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Artists, projects get creative during pandemic

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While the coronavirus pandemic forced people to spend more time at home than usual, a unique art project was launched to promote community engagement.

Lawn Art With Neighbors is a collaborative grassroots initiative organized by the Springfield Art Museum, Sculpture Walk Springfield and Missouri State University’s art and design department. Dozens of Springfield area residents participated in the project, with May 1-10 as the official viewing period for the art installations.

Participants were encouraged to use materials found in their homes for the exhibits. Some decorated trees with scarves or built a tower of CDs or cassettes, and others arranged a field of flowers made of plastic.

Organizers said the project, which was noncompetitive and had no entry fee, exceeded expectations.

“The purpose of it was just to promote more community engagement with people while we were so separate,” said Deidre Argyle, a sculpture teacher at MSU. “I was hoping we’d get 30 sites and we had more than 60. The response was overwhelmingly positive.”

Participants can keep exhibits displayed after May 10, but Argyle said the recent rainy weather was forcing many to be taken down.

The path forward
Lawn Art With Neighbors was organized and executed in less than a month in response to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. However, two other long-planned events are stalled. Organizers of Chroma and MidxMidwst, two mural-based initiatives, are taking more time as they decide how best to move forward.

Financial adviser Dan Malachowski said Chroma, first announced in 2019, had an original goal to have between two and four murals created by local and international artists this year. Amid the pandemic, the project is being scaled back now, with only one mural currently on tap downtown.

“One of these murals we’ve been talking about and planning for a while is actually moving forward and coming to fruition,” he said, declining to disclose the mural location or design. “We’re still finalizing details.”

Malachowski, managing member of Baron Financial Group LLC, said the mural’s estimated cost will be less than $10,000, which includes artist compensation and materials.

While $15,000 was a fundraising goal for Chroma in 2019, he said undisclosed personal issues kept his focus away from the project much of last year. He estimates around $4,000 of the total has been raised, including sponsorships from Ozark Fence & Supply Co., Ozark Printing Co. and A Color Story LLC. Malachowski said as the economic damage of the virus continues, it’s a tough environment to seek donations.

“It’s hard to go out and ask people who have had their business completely change over the course of the last two months to give us sponsorship dollars,” he said.

A similar predicament faces Meg Wagler, organizer of MidxMidwst, a mural art and culture festival set for a September debut downtown.

“Being responsible and tactful is important, so we really halted on that,” she said of fundraising efforts. “We’re watching to see if that is even possible and if the community is healthy enough to support that.”

Organizers are recruiting muralists, musicians and vendors to showcase Sept. 12 and 13 near Park Central Square and Robberson Avenue. No sponsors are on board yet, Wagler said, though a pre-pandemic goal was to sign them in the spring. Securing sponsorships and grants will be key, she said, because the festival has a first-year budget of $75,000-$100,000.

Wagler said early conversations with groups and businesses made her confident the lofty goal was possible to reach. However, that was before COVID-19.

Now’s, there’s no certainty the event will take place this year.

“We’re looking at several different pivot points of how it makes the most sense for community safety and how as a new event it makes sense to roll out versus the potential of waiting until 2021,” said Wagler, who exited digital marketing firm Departika LLC last year to be a full-time artist.

The muralists application deadline has been extended to May 30 from April 30. She said 40 artists have signed up thus far to work on a live mural painting project, with an eight-person lineup set to be announced in mid-June.

Second act
As the two mural projects wait to debut, the just concluded Lawn Art With Neighbors may return.

“People are asking us to do it again,” Argyle said, noting the project had no associated costs. “We’re going to have to decide if we want to do that every year. I would be interested in it.”

Interior decor shop Obelisk Home was the only business participant, but Argyle said there’s no reason other businesses couldn’t take part in future editions.

Christie Snelson, Obelisk Home’s gallery manager, said the planning and execution of a mural on a storage and studio building it owns across from its West Phelps Street shop took about a week. Snelson, Colby Kern and co-owner J. Kent Martin painted the mural, dubbed The Space Between Us.

It’s a work in progress, she said, as sections were intentionally left blank. All paint was in storage or donated by Sherwin-Williams.

“We’re going to have each of our team members go out and paint some shapes in that negative space in between each of the sections,” Snelson said of the next steps. “We wanted it to be along our brand. We thought the modern shapes would do that. We also wanted it to be a photo opportunity for people.”

Argyle said sponsorships for Lawn Art With Neighbors is a possibility, noting Sculpture Walk secures some money for its annual exhibit rotation. However, it wasn’t part of discussions for the first-time event.

“This was really a feel-good project meant to do something positive that isn’t necessarily about economic gain for our institutions,” she said. “But it reminds people of the importance of art, even when a pandemic is going on.”

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