Fostering community with art




Mary Lee Eischen left a note card she made in someone’s fence, then received a note back. Jamie Schwaba placed some of her note cards in the little free libraries around town so others could use them as bookmarks. Amid this year of physical distancing, making and sharing art gave them a way to connect.

The Sharing Creativity Project began after Schwaba applied for and won a grant, Artists Respond: Combating Social Isolation, a project for Springboard for the Arts. The grant allowed art supplies to be distributed to more than 50 participants of all ages and abilities.

Eischen, who taught art, was reminded of her own process for creating while taking part in the project. She usually pulls different ideas together into something new while developing her art.

“I think it’s just really easy in this time to sometimes forget in a pandemic that there still are so many blessings — just that the sun is shining today, that I have the ability to go outside and take a walk, that I can still call a friend,” Eischen said. “So all those things felt like they were sort of translated into these little art works that I’m now sharing with other people.”

She appreciated seeing families and children on a Zoom meeting participants had at the beginning of the project. She has also enjoyed seeing the photos participants have been sharing of their completed projects and “the joy that has been happening in creating art.”

Schwaba aimed to help participants de-stress and connect with others by creating and giving art to others. She and her son have enjoyed working with oil pastels on the weekends. Creating art has been beneficial for them during the pandemic, she said, and she wanted to help share that with others.

In a time when opportunities for having new experiences in-person are few and far between, the simple things in life, like getting new art supplies and having a project to look forward to creating, can help someone feel a little better, Schwaba said. Seeing that others are working on art, too, creates a feeling of community, she added.

Over the course of the roughly month-long project which ends at the beginning of December, participants have made note cards that they gave to whoever they wished. They also decorated rocks. Some, like Eischen, hid them around Winona as part of the “Winona County Rocks” group on Facebook. People hide bedecked rocks around town, and those who find them take a photo and post it in the group.

Participants designed postcards to send to others, as well. Schwaba will take some to the Friendship Center so they may be sent to members.

They also received a quilt square to design. Schwaba will connect the squares into a quilt in a representation of participants coming together through the project. One participant will win a raffle for the quilt.

Some participants made note cards for members of the Friendship Center.

“They’re all small canvases that are doable,” Schwaba said. “They help you feel like you’ve done something. You’re not sitting down to make this big, grandiose, really intricate project. You’re working small, which makes it feel doable and successful.”

Hopefully the art supplies and project ideas participants received during the project will inspire them to continue creating and sharing art, Schwaba said.

“I tried to give people ideas that were accessible, that you don’t have to have a lot of art experience [for],” Schwaba shared.

Those interested in the project may look into the opportunities provided by groups in town to enjoy and create art, Schwaba said. When they create art through those groups, they may then consider how to share it with others.

In a similar event, the Winona Public Library’s (WPL) 15th annual Flippin’ for Books shifted to a drive-through event at Winona Senior High School this year, and hundreds attended.

Kits with supplies for two crafts and information about topics from local child care to early literacy opportunities in the area were distributed to families, as were books. Library staff members held up a few book choices for children as their families drove through, and children picked their next read.

On the day of the event, about 620 kits were passed out, and over the next few weeks, about 200 more were distributed.

“I think it was important … that the information on these support programs were getting to families, and to even just provide a small bit of normalcy in people’s year,” WPL Youth Services Librarian Tricia Wehrenberg said. “We got a lot of comments from families driving through that they were excited because it was a tradition to go to this program.”

It was also important to make people aware that the library and other local organizations are still at work for community members, she added.


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