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Art-Based Non-Profits Bring Hope to Disaster Recovery Work


As the recovery continues from the Spring 2017 floods in southern Missouri, non-profits are involved in helping on every level. One key way in my home town of Doniphan, Missouri, has been through the work of two art-focused non-profits-- Radical Joy for Hard Times and the Riverside Art Guild. They have both stepped forward to focus attention on hope. Their projects have taken almost no resources at a time when resources are even more scarce than usual.

It all happened in an almost coincidental way. A project to paint a mural in honor of Earth Day was already scheduled when the rain started to fall at the end of April last year. Due to the weather, the Earth Day mural painting was postponed. The rain continued into May and by the time it stopped, the Southern Ozarks were looking at a daunting and long-term flood recovery

Another art-based event was also already planned for Doniphan, the annual Global Earth Exchange which happens around the world on Summer Solstice each year. The overall event is inspired by Radical Joy for Hard Times. That organization provides support for local groups to hold an Earth Exchange to honor the emotions that come up when the Earth is injured in some way. I have been involved in hosting Earth Exchanges locally for several years. 

After the flood, the Riverside Art Guild offered the space that would have been used for the Earth Day mural to the Global Earth Exchange. With that focus, the overall Earth Exchange was adapted to fit the needs of our community in flood recovery. With the participation of people from several local groups, the creation of our Mural of Hope was a success.

Shortly after the mural was completed, another non-profit came in support of our community. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy held a meeting of the various groups who would be key in early recovery. At that meeting, which I was fortunate to attend, the presenters emphasized the need to maintain hope in a community during the long process of recovery.

With the success of the Mural of Hope still fresh in our minds, Riverside Art Guild members were inspired to keep up the effort... but how? Guild members came up with the idea of doing pop-up chalk art around the community. The art guild had a large stock of chalk left over from a street chalking event.

A small but dedicated number of people began to do the chalk art at times when the rest of the community wouldn't see the work being done. Photos of the chalk art were posted on the Riverside Art Guild Facebook page. The text was fun and provocative... it was said that the pop-up art was 'committed' by 'chalk art ninjas' and that no one knew who they were. That, along with the playful themes and  uplifting words, caught the attention of the community.

The original Chalk Art Ninjas have continued the campaign of doing random chalk art and posting photos on Facebook. The art has continued to be popular.  The 'secret' of who is doing the chalk art is captivating. Businesses request the chalk art, and teachers have organized students for 'art attacks'. For the New Year, art focused overtly on hope and received a large organic circulation through shares and likes on Facebook. 

Full recovery takes time. In the meantime, art is keeping the gifts of curiosity, laughter and hope alive in our hearts and minds. Just as important, it helps to remind people that recovery is still going on, and offers an entry to conversation that is light but keeps us all involved. The #ChalkArtNinja crusade is making a positive contribution to community morale, while taking almost no resources and little time. It’s a win-win in the continuing recovery effort.

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