Where do I begin to talk about the process of creating “One Thousand?”
I guess I should start in the Winter 2017. This is when the marketing director of Gateway Mall and I sat down in her office and she explained a new initiative their corporate office had approved. It was to become Live 360, a community driven initiative to elevate the mall to a community space and not just a place to shop. It was an initiative that that began to play out a vision the General Manager had four to five years back. We had discussed it on many an occasion. It was the early part of the summer when Gateway gathered members of the community together to brainstorm what they could envision happening in the mall. During one of the meeting’s activities, an attendee commented on how many kids in Lincoln were on a waiting list for mentors. BOOM! An idea hit me and I began to explain that I could see an installation of that number placed in Gateway to help people visualize and experience just how many kids that meant. That began the process of “One Thousand.”
After the meeting, mall staff, with their corporate managers, sat down and identified projects that they wanted Live 360 to launch with. The installation piece was one of them, so I was contacted and sat down with staff again to discuss the idea further and what I needed to proceed. I said I needed to meet with the mentor organizations to learn about them and hear, from them, what they experience every day. Gateway arranged the meeting and in early July we met with Lighthouse, Team Mates, and Heartland Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I asked questions, listened, took notes, and walked away with the number 1000. One Thousand, it is the number of kids on waiting lists to be paired with a mentor through these organizations. I also learned that the highest need was for male mentors. With that information I left and let it soak in and roll around. I was headed out of town on a trip with my husband and decided to wait to have a final idea until I returned the end of July. But, in God’s perfect timing, I was given an idea to pursue before we left.
Then, I was approached by a young gal (Sarah Wanek) who I was working with at church on some murals. She asked me several questions, all of which I flipped over as God had me praying about and opening doors for those very things. One I was praying for had to do with a desire to have one or more apprentices. So, we met, and I pitched my idea for the installation and she was one board! I was excited!
After returning from my trip and getting my feet back under me, I met with Gateway again and we were a go. They even provided money for supplies! I began playing around with ways to make 1000 rectangles. I tried clay and realized that that would take me forever. In talking with Jason he suggested I have one of his employees cut them out of sheets of plywood at Innovation Campus. GREAT idea! Plywood would be to heavy, but I remembered I learned about a great material called Komatex in the spring (light weight and paintable) so I pursued that route and worked with a local plastics dealer to get what I needed. It took a little bit of time, but we got the material to Rusty to cut and over a week he had all 1000 pieces to me ready to paint. I started sanding the first pieces exactly one week before installation and on Monday Sarah joined me and we began working tirelessly to prepare the pieces. By Wednesday afternoon we had all but 300 pieces cut, sanded and painted. A few issues came up on Wednesday late and so Thursday was spent making corrections and finally Friday morning all pieces were ready to be strung for the installation the next day.
But something on Friday kept postponing my work on the project and finally around 2:30 I got in a groove and started stringing the rectangles. Then 3:30 rolled around and I stopped work to get my son from school. Getting going was a struggle earlier in the day, but by 4:30 pm I had a plan and I started working hard. Sarah joined me around 5 pm and she jumped in working on some rectangles. Somewhere in there I got dinner ready for everyone and people ate as they wanted. I wasn’t about to stop to eat – I was focused and we were going to get this done.
Jason showed up at home around 5:00/5:30 with 1000 paperclips that we needed for hooks. He jumped in and started prepping the “hooks.” Then Christopher jumped in to help. As the boys headed off to bed, just Jason, Sarah and I kept working. Then Sarah suggested she call her sister to come help around 10:30 pm. Shortly thereafter, Jena came, was briefed and she began working. Oh the fun of listening to Jena and Sarah as they unpacked Disney movies. Reminded me of my sister and I. We worked feverishly stopping only briefly for ice cream and popcorn. By 1:00 pm we were tired and still had a half box left. Jason and I sent everyone home to rest and by 1:30 pm I flopped down in bed and was OUT!
After several months of rest and slower art production, the month of May seems to have kicked everything in to high gear.
Back in November, I was asked to help a colleague out of Louisville, KY plan three Art and Church Track sessions for an upcoming CIVA conference. After several months of discussion and my colleague deciding to take a once in a lifetime trip to Israel, I was left finalizing the details of the conference sessions on my own. What a great test of trust and faith in God’s plan. I feel way out of my league, but am excited for God to do His thing through my own willingness to let Him lead. He is bringing together a great group of speakers / presenters and as a friend of mine prayed, may we stay open to those who need to be invited to share and speak into this discussion. I look forward to sharing with people about building an arts ministry in their own context coming in June.
So with, the weight of three, ninety-minute sessions on my shoulders, I decided, why not also submit a paper to the conference. I’ve never written a scholarly paper before and in trying to do so I reached out to CIVA’s executive director, a friend and fellow artist. He said I should think about my musings as a blog and proceeded to put me in contact with someone at CIVA to help make that a reality. Funny how God works through just opening up and being vulnerable! It led to a blog on the website which posted yesterday: http://civa.org/civablog/making-art-in-the-mall/
This blog is a precursor to the very paper I will share late Saturday afternoon at the CIVA conference highlighting the story of how building relationships led to the opportunity to work with Hope Venture and Gateway Mall last summer.
I can’t believe the ride God has me on right now. And all I can do is hang out tight and trust in His unwavering ability to provide strength and energy.
So what else, could be added? Well God also placed me in the path of a non-profit in Lincoln called LPPAD. Their purpose is to oversee the fundraising, acquisition, and placement of public art in the city. Through a friend connecting me with LPPAD, I was invited to paint live this coming Thursday in Lincoln’s Tower Square (15th and P Street) for the annual Give to Lincoln Day. I will be painting from 10 am to 2 pm on a painting that is inspired by sitting in the space a few Monday mornings ago pondering the man-made elements and plant life there. It leaves me thinking about man’s creations in harmony with God’s creations and how we often miss the beauty of both.
But, I see it and God keeps moving in ever surprising and amazing ways. Over the past two years, I have learned an important lesson about perspective, humility and position. God’s Word is True. He opposes the proud….and exalts the humble. God changes the heart if we let Him in and are open to sacrificing this life for His way. Easy when said on this side of the Refiner’s fire – not so easy 8-10 months ago right in the middle of it. God has humbled me to authorities He has placed in my life and given me a heart and passion to serve Him regardless of the cost. May He be seen, may He speak, and may He receive the glory this week, in June at the CIVA conference, and in each new opportunity He brings my way.
Since the final sale of the "Collective Individualism" paintings a month ago, I have been receiving requests to make more. Usually when I make a series of paintings and I finish, I'm done. No prints, no additions, no more thought. I move on to the next project. This is somewhat because my goal in creating art is never to generate income. My goal, my purpose is much deeper -- it is to glorify God with my heart, soul, and talent. My fear of falling into the machinist rhythm kept me from considering making more of the tree paintings. Yet, other than a small commission, what was I going to be about in my studio? A few weeks of floating or resting and I was ready to get back in the studio. But doing what type of work? I didn't feel like going back to my usual style of painting and I kept hearing people say -- do you have more of those tree paintings? For some reason, the idea of flipping "Collective Individualism" into a way to build relationships and spark community rings a chord with so many. Now what?
Then last Friday, after meeting for a project I will be creating with Eastridge Presbyterian Church on January 8, God spoke to me about the paintings. I had been coaxed and encouraged by a dear friend to make more of these paintings and God used that woman to soften my heart and listen. He revealed my fears through our conversation and on the way home I realized God was telling me the journey with these wasn't over and it was time to make more. MORE? I had all the supplies the last time. More? God reminded me that He provides for every need when He calls. I decided "OK, I'll do it." And I began to get excited.
So this morning I'm beginning to stretch new canvases and begin the process of taking "Beyond Collective Individualism" on the next leg of the journey. I am praying for people to join me in this journey to see where God will take this art series.
I am thankful for those who've posted their images on Facebook and how God has opened opportunities for the trees to bring people together. One tree painting went to a local school where the kids got to add their thumb prints to it. Other paintings are records of people coming over for soup and good conversation.
I look forward to what the next leg of this journey holds. I hope to have another grouping of paintings complete by November 30. Email me if you are interested in a piece (email@example.com). They will continue to be $25 each and I will ship them anywhere but will charge shipping to cover the cost.
FOLLOW THE PROJECT: via blog or follow and like the project on Facebook at Beyond Collective Individualism
After several months of waiting, 23 paintings are going on display at Lincoln's Noyes Gallery (119 S. 9th Street) this week. The opening reception is scheduled for Friday October 7 from 6 pm - 9pm. The paintings are part of a series entitled "Collective Individualism." The convex, three-tiered stack of paintings of barren trees represent a scene of people being crowded in one location yet not interacting with one another. Being alone together they are not producing foliage or fruit.
The sculpture of paintings can be walked around and into, revealing the backs of each canvas and how they are attached together. Each painting will be on sale on Friday night and throughout the exhibit for $25 each. Once the paintings are purchased and removed, the tower will begin to change and shift. Interaction will begin on a new level as I will then re-stack and build the structure as needed. Each painting will be accompanied by an ink pad and card explaining the piece and what to do with it. Patrons of the pieces are to place their paintings in a special location and as people visit they are encouraged to have them place thumbprints on the tree to create leaves. Through this process, the tree will begin to come alive and speak to connectedness and moving toward community. The trees then become symbols of family and interaction.
The project has its own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/beyondcollectiveindividualism/ This is where buyers of the paintings are to post images of the progress of the "growth" of their trees. If you are interested in following the progress after Friday search for the page and "like" it.
On a Side NOTE: I'm excited to be part of the exhibit this coming Friday as it was put together by a woman I have had the opportunity to walk with in the arts for almost 10 years. She is really taking off in her artwork and she is the one who organized this exhibit. She also invited several artists friends of hers, many who she has met through involvement with the visual arts at Lincoln Berean Church. We look forward to sharing our art with Lincoln and patrons of Noyes Gallery.
At 4 pm today the Sixteen Days of Hope was officially over. The hard work of the past two plus weeks came to a close with the visit of a friend. She came at the moment I needed it most. She had followed the process and prayed for me from the beginning and it was the best ending I could've asked for.
My prayer today was to finish strong. To not neglect the people roaming around at Gateway, to interact with them, and to finish with just as much gusto as I started. Fewer people at Gateway stopped to ask questions about the project today. Many just enjoyed watching the detail work being done to finish up the panels. Most were interested in where the panels were going and asked about the white lines coming from the tree. I was happy to share that the roots would be finished at Hope Venture's fundraiser on October 21 at Chey Hay.
My favorite encounter today was to meet a lady from Denver only to find out a bit later that she was related to a gal I work with at Lincoln Berean. I love how moments like that happen. I think God smiles when He shows us little connections and we delight in them. I saw many a person approach the mosaic with the eyes and excitement of a child. I love watching people light up, learn, and experience pieces of artwork.
I have enjoyed my time at Gateway. I have met many new people and made some new friends. I will miss my station by the food court, but am ready to walk the next journey of this art piece. At 6 pm the panels were removed from Gateway Mall, loaded into my husband's truck and transported to my studio at home. Less that a dozen pieces came off the mosaic, most had not been previously glued. They had only been set on, not glued, and forgotten. When we arrived at home, my husband and I unloaded each panel and set them in our dining room until the fundraiser. I have to say that I have been blessed with an amazing husband who supports all the crazy art projects I get myself in to. He is always willing to haul pieces here or there despite their odd shape or size. And he does it all without complaint. I probably have a harder time asking for his help than he does in actually providing help. And without him, this project wouldn't have happened on the most basic, behind-the-scenes level. I'm thankful to him for "holding down the fort" during the past two weekends while I've been at Gateway.
Tonight, as this chapter of making art closes, I am thankful for all the people that helped, visited, listened, learned, gave, prayed, followed, encouraged, and supported during this project. It was because of you that this project truly was Sixteen Days of Hope. THANK YOU.
Just about complete. With the help of volunteers from Hope Venture, friends, families, and artists the mosaic is just about finished. We would've finished the green had we not run out of larger pieces of glass. And thanks to someone I met last weekend when she came to work on the project, we will have green to finish up tomorrow. I am amazed at the generous spirit of people, from the giving of materials to the purchasing of caffeine so I could keep working. Today, many people returned to the mosaic to help place more pieces of glass. Some had come last weekend or the first weekend. They expressed their desire to come back because they had enjoyed their previous time working. Others came early in the process today, put a few pieces on, and then came back later and added more.
Each section of the mural holds the story of those who worked on it. I know I've said that before, but I look at the mosaic now and see those stories again. Like the image from today of the little green pieces. A young mother and her three girls came and spent quite a while with us placing glass. We were running out of large pieces but that didn't deter the four. One young gal, maybe 8 years old, had so many questions for me. Her mom shared, in somewhat broken English, that her daughter loved art and anything like what we were doing. I had to say that their visit was a highlight and also one of the challenges of the day. Artistically, it was hard for me to watch people do their "own thing" on the mosaic again after spending such an intense and productive week on it mostly by myself. Yet this is the nature of this project and I knew I had to learn to cope with it. Now, after a few hours, my emotions have mellowed and I think those places of the mosaic are what make it special. It makes it what it is and speaks of the community it has taken to create it.
Over the past few days, I have been astounded by the number of artists I have connected with through the project. Since part of what I'm called to do is to lead and encourage artists, it has been such a pleasure to meet new folks in our community who are creative. These artists are young, old, mosaic artists, painters, sculptors, wood workers, photographers, film makers, and even retired art teachers. The project has drawn people who work construction, teach, lead, work insurance, you name it, I've met them. Grandparents with grandkids, dads with their kids, moms and daughters, brides and their fiances, and all other sorts of relationships are represented in this mosaic. The mosaic is an experience these people have together and they won't soon forget it. My favorite was the fathers and their daughters, especially those who let their girls work, stood back for awhile, then jumped in, and 30 plus minutes later when I looked over - they were still there working! That is sweet, especially when you learn that dad only sees daughter once in a while. It's humbling to think they would spend their precious time together creating art.
Community sums up the day and many days of this mosaic. In so many ways I can't even express them all at this time. But I am thankful for people and I have learned so much from this project.
And now off to have a bowl of ice cream and get rested so I can return to Gateway tomorrow at noon for the final hours of the project.
The day was somewhat normal for this project. Family, friends, facebook followers, and more stopped to chat about the project and Hope Venture. "Jo" got his hug like the days before. I also now chat with one of the food court cleaning crew. Though he is a bit hard to understand, we talk about our work and bowling. For the most part, the day went by quickly as I worked on the ground of the mosaic, small spaces in the blue areas, and filling in the green in the center panel. I worked hard to get the piece ready for the final public work day tomorrow. Just two days of work left and the panels will leave the mall until they are hung in early November.
Some of my family visited today and it got me thinking about who has impacted my life through the years. I also thought about the jobs I've had that have helped play a role in who I am today and what I do as an artist. I can say that many people and experiences, good and bad, are part of who I am. I am thankful for each moment, challenge, and person who has influenced my life. Some people who I've met this week will be included in those who have influenced and challenged me. Many have shared their stories with me and provided encouragement.
As I've already said, today went smoothly until about 2 pm. A friend who'd stopped by to help left for an appointment and I struggled to stay working for the next hour. I wanted to leave and go do something for me. I had an errand to run and get my kids from camp and I just wanted to leave. Several times, I thought about it and every time I sense God wanting me to stay, encouraging it. I struggled but kept working. Again I wanted to go but felt compelled to stay -- and not in a fun way. It was hard to stay focused on working for the next hour. Then at 3 pm my alarm went off signalling it was time to go, and that's when the afternoon got interesting. As I put supplies away, I saw two people come to where I was working. As I started a conversation explaining Hope Venture, I saw one women clinch her mouth together and form a stern or disconcerted look on her face. I knew she was questioning what I was saying. I sensed it had something to do with sending money overseas. As polite as she was trying to be, I drew her out. I asked her what she was thinking and she hesitated. I told her I really wanted to know and she proceeded to let me know she wasn't supportive of what I was doing and that we had problems here to solve. As I had experienced something like this earlier in the project, I tried hard to keep my mouth shut. This time I was told how poorly some Veterans are treated. Again, I learned the story. Family members unable to support themselves and a government program not helping. After listening for 20 minutes or so, they had to go and I was able to leave. By this point, I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I drove out to get my kids from camp in silence trying to process this day. When I made it home, I found my husband already there. I couldn't help but emotionally unload. I was tired and raw from the last conversation. This was the first time in 14 days I cried. Tears of burden for the people in all sorts of pain and those who are looking for the answers. Also the reality of our selfish human natures that seek benefit for our own well being and failure to see those deeply in need.
And yet, in the muck and mire of it all, God sent His Son. Amazing. And He not only came to save us, but to call us to take part in His work of redeeming His world. Meaning we don't work for God's approval, we work out of a relationship with Him. We work with Him! He calls broken, unlikely people to step up in faith and share in the joy of His news of Hope. And let me say being used by Him is an adventure and amazing experience I wish for each and every reader of this. He has a purpose for you. Just seek Him, He will show you, and it will be incredible.
I was surprised with the number of people who were interested in the mosaic and the work of Hope Venture today. I realize I'm at the mall to bring awareness to the work Hope Venture does, but I'm amazed at the response. People of all ages touched by the story. Today I did have a first though. After 13 days of working, I had someone ask if the story on the poster about the girl taking her life over 16 cents was true. It wasn't a surprise that the question came up. I told my husband, a few days in to the project, that I was surprised no one had asked if the story was true. It is interesting that it took this long. With the ability to access so much information, it can be very difficult to determine who is telling the truth. I am thankful I can honestly say the people of Hope Venture live lives of integrity and truth. There is much more to write about this idea of truth, but I will save that for another time and place. Maybe when I have more energy and am a little less tired.
I had a number of people stop and talk about art and creating. Many of them looking for ways to express themselves and some with a spark to make a difference. It is interesting that many people seem to understand it doesn't take much to help someone else, yet there is a disconnect to actually doing something about it. I would say at times this is still me. I know that all I may be called to today is to strike up a conversation with the lady in line at the store, but am I willing to step out of myself and risk it? Is it safe? Do I even see her sometimes? And at the heart of it, do I even care? I think some come by interacting with people more naturally than I do. I wouldn't be doing projects like this if it wasn't for God's major movement in my life. I am, by nature, more apt to hide away at home. I'm learning that often insecurities have held me in the shadows, but God has been moving in me, making me bolder. Like I said a few days ago, every moment, every day is a choice to engage with people.
Taking the risk brings great joy. I received a text today from Hope Venture's director; a prayer that I would find joy and see God in this project. I have since the beginning; and one way is through the out pouring of people. The art, at this point, is really secondary. It really is a vehicle to interact with people. That doesn't mean the quality of the work is any less, it just means that the cost of materials, time, control take the back seat to the people interaction. I need to trust God with the final product and enjoy the process. I chuckle as that is the exact lesson God taught me almost 20 years ago during a college life drawing class. I am enjoying the process of this and will grieve the end of this portion of the journey. I will also mourn not being among my friends day in and day out. Not until winter sets in that is, when I'll be back at the mall walking. I will miss my hugs from "Jo" and the special visitors each day. I will miss the excuse to have a daily coffee and talk with the shop manager -- who now knows what type of coffee drink I like. I will miss the extra help on a project. It has been so fun working with fellow artists as well as old and new friends. I've enjoyed sharing what I know about art and mosaics and learning about these people in ways I've never known them before. I have learned more about listening, asking questions, and communicating with others than any other project I've ever worked on.
I look forward to what God will do with the rest of this artwork's journey and story. But for now, the work continues. Progress was made on the base of the mosaic today and the piece is set and ready for helpers this weekend at the public work time. And as much as I will mourn being done with this stage of the process, I am ready to be back home working quietly in my studio for a little while again.
A tremendous day of progress and people. Many visitors asking about the mosaic, Hope Venture, and the now standard question: "What are you doing?" After answering that question many times, I needed to come up with different ways of communicating why I am at Gateway and how to share the story behind the 16 Days of Hope. Like in life, there are moments when it's time to look at something in new and different ways. That's hard while creating art, especially if you can't take time away from the project to get a fresh perspective. But today, I think new thoughts are beginning to form about the piece as it becomes the holder of the stories of the past 12 and eventually 16 days.
Stories like the gentleman who came today and thanked me for doing the project. He explained his wife used to work with stained glass but she had passed 20 years ago. He expressed thanks for reminding him of good, happy memories. All through a piece of art!
Stories of people who came back to check on the progress. Men and women who share this or that experience with me. People who've met one another while standing at the art piece working or just talking. Teens who love art and want to keep creating. Kids who are drawn to the piece well before their parents are. The people who've taken part of the piece on public work days and the list goes on.
Also stories like those of the mentally challenged and their care givers who walked around the mall today. I don't know anything about their lives, but I noticed them. One lady saw the mosaic today and just kept saying "so pretty, so pretty," over and over. Something about the colors touched her soul. In pondering this encounter, I was aware at how we care for this portion of our society much better than many countries in the world. Yet, when someone like this acts in socially inappropriate way we see it as an unwanted disruption. I pulled one care giver over to thank her for her amazing work with her group and she shared her approach. She told me that if one of her group "acts out", she will sit with them or in some way make others look at them both not just the challenged individual. I saw her do this by playing hide and seek around a column with her group, and later sit on the floor next to one of the ladies who'd acted out. She said that if they were going to look at the lady they would also have to look at her. That inspired me. This care giver steps up, lays down her pride, and chooses to be associated with the people and actions which annoy and disrupt others in public. And this gal found such JOY in it. Why not, these are people God loves. People who aren't able to "do" for God can teach us about "being" before our Creator just as we are.
I am reminded that the joy of grace for me is God just asks me to be & believe. That there is nothing I can do to earn His favor. I could "do good" for the rest of my life and NEVER measure up to God's standard. But that is the point and the beauty. No one can measure up, that's why we need a Savior, someone to take our place. Someone who met the standard and paid the price for our not meeting it. That is the gift. The gift of grace I have claimed that makes me who I am. That is the gift open to each one of us if we so choose to accept it.
It is this news - GOOD NEWS that brings the ultimate Hope for all in this world. It is the acceptance of this good news and a choice to let God be Lord of my life that bonds and connects me to several of the people who have supported and encouraged me over the past 12 days. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I am thankful for them in ways I can not express. I have never experienced the joy of sharing what God has been doing with others like I have on this journey. People who are excited to see and hear the stories of each day and who are praying for me along the way. I'm in awe of the men and women I have met at Gateway who love the Lord and are everyday choosing to let Him use them to reach out to others in very practical ways despite their age or situation. And I am thankful for these folks because the realization of the hurts, struggles, and pains of people those I've met this past week and a half would otherwise be a burden too large to bear alone. Those who have read the stories or listened to me share while we worked on the mosaic have helped to carry the load of what I am witnessing and realizing this week. I have seen an image of community in action and it is beautiful.
Tonight I am again thankful for the lessons and experiences and look forward to processing the whole journey in the days and months ahead. And I'm thankful for the value and trust Hope Venture has shown in letting me share and represent them at Gateway.
Some Progress, Mostly People. That sums up today. I'm not quite sure how the day of work flew by, but I know it had something to do with the visits from friends and family and steady work on the mosaic. The lower half of the tree is complete. I'm struggling to write tonight as it has been a long couple of days.
I am so thankful for the time at Gateway. I was thinking about that today and what it will be like to leave the mall when the project is complete. I have been amazed at how much I really am part of the community there. I am amazed to think it all started because God called me out of my comfort zone and I chose to obey. In obedience, I reach out to a few of the people I saw walking each day during the winter. One of those gentlemen, my youngest son and I reached out to that winter 5 years ago, came today just to see the progress of the mural and say hello. This man has become one of my biggest cheerleaders when it comes to continuing to create art.
Stories continue. And they will continue beyond this project. I will continue to walk at Gateway.
Relationships will continue. Some will develop, others will not. But, I look forward to a continued relationship with a special lady I met because of this project. She was my biggest encourager today.
Though I can't seem to write much more tonight, I will say thank you to all the visitors today. By coming to say hello, you have shown me love and value. Without you all, I could not do this journey. Thank you. Please continue to pray for the rest of this project. Not only, for the art's completion or for stamina for me, but that God would continue to move in the hearts and lives of people who see the mural and the literature from Hope Venture. May God use the mosaic to bring hope to those in Lincoln, but also eventually hope to those in India, Uganda, and Kenya through Hope Venture.
Ann has worked as a professional artist since 2006. She currently works on her own studio artwork as well as large, commercial works and with other artists in any way she can.