Every Tuesday, we highlight entrepreneurs and leaders that are not only making a name for their selves, but are also showing generosity in unique ways. The individuals we choose are ones that have inspired us to continue doing what we love and are shining examples of what Take Heart Apparel Co. stands for as an organization. These individuals have shown the ability to be enterprising and generous and are not only changing the lives of those around them, but even of those all across the world. They are community leaders and world changers.
This week, we are very excited and honored to have the wonderful Meg Hulsey. Meg is the founder of Art Feeds, a not-for-profit located in Joplin, Missouri. From her great dance moves to her compassionate heart, Meg is quite the girl. Before Art Feeds even existed, Meg was sharing her kindness like few others- a true example of a great leader. Art Feeds is growing more every day and we are very excited to have had the chance to talk to her and hear more about Art Feeds’ great work.
For those who don’t know, what is Art Feeds and what do you all do?
Art Feeds believes all children are artists. We exist to feed creative development and facilitate emotional expression in children through art and community. To do this, we provide free therapeutic art and creative education programs within schools & children’s organizations by mobilizing teams of community members to bring all forms of art into classrooms. Since 2009, we have impacted over 20,000 children across the nation.
What inspired you to start Art Feeds?
Art Feeds began in one classroom with one child- a little boy who wasn’t being fed at home and who was not only lethargic & struggling with academics, but also had incredibly low self-esteem. I had a point of reference for what art did for me as a child- I struggled with severe social anxiety and was an extreme introvert; art helped be express myself. I decided to try various forms or art with him. I spent more time with him and realized he wasn’t being fed at home. We got his nutritional problems taken care of but I knew mentally and emotionally he needed more than just food. I continued to do art lessons with him, he showed tremendous progress through expression; art was feeding him in a way that was just as essential as food. The art lessons quickly grew from just him to more classrooms and more children. So in order to fund the supplies I needed, I printed and sold shirts that featured “Art Feeds” and a blank written by that original little boy, paired with his handprint, which ended up with a heart in the middle and later became the Art Feeds logo. The blank was open for the buyer to fill in with whatever “Art Feeds” for them. The simple t-shirt project grew far beyond expectations and the story of this little boy spread as did the impact and reach of Art Feeds programs.The story of this little boy is now the story of thousands of Art Feeds students who have together had the realization “What I’m creating has worth, therefore I have worth.”
How long has Art Feeds been around?
We just celebrated our 5th Birthday. I always used to joke that Art Feeds was a rambunctious toddler, but now we are growing up.
You all supply art packs for the kids you work with… how can us readers directly help and be a part of that?
An art pack provides all the essential supplies for the young artist in our programs. Art packs are an Art Feeds tote filled with markers, crayons, watercolors, pens, pencils, erasers and a sketchbook. We use these each week in class, then at the end of the year students take the packs home to continue creating. $15 supplies one student with an art pack for a year, the impact is huge, you can give at http://artfeeds.org/donate. Readers can also contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of specific supplies and host a supply drive for our students!
Recently you were recognized by the Missouri Arts Council as Missouri Arts Educator of the year 2014… how does it feel to have come so far and seeing the progress of Art Feeds?
It is a tremendous honor to receive that recognition, I was so humbled to stand amongst the other Missouri Arts Awards recipients who are some of the greatest artists, philanthropists and creatives of Missouri, it was absolutely surreal. It is an honor I share with my hardworking, inspiring and passionate team. As wonderful as it is to be recognized with awards, the progress of our work can be seen in the small moments with our students, those moments that happen every day in our classrooms as students grow in confidence and creativity. It’s my hope to continue to have the number of students grow in Joplin and communities nationwide.
After the Joplin tornado hit, Extreme Makeover gave you and your team a traveling art bus. Tell us about that.
There is so much more to this story, but yes, one of the most shocking and surprising nights of my life was when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition gifted us a Mobile Art Center. It is a winnebago that has been converted to a traveling studio, we can pull it up to any location and instantly create “art world.” In addition to our weekly in school programming, which impacted over 4,500 students this Spring, the Mobile Art Center, we lovingly call Van Gogh, helps us reach 50-600 more artists each week through community events like art walk. You can see us crying all over ourselves when we received it here- https://vimeo.com/79296270. The Extreme Makeover team are still close friends of ours and the bus is a continuous blessing.
What is one of your favorite moments from working with the kids of Art Feeds?
My goodness. There are too many to choose. Our students are so wonderful and creative that every day they say and do things that inspire me. We believe that children are valuable, innovative, and creative. Each child has a brilliance that can be sparked by art, expression, and creativity in the classroom. We pride ourselves on our unique lesson structure and our use of a variety of mediums- painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, storytelling, and much more. To get the students’ brains moving, we ask questions and engage in conversation to teach them that there are many solutions to one problem. Both the therapeutic art and creative education aspects of our programs are greatly beneficial for expression, building creative capacities, increasing resiliency skills, and strengthening coping mechanisms.
Some moments I love- A few weeks ago, a grandmother of one of our second grade students called to thank us for the Art Feeds programming in her granddaughter’s school, Soaring Heights Elementary. She explained that Art Feeds was all her granddaughter talked about when she was picked up from school. The grandmother described that her granddaughter proudly displayed her artwork each week, lighting up with joy. This joy that her granddaughter found in Art Feeds class is was especially meaningful because the student’s mother passed away unexpectedly six months ago. In a “Project for the Future” lesson last Spring, students were asked to create an invention that would exist in their world 50 years from now. Students created flying cars, cookie-shooting machines, and magical skyscrapers. In one classroom, one student blew us away with her creation- a cure for Cancer. Students like these are our driving motivator to reach more young artists nationwide.
Not too long ago, Art Feeds went “national”… tell us a little more about what that means for Art Feeds.
This means that the programming that has been going strong in Joplin for 5 years can now be replicated in communities Nationwide. This Spring, 1200 students in Moore, OK participated in weekly programs and we will have three new communities beginning in the Fall. It is such a dream to watch the programs expand. The feeling of walking into Moore schools this Spring and seeing art packs line the walls of the school is indescribable. Communities that would like to learn more about becoming an Art Feeds chapter can read more here http://artfeeds.org/chapters
What’s next for Art Feeds?
I get that question a lot and the simple answer is: empowering more students. I’m not sure we’ll ever be satisfied. I plan on continuously working to create an inspired future fed by creative and expressive children that are powerful beyond measure. To quantify it, my goal is to have 30,000 children in Art Feeds programming by 2016.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start something that gives back or join a cause like Art Feeds?
Just jump. That fall will make you build that plane (or parachute, or wings). I’m not a person who is big about sitting around and thinking about ideas, I like to do them. So have those meetings, get advice and get motivated, but don’t wait to long to actually START doing what you want to do. I often find people who are disqualifying themselves. They aren’t following their dreams because they don’t have the right degree, or enough money, time, etc. The truth is that being prepared to work incredibly hard is the answer because I’m not the smartest, most inspiring, kindest or most creative person I know, I simply make a choice every single day to wake up and work hard for what I believe in. If I can do it, anyone can.