Earlier this year, as quarantine fell upon Northwest Arkansas, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary wanted to determine how best to help the region’s vulnerable communities and bridge the inequity gap created by the effects of COVID-19.
After speaking with community partners and assessing our resources, we identified five key areas of support: food, internet, housing, artist relief, and a campaign for social connecting to foster connections with vulnerable, isolated groups. Mobilizing the staff, these efforts were carried out as part of the organization-wide Community Outreach Initiative.
In this blog, we’ll recap the Social Connecting Campaign, including the development of artist-designed postcards, engaging the community to spread messages of hope, and a traveling art exhibition bringing art to those in our community who have been most isolated during this time, such as hospitals and assisted care facilities.
As Crystal Bridges and the Momentary assessed how to best help the community during quarantine, they turned to their community partners. The need for a social connecting campaign was realized through a series of community listening sessions with partners such as UAMS’s Community Health and Research team and Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education.
Community partners raised concerns about the negative effects of isolation for seniors, healthcare workers, and hospital patients. They were enthusiastic about using the arts to provide comfort and joy during this difficult time and to support mental health and well-being.
As team members brainstormed meaningful ways of connecting, their minds turned to one of the most reliable and appreciated forms of communication: postcards. In an effort to support local artists, the team put out a call to find artists willing to create designs for the postcards.
Nine local artists answered the call to create designs inspired by the word, “TOGETHER.” The artists included Kenny Arredondo, Stacy Bates, Kinya Christian, Tram Colwin, Leana Fischer, Octavio Logo, Matt Miller, Hannah L. Newsome, and Alan Rodriguez. You can learn more about each artist here.
Their designs were inspired by images of strength in nature, memories of cherished time with family, and appreciation for frontline workers. The interpretations range from personal reflections on the word and separation from family and friends, to broad messages of hope in coming back together again with love.
In fact, you can listen to some of the artists speaking about their work in this video:
Once the designs were made, we then called upon our local community to give life to the postcards by coloring in the artists’ drawings and writing messages of hope to those living and working in healthcare facilities across Northwest Arkansas. Once completed, the postcards were returned to Crystal Bridges, and the team sent the personalized postcards, along with creativity art kits, to patients and staff around the area.
Local community organizations, like the Rogers, Farmington, and Fayetteville Public Libraries, the Arkansas Support Network, the Young Men’s Service League, the National Charity League, Lifestyles, Inc., and individuals in the NWA community mobilized their friends, families, and neighbors to write and color postcards. Crystal Bridges and Momentary staff, members, and volunteers were also a huge support to the campaign.
On June 8, Crystal Bridges hosted a postcard coloring party to connect some of the postcard artists―Leana Fischer, Hannah Newsome Doyle, Kinya Christian, and Tram Colwin―with community members. The party provided a connection between artists and the community as the artists explained their inspiration for the postcards and taught guests a few coloring techniques.
The second part of the Social Connecting Campaign consisted of a temporary art exhibition that is still ongoing through the month of June. In addition to the postcards, the nine artists also painted large-scale colorful versions of their postcard drawings which have been displayed outside hospitals and senior living facilities for staff, facility residents, and patients to view. Art kits were also distributed to encourage creativity while in isolation―kits which include a returned colored postcard from someone in the community!
The art exhibition made quite the tour around Northwest Arkansas, including Arkansas Children’s Northwest, Fayetteville VA Medical Center, Garden at Osage Terrace, Hillcrest Towers Senior Center, Mercy Hospital, Morningside of Springdale, Northwest Medical Center, Bentonville, Northwest Medical Center, Springdale, Providence Assisted Living, UAMS Northwest Regional Campus, Washington Regional Hospital, and Willow Creek Women’s Hospital.
“The response from all involved has been overwhelming, and it’s brought joy to the lives of those most affected by this pandemic…This campaign demonstrates the excellence, generosity, and strong sense of service found here in NWA.” – Ayoola Carleton, Assistant Director of Research, UAMS Northwest Regional Campus
Each drawing was brought to life on a 4×8-foot mural attached to a freestanding, custom-made support (big thanks to our wonderful Preparation team!). Patients and staff are able to spend a moment with the works installed outdoors and can respond to the pieces with the art kits that are delivered in advance.
“We are thankful that Northwest Health has been chosen as a venue for the Social Connecting Campaign. These works of art provide welcome opportunities for reflection, inspiration and comfort. In this time of isolation, my hope is that these art pieces will be a bright spot in the day of our patients, staff and community and for all of us to feel connected to one another.” – Christina Bull, Northwest Health Marketing Director
The artworks will be on display in the community through June 30. By the time the campaign wraps up, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary will have provided completed postcards and art kits to every patient, staff member, and senior citizen in the 9 hospitals and 13 senior citizen facilities who participated. Our hope is to continue these moments of connection and support for the Northwest Arkansas community, bringing us all one step closer “TOGETHER.”
After this campaign, we hope to continue our partnerships with social service, healthcare, and other local organizations to effectively understand the needs of the community and how art can play a role in filling those needs.
We will organize a public viewing of the postcard exhibition on the Crystal Bridges grounds at a later date.
This post was written by Katie Robertson, engagement manager, the Momentary, and Moira Anderson, adult programs assistant manager, Crystal Bridges. The Social Connecting Task Force team included Moira, Katie, Marissa Reyes, Makele Ndessokia, Kim Crowell, Emily Rodriguez, and Sara Segerlin.