Art Rescue in a Troubled World

By Fowler, Judith | Arts & Activities, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Art Rescue in a Troubled World


Fowler, Judith, Arts & Activities


In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the "Art Rescue" program was born. A plea for art supplies and materials from a Baton Rouge, La., school was received by art departments across the country, and I was one of many art educators who responded.

But, as I packed a large box with drawing tools, I felt I could do more. So, I put out a call for donations from friends and family. I also decided to send a group email to art teachers throughout the state, via the Missouri Art Education Association website. There was no turning back; I was committed to carry through with this project.

My front porch became the "drop off" and, as more and more boxes arrived, it was apparent the cost of mailing the donations as planned was reaching exorbitant levels. Another plan for delivery had to be devised.

LOGISTICS I contacted the Louisiana Art Therapy Association, thinking they would know where the greatest need for art supplies might be. As it turned out, art therapists were doing volunteer work in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas; they immediately responded to my call. The local art teachers were in basic survival mode, so I didn't want to bother them with the logistics of such a large amount of art materials.

A number of the art therapists were also certified art teachers. With their help, the second step--securing reliable contacts in the disaster area--went quickly and smoothly.

The third step was finding transportation for delivery. My son agreed to help here, so we packed a 16-passenger van to the brim with art materials and headed to Baton Rouge. It was at that point the first "Art Rescue" mission became known as "Art on Wheels."

Upon our arrival, with the help of the art therapists, over $3,500 worth of supplies were sorted and delivered to 13 schools, two colleges, two art centers and relief centers.

ART ON WHEELS-MISSOURI Six years later, the Art on Wheels project took a new turn. This time it was called "Art On Wheels--Missouri," with art-rescue services as the goal. As with Louisiana, the first three steps in organizing this project had to be in place before anything else could happen.

The tornado of May 2011 hit close to Springfield, Mo., where I live and teach. It destroyed nearly half of nearby Joplin, Mo., killing 158 citizens and injuring about 1,100. It was the deadliest tornado in America since 1947.

I had to respond--I wanted to use my teaching skills and experience to help survivors cope with their loss and emotional trauma. I knew other teachers would also want to contribute their energy and teaching experience to the cause.

WHAT TO DO WITH AN ART TEACHER/ THERAPIST The central disaster relief location was at the local university in Joplin, so I headed there with thoughts of helping survivors through therapeutic art-making activities.

The first problem was that no one there knew what to do with an art teacher/therapist who wanted to help. After trying to pierce the FEMA shield for two days, the Red Cross suggested that I put a specific name on my art-rescue plans. Thus, "Art On Wheels--Missouri" was created.

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This time, the mission was to deliver more than art supplies. The plan was to provide professional art-therapy services and create teams of certified art teachers to conduct therapeutic art workshops. After meeting with 29 potential Art Rescue Team members, 13 joined forces to make the Art On Wheels--Missouri project a reality.

FINDING THE TARGET Aware of the need for day-care facilities where parents could drop their children off while they looked for new housing, I met with the directors of several community-care centers. The Lafayette House, was pleased that the Art on Wheels--Missouri Art Rescue program was interested in helping them. …

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