MU students donate art supplies to Joplin

The donations will be sent to Art on Wheels, an organization that provides art therapy.

In the front lobby of Townsend Hall, two pink and green boxes sit full of art supplies for Joplin.

Behind the collection of these supplies is the Student Art Education Association, a group devoted to promoting education through art. The organization is donating the items to a project called Art on Wheels, which helps the victims of the Joplin tornado through art therapy.

A branch of the Missouri Art Education Association, SAEA began in 1997, and has been a gathering place for students interested in art and art education ever since. One of its founders, Kathy Unrath, said the state group has a history of reaching out to other schools during times of trouble.

“Whenever there’s a problem, whether it’s isolated or not, everyone comes together as much as they can,” she said.

Art on Wheels, the destination of the collected supplies, is an organization formed following the May tornado. Operating out of a van, the organization's goal is to provide a place for children and adults affected by the disaster to express themselves through various forms of art. The organization initiated the call for the donation of art supplies, and the MU chapter of SAEA stepped in to help.

SAEA President Carrie Stephenson is connected to Joplin through one of her sorority sisters, who lived in the town. She said collecting for Art on Wheels is vital for Joplin's recuperation.

“It helps the disaster victims express their emotions in another form of communication,” Stephenson said. “Sometimes, the last thing people want to do after a disaster is actually talk about it.”

Professor Belinda Smith, another faculty member on the collection team, originally received the call for donations, and approached SAEA with it.

“Art is a form of expression and so very important in times of trouble,” she said.

All of the extra supplies will find their way into Joplin art classrooms. Smith said donating is more than sending money or water bottles.

“There’s so many things to repair, lives and emotions, that you can’t just drop items off and leave them,” she said. “These items have to last.”

SAEA is no stranger to philanthropic work. Last year, in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, the group made magnets shaped like huts and sold them to raise funds for the American Red Cross.

“(The group combines) being creative people with humanitarian causes, emphasizing empathy,” Unrath said.

The Joplin project has had a warm response from students and colleagues. SAEA has received multiple donations from retired art teachers and even from teachers in the Columbia school district. Unrath said working with the project has made SAEA members aware, whenever they’re out, to spend a little extra money on donations.

Art on Wheels is looking for brand new art supplies, such as colored pencils, markers, paper, scissors and glue. The organization will continue working with MAEA in Joplin through the winter, and students can continue to donate until December.

“Giving back to others is an important part of the educational experience,” Unrath said. “We need to look beyond ourselves and to others, especially in times of great need.”

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