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RANDY: The George A. Spiva Cener for the Arts on 3rd Street in downtown Joplin has just opened two exhibits that focus on who--and what--survived the Joplin tornado. Spiva Arts Center Executive Director Jo Mueller lost her home in the tornado--as well as much of her personal artwork and many family keepsakes. But as she explains, those items weren't exactly destroyed bythe tornado, but indirectly becauseof it.
JO MUELLER: Our home sustained some pretty severe damage, and we have sold that piece of property. And three weeks later, the storage unit where we had actually taken all of our most preciousthings, right? You have all of the family photos...
RANDY: Oh, no...
JO: You know, it was a crazy time then. So we put it in the "good" storage place--and it just burned to the ground! So... you know, you have that. It just--(pause)--you just move through it. You try to find a way to kind of re-frame the experience. It's been a really interesting year--I mean for the entire community. And the fact that we are coming up on that one-year anniversary makes it... (pause) a time when I think emotions are heightened. You know, there is still a lot of work to be done, and the healing--not just the external, the rebuilding, that physical rebuilding, but the rebuilding of people's spirits. And I think the arts have played a pretty interesting and obvious role in that healing. In the Regional Gallery, which is our smaller main-floor gallery, is an exhibit called "Photos From the Storm," It's sponsored by the Joplin Globe and it will feature photographs by five of the Joplin Globe photographers, plus about 40 other community photographers--
RANDY: Documenting what happened.
JO: Documenting what happended, from their own perspective. We invited them to submit ten photographs.
RANDY: Now, numerous Joplin residents have had the opportunity to tell the rest of the world how they're doing, how they're coping, how they're moving on with their lives, in the exhibit "Dear World, From Joplin With Love," which opened at the Spiva Center last weekend.
JO: This is a very special exhibit. You know, where the Regional Gallery is... chaos and total devastation, we thnk the Main Gallery is going to be a place for very quiet reflection. "Dear World" features the photography of Robert X. Fogarty. He is a New Orleans photographer; he started this project several years ago in response to Hurricane Katrina. He has since visited Japan after the earthquakes; Haiti; Tuscaloosa, Alabama last spring after the tornadoes.
RANDY: And now Joplin.
JO: And now Joplin, yeah. When he contacted us about doing a Joplin project, we were absolutely stunned and thrilled. What he does: he takes very simple, straightforward portraits of people, but asks those people to share their message, what they would like to tell the world, or what they want to tell the people of Joplin. And those messages they write on their hands, their arms, their faces, their backs in some cases, and then they sit for their portrait with Robert.
RANDY: The messages are as varied and unique as the people portrayed in Fogarty's photographs. The little girl featured in the main poster advertising the exhibit has written, "Power of Love" across her forearms. When looking around the exhibit you see messages like "One Day at a Time," "Faith and Hope," "Survived." Spiva Arts Center Executive Director Jo Mueller:
JO: Some have to do with the sheer joy of still being alive. You know, there's humor here. There's a fabulous one that says, "Dorothy doesn't have anything on us!!" And it's just a great portrait! There is much here that is very, very poignant and speaks to loss.
RANDY: Running concurrently with this show is an installation of objects people managed to save from the tornado and have loaned to the Spiva Center.
JO: They're things that weren't necessarily precious to begin with--but once they were found, they took on a whole different meaning.
RANDY: Among the items in the exhibit, Jo describes a beautiful leather-bound Bible that somehow escaped unscathed. Jo Mueller herself contributed a pottery "spirit ball" that she had made, and that survived the storage-unit fire, sitting a top a twisted mass of metal.
JO: And I had forgotten about this thing. But I'll tell you what, when I climbed up there and found that, it was like "Oh, my gosh... this is part of who I am!" And here it is, and it's intact.
RANDY: It's intact.
JO: It's intact--and you know what? This is an absolute celebration!
RANDY: "Dear World, From Joplin With Love" continues through July 13th at the Spiva Center for the Arts, 222 West 3rd Street in Joplin. For information call (417) 6234-0183 or visit www.spivaarts.org.