It takes some of us most of our lives to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.
We change our majors several times in college. We change jobs. Several of us even abandon our careers for completely new paths as adults.
But for Meg Bourne-Hulsey, founder of Joplin-based non-profit Art Feeds, she was lucky enough to find her passion at just 19 years old.
Bourne-Hulsey was in college, working as a volunteer in a class for children with behavior disorders when she had a breakthrough with one of her students. The child was bright, but lethargic, had trouble concentrating, and wasn’t measuring up academically with his peers. Through her work with the student, she found out, for one, that he wasn’t being fed adequately at home. Once she helped to address his nutritional needs, she decided to try to help the student express himself through something that had helped her deal with her own self-esteem and social anxiety issues that she had struggled with as a child; creative expression in the form of art.
“I understood what expression and creativity did for me, so I decided to start trying that with him,” she said.
Bourne-Hulsey brought some art supplies from home and started working with the child, and the transformation was incredible. The child found that he had a talent for drawing and painting. More importantly, seeing himself excel at something for the first time brought about the same kind of change in him that happened when Bourne-Hulsey was able to help him with his nutritional needs at home.
“I could see him growing in confidence,” she said. “I could tell he was thinking ‘I’m good at this thing. This thing I’m making has worth. I have worth’.”
She decided to see what art and expression could do for some of the other children she was working with.
In that same class, Bourne-Hulsey was able to help a girl who had always been sullen and withdrawn to disclose through a sketchbook that she was being abused at home. Another child who suffered from Autism and couldn’t seem to calm down was able to find peace in music.
She found that the boy she had been working with originally, who hadn’t been able to write his ABC’s with a pen and pencil, could paint them beautifully with a brush and watercolors.
She was on to something. And at 19, it appears, she had found her calling.
Becoming Art Feeds
The name for the project came pretty naturally. Bourne-Hulsey recognized the power that creative expression had to transform lives, in the same way that having other basic needs allows children to grow and develop naturally.
“My big idea was to call whatever this is Art Feeds because art was feeding that first little boy in a way that was just as essential as the food he was missing,” she said.
Bourne-Hulsey commissioned the student that helped inspire Art Feeds to create a design that would become the organization’s first fundraiser.
“I had him draw out the words in this Andy-from-Toy-Story-kind-of-writing, with a blank underneath, she said. “The idea was, you could fill in the blank and say ‘Art Feeds me’ or ‘Art Feeds my soul.’
“Then he stamped his hands down, and they ended up forming a heart, and so I took those things and started putting them on some t-shirts,” she saidf.
She sold those t-shirts, and used the money she made to buy more art supplies, and teachers in the community began asking how the art curriculum she was developing might be able to help their students.
Before she knew it, she was running a non-profit called Art Feeds.
A turning point
Art Feeds continued to grow organically, focusing mostly on children with behavioral disorders and special needs until 2011.
That’s when a category F-5 tornado struck in Bourne-Hulsey’s hometown of Joplin.
“My neighborhood was completely destroyed,” she said. “Our neighbors were missing, and I thought, ‘How can they cope with this madness.’ I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it.”
Bourne-Hulsey’s neighbors were ultimately found alive, but amidst the turmoil happening in her community as a result of the tornado, she decided to pitch in and help in the only way she knew how. She mobilized Art Feeds to try to help every child in Joplin deal with the trauma they’d experienced.
Her efforts in Joplin were recognized nationally by Extreme Makeover Home Edition, VH1’s Do Something Awards, NBC’s American Giving Awards, and others, and the momentum propelled her fledgeling organization even further.
Art Feeds today
Since then, Bourne-Hulsey has developed curriculum for therapeutic art and creative education that the organization takes directly to the children they serve.
That means Art Feeds can be found working with children in schools, at community events, as well as on-site in communities that have experienced traumatic events.
In 2013, for example, they delivered 1,200 art packs to students in Moore, Oklahoma after another tornado ravaged that community. In 2012, they delivered art supplies to the New Jersey community of Jackson after a superstorm caused severe flooding there.
After starting in Joplin, Art Feeds recently opened its second chapter in nearby Carthage, Missouri. Lately, Meg has been focusing on building Art Feeds National, an overarching parent company that develops curriculum and works to train new directors to open Art Feeds chapters in other communities.
The organization is also working to open their first chapter in Northwest Arkansas this year.
Getting started in Northwest Arkansas
As a precursor to opening a chapter in the area, Art Feeds recently competed a successful project with Parson Hills Elementary utilizing their mural curriculum.
With it, all 750 students from the school spent several weeks designing a mural to be publicly displayed on the walls of First Security Bank at the corner of Emma Avenue and Razorback Greenway Trail in downtown Springdale.
The mural, officially revealed in late November, depicts a pathway from Parson Hills elementary to downtown Sprindale. The theme of the design, Bourne-Hulsey said, was “Learning and Growing,” and the students drawings of their experiences at school, growing plants, and growing animals support that theme.
Bourne-Hulsey said the mural, the organization’s 21st student-created installation, was a huge success.
“I am so proud of what happened in Springdale in so many ways,” she said. “Community art can change the face of a downtown and so much is happening in downtown Springdale, but what is more important is that the youngest members of the community feel like they have a sense of place and their ideas are valued.”
In addition to the mural project in Springdale, Art Feeds has had a presence with a booth at last fall’s Oktoberfest celebration on Dickson Street.
They will also lead all the kids activites at the upcoming family-friendly Homegrown Music Festival at Byrd’s Campground on the Mulberry river this summer.
Bourne-Hulsey said she wants to open her next chapter in the Northwest Arkansas region for several reasons.
“I have some great friends there,” she said. “But what we look for in a community when we open a chapter is, is there a high need, is there an interest in art and culture, is there the philanthropy in that community to support it, and is there a volunteer base? All of those pieces are here in Northwest Arkansas.”
Bourne-Hulsey is currently in the process of raising funds for the NWA chapter, which would initially be a regional effort, but may ultimately split into city or county specific chapters. She’s also seeking to hire an executive director and a programming director in the area.
Art Feeds is supported in part by grants and gifts from foundations, but most of their funding actually comes from individual gifts and the organizations direct fundraising efforts and galas, Bourne-Hulsey said.
To learn more about how to support Art Feeds, visit their website at artfeeds.org.