing. And instead of saying "guys can wear whatever they want, guys in kilts", I SHOULD have said "guys in skirts". Because, of course, traditional Scottish dress for men is the kilt, and a male student in my class in fact wears a kilt on occasion. SO, after class I emailed him and apologized for my blunder. This was his response. I needed this:

Dear Ms Mai,

How very sweet of you! Please know that I was not at all offended. As a "Braveheart", as we kilt-wearers so proudly like to refer to ourselves, I have been the subject of a great deal, and variety, of assaults, verbally, and physically, and fluctuating in degrees of severity. I do not consider what you said in class to be among them. Your class, though, I do consider to be among the best classes that I have ever taken. It's as though you are, with crowbar in hand, prying my eyes open to the many and varied aspects that art encompasses in our lives. I thank you for that, from my heart. My life, and my artwork, are greatly enriched by it. I missed the class during Spring Break. Never did that before. So, me and my kilt have nothing but the ultimate respect for you. You are very kind to think of my feelings. Thank you so much, but think no more of it. Rest assured.

P.S. Your class today was awesome! I can't believe that I actually volunteer to make the most stupid statements ever. I even raise my hand to do it. Sheesh!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

America: Now and Here: Here We GO!

Untitled from America Nowandhere on Vimeo.

I'm sure this will be the first of many posts tracking my involvement with this fantastic, timely, and important art initiative. It's called America: Now and Here. Founded by Eric Fischl and directed by Dorothy Dunn.

"The idea is simple. Let’s explore a theme that everybody shares and build a dialogue around it: America. We’ll start by sharing our idea and experiences through the art that we make. Now, it’s your turn. Let’s use art to have a dialogue about America." -Eric Fischl

My involvement started through Hugh Merrill, my mentor, colleague, and cohort in community art over the years. I advocated for him to have a show at Spiva Center for the Arts where I am on the Board, and he in turn thought to bring AN&H to Joplin with him summer 2013.

AN&H was in KC in 2011 (see video). The Leedy-Voulkos Art Center hosted it. Hugh has a long history with LVAC and Jim Leedy himself. I have shown there. It's the heartbeat of the art district in KC. The last year, KC artists and Joplin artists have connected through various art projects and events in the aftermath of the tornado. So naturally, all of this energy will culminate in a national effort to network art, educators, and their communities through America: Now and Here.

(meeting Eric at our presentation to art educators at the NAEA national conference)

I am thrilled to share this with state art educators in our state conference in a couple weeks. Dialogue has been underway between me, Hugh, and Dee Dunn as how best to get this show on my road. It is an honor to work with these consummate art professionals towards a goal that encompasses all that is vital in the art world for me: expression, community, collaboration, and growth. Let's go!

NYC March 2012

New York in 7 Minutes from nellie mitchell on Vimeo.

National Art Education Conference, speaking on a panel with America Now and Here, Met, MoMA, Whitney. Bars and bookstores. Slices and bagels. Taxi, bus, subway and lots of rain. Experiencing it all with Missouri Art Educator of the Year and friend, Nellie Mitchell...through her eyes as first time visitor to the big city. This is her video. She got a shot of me with my favorite painting, Matisse's Red Studio. It was a good trip.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dear Diary Proposal: The Percolator

List of Images top to bottom:

Installation view of Sense of Order at Leedy-Voulkos, September 2010. Example of black electric tape piece.

Detail of cut paper installation at Spiva Center for the Arts, August 2011.

Full view of cut paper installation.

to note this, acrylic on panel, 18x24"
still trying, acrylic on canvas, 6x6"
John called yesterday, acrylic on canvas, 12x12"
ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES, acrylic on canvas, 12x12"
SURELY, acrylic on panel, 18x24"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MLK Community Art Collage

On the Missouri Southern State University campus, on the MLK Day of Service, I facilitated this project with students wandering past in the union. It took some verbal invitations to get some folks involved, as they were hesitant and perhaps intimidated by the large projection and smell of glue, but many added their hand tracing to the collage. I was generously assisted by brilliant MSSU student Jessica Waldo. The artwork served as a backdrop for a reflection ceremony at the end of the week of service. Hopefully it will end up on display somewhere on the campus.