Today was one of those days that is summed up in this statement "this is why I do what I do and this is why I love to create art in public."
The working day began at noon at Gateway and it started by clarifying with a beloved friend and fellow artist my expectation for artistic help on this project. I'm honestly not always great at conversations where I have to set boundaries with people I love and know have serious life struggles. But through much prayer and a long standing relationship, we were able to talk, clear the air and engage in a beautiful conversation. I learned more about this amazing, resilient person than I had known in the last 10 plus years of our friendship. I asked questions about what it is like to live life while battling a mental illness and have a much greater compassion for those who struggle with one daily. And all this, mind you, while we placed glass pieces on the mosaic.
THIS was only the beginning .....
About a half hour in to working, I noticed a middle-aged couple standing on the outside of the stanchions near the third panel. The man seemed to be leaning in peering at the mosaic pieces. I went over to talk with them and asked if they had any questions. They proceeded to tell me that yesterday some of their family placed pieces for their granddaughter who died. First off, I'm going in my mind -- "what, that happened yesterday and we didn't know about it!?" So, I asked some questions. They told me the young gal was 17 years old, died of Huntington's disease after a four year fight, and her funeral was tomorrow. The woman was there looking for where the grandkids had placed the pieces to show the gentleman with her. I asked the man "Would you like to place one?" He nodded and asked if I was using pink anywhere. Though that was not the plan, I ran over to my buckets of glass and prayed "God I know I have a whole container of pink at home but not here . . .please provide just one pink piece for this couple." I dug through the red bucket looking for a miracle and at the very bottom were two small pink pieces of glass. I asked the man if that would work and he nodded. So, I handed him the piece and invited them beyond the tapes to look for yesterday's addition and place the new pink piece. I encouraged him to pick anywhere on the mural, so he placed it in the center of the "P" in HOPE so he could find it later. (you can see it in the image above). I asked if I could share their story on my blog. They agreed and proceeded to tell me more about McKenna and her life. Her "Papa" even shared how she loved to ride behind him on the motorcycle and tell him to go faster. I could see they had a special relationship. This mural of hope was, today, a step in the process of grieving the loss of a loved one for this family. This story represents why I work in public when given the chance..
BUT the day wasn't over, it had only begun. While we worked on outlining images in preparation for next weekend's public work days, I stopped to chat with people who wanted to know what we were up to. Then I received a very special visit from some amazing friends right around 2 pm. As we talked, I noticed a lady hovering around the work station. I saw her go up to the brochure table and grab a booklet on Hope Venture's projects. While continuing in conversations with my friends I kept an attentive "eye" on her. She continued to hover and I saw her step back up to the table about to put the booklet back, so I asked if she had questions. She proceeded to say how her money was taken by an organization claiming to help people overseas and I reassured her this was not that type of organization. I share that I knew the people personally, they have high integrity, and they are based right here in Lincoln, NE. She then let me know that we have problems in this country and we shouldn't send our money overseas. I felt God shut my mouth. No talking -- just listen. I got her story. Her son had become homeless, wasn't helped by government or organizations claiming to help. And I asked if she thought maybe the solution wasn't in these places? She agreed with her words that yes it was deeper, but I could see her hurt. I could see her heart as she expressed years of pain and frustration with the world around her. And I remembered the sermon I had heard this morning on Proverbs 8 at Lincoln Berean Church. I was face to face with what the brokenness of our world has done to so many people. People looking for hope in the wrong places. People looking for hope in their culture when God is the only place where truth and hope exist. So I continued to listen not saying a word. Twenty or so minutes later she turned to leave and I thanked her for sharing her story and she said "thank you for listening." This women just wanted someone to listen -- someone to take time to care. The very small difference we are encouraging people to take through the creation of this artwork was in that encounter. Just being able to listen and ask good questions without interjecting or taking over the conversation is one simple way to care about someone in our culture today. So many people don't listen -- you learn this when you talk with people especially at the mall.
With all that in the first two hours -- what would the rest of the time hold? It included: sharing with a 5 year old girl and her grandma how they can make a difference in someone's life on the other side of the world; getting real with two pre-teens about the level of poverty in India; inviting many to take brochures and come back next weekend to place pieces on the mural; and meeting a young couple excited about the organization, artwork and potential to come back and take part. Then there were the good conversations and deeper connections with the artists who helped me today and of course placing more piece of glass on the mosaic.
All together we made progress outlining the image of the art, but more importantly were the connections, relationships, and conversations shared with others over the four hour period. That's why I do this and why I love creating in public.
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.