Joplin Arts Community Experiences "Renaissance" in Aftermath of 2011 Tornado

Jun 25, 2014

Emily Frankoski and Sharon Beshore of Joplin's Connect2Culture, with Spiva Art Center Director Jo Mueller.
Credit KSMU/Randy Stewart

RANDY: Jo Mueller is the Executive Director of the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts in downtown Joplin, the city’s principal visual-arts venue.  With its location on 3rd Street, it was well north of the devastation of the EF-5 tornado that flattened so much of Joplin on May 22, 2011.  But Jo, who is a working artist in media like clay, wire, and watercolor and ink, sustained heavy damage to her own home.  I had talked with her a few years ago, and recently she recounted for me what happened to her home—and a good portion of her artwork.

JO MUELLER: Yes, our house was pretty seriously damaged, and we ended up selling that property and moving.  We were very fortunate because we quickly took the artwork that we found to a woman here in town, Cleo Copeland, and she stored and cared for that artwork, and cleaned it and repaired things as necessary.  We lost several pieces that we had in a storage unit that burned to the ground three weeks later... it was just kind of an extra little insult (laughs).

RANDY: An all-too-familiar story in May of 2011.  But almost immediately the Joplin arts community mobilized to begin a recovery effort.  Sharon Beshore is the President of Connect 2Culture, an entity that has come to fulfill the purpose of an overall Joplin arts council—something that hadn’t existed for many years.

SHARON BESHORE: And we just, about a year ago, started trying to fulfill that role.

RANDY: Connect2Culture was actually formed in 2009 to help support the building of a major performing and visual arts center for Joplin.

SHARON: But after the tornado we had a retreat, and determined that we wanted to support the other arts organizations and publicize them, in order to develop audience.

RANDY: In other words, to let people know the Joplin arts community was still there, ready and able to assist with the rebuilding—and the healing process.  With that in mind, they hired Emily Frankoski as their Community Arts Coordinator.

EMILY FRANKOSKI: We’ve really tried to give all the arts organizations a voice, online and offline.  So I really feel like my position has become a source of growing the arts community within the organizations, and their perception by the public. 

SHARON: It really, I think, feels like a renaissance of the arts.  You know, right after the tornado people wanted a creative outlet, and art was healing.

RANDY: Spiva Arts Center Executive Director Jo Mueller joined the conversation.

JO: In a lot of ways (the arts community) EXPLODED as a response to the tornado.  Sharon mentioned the idea that “art is healing.”  One of the things that we had in the plans was a mural—a community-based mural—to be created at 15th and Main Street.  What developed was this really quite glorious mural that, at the outset, nobody wanted it to be focused on the tornado—because we didn’t want Joplin to be “defined” by the tornado. But we wanted to impart that spirit of resilience and caring, and just that spirit of Joplin. So this mural was created in very short order, and it turned out to be exactly what the community needed.  We dedicated it in September (2011)—we were painting it in June and July.  And simultaneously, these other murals were popping up, and these great public-art occurrences were happening: the Spirit Tree on 20th Street; the mosaic projects; other painted murals.  People were expressing themselves and expressing their hope and their resilience.  And I think it just has grown from that.

RANDY: So it sounds like people just mobilized almost immediately.

JO: Well, we were very fortunate.  There was a group of Kansas City artists that raised funds specifically for Joplin artists.  And at the same time, you know, there were people who never really considered themselves “artists,” they lost everything, and they found themselves creating things from what they did find.  Some of the most powerful works were by people who said, “Look, I am NOT an ‘artist’—but I just felt compelled to make something!”  And that kind of thing is just so powerful... and empowering.

RANDY: I asked Connect2Culture President Sharon Beshore if it feels like the Joplin arts community is still in “recovery” mode.

SHARON: I think everyone feels the more arts we have in Joplin, the better. And as we always say with Connect2Culture, “There’s more to do than you can do” in Joplin---which people really don’t realize! (laughs)

RANDY: You can see for yourself how the arts in Joplin are faring now by logging onto www.connect2culture.com.  For KSMU I’m Randy Stewart.