It was a grey COVID April morning and I was sitting at my desk. We had just launched the Color Our World initiative and were excited to see the response following our first email campaign.
Beth Hammerman (a client) who we had done amazing work with for a youth group she was involved with (an anti drug themed tile mural) was the first email.
She wants to create a lasting memorial to the front line workers at Mercy Medical Center in her home town. My brain went in overdrive and the ideas started flowing... and just a few short days later Beth and I turned her vision into a viable program with the goal of 50-60 participants. Fast forward, 6 weeks later, Beth reached out with 160 amazing creations of gratitude, thanks and healing exceeding our goals and expectations.
We have since created 2 murals that are now hanging at Mercy Medical Center. Beth was kind enough to do a Q & A with me - here is our conversation.
What motivated you to create the mural?
I wanted to create something that would last to thank the first responders and actually everyone who worked at the hospital during the Coronavirus pandemic. I knew people were making thank you cards and posters but I figured they would be thrown away after the crisis passed. Also, people and organizations were sending food to the employees which was wonderful, but that too would be gone after one meal. I wanted to create a lasting memory, something that hopefully would be there forever, so no one would ever forget what the employees went through during this pandemic. They risked their own lives to save others and that should never be forgotten. In my mind, I thought of it like the 911 Memorial in NYC, something that everyone would see and would always remember what happened during that time.
Why Mercy Medical Center?
Although there were many essential workers in the fight against the virus, I wanted to focus on the health care workers because I felt they were the most vulnerable and were really the ones on the frontline, saving lives. I chose Mercy for two reasons. The first was that it is located in the town where I live so it is truly my community hospital. And, I worked there for twenty years so I know a lot of the staff there and could feel and understand what they were going through so it made the project more personal to me.
How did you actually go about it?
I knew I wanted to get community involvement in making the tiles. And I felt the ask would be fairly simple because everyone wanted to do some good during this time. And most importantly, it was an easy sell because you didn’t have to be an artist to create a tile. Regardless of your artistic skills, everyone had a message that they wanted to get out to the first responders and so many felt they were isolated at home and couldn’t do anything. This was a project they could do with anyone in their family, young and old, and there were no unique art supplies needed.
I contacted mostly by email friends, family, community organizations, local government agencies and schools to see if they would like to participate. I also walked up and down my neighborhood with packs made that included a cover letter, colored paper cut to size, and even coloring book type templates for those who felt they weren’t creative, or their children were too young, to make an original tile. I used my personal Facebook to post the project as well as our town’s Moms Facebook page to get the message out.
On the cover letter I gave a date of when they could drop it off at my house, or mail or email it to me, I even offered to pick it up if the other options did not work. Also, I invited people to design their tile electronically and then just email it to me.
What was the reception of those you asked?
Everyone loved the idea and everyone wanted to make a tile and be a part of this project. No one had ever heard of a project like this and all were very excited. I had to put a limit on the number of tiles to accept since I was funding the project myself. But I know I could have collected so many more.
Did the mural live up to your expectation of what you wanted to create?
I was able to make two 90 tile murals, both with different tiles except for the same centerpiece found on both murals. I had done a tile mural about four years ago with ArtWare for Good for a substance awareness campaign so I was familiar with the process and the outcome. I loved it then and I loved it even more this time around. The mural came out even better than I expected. The messages on each tile were so on target and so appreciative and really expressed the heartfelt thanks that the community wanted to give to the frontline workers. It was just what I wanted to create.
What was the reception of the hospital?
I think the hospital was surprised with how nice it looked. They absolutely loved it and were so appreciative and couldn’t wait to hang it in the employee cafeteria. I don’t think they ever expected such a beautiful and well put together mural.
Can you share any tips you learned along the way?
I think you have to remind potential participants that they don’t have to be an artist to make a tile. A simple message, even done on the computer, goes a long way, and if you can add any kind of graphic, it makes the tile even more special. It also helps to show examples of finished tiles so they can get an idea of what you might be looking for, and even show them a finished tile mural so they really understand the project. If your project lends itself to templated designs, I think that allows more people to participate because everyone can color in a predesigned page. You can also tell participants that this can be a family event, something they could do with their kids as well as their grandparents. It makes a fun family night project.
"Please pass on my appreciation to all who created this – it’s important to have a memento of this time of challenge. These murals are nicely done and standing in front of them instills the feeling of care that drove the hard work of everyone at Mercy to get through to the state of recovery we are at now. Awesome job!"
Mercy Medical Center