Butterflies on 15th and Main



The class of St. Mary's Catholic elementary students singing "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" at the dedication

It began in September 2010 as the second phase of the Art in Public Places project. However, after the May 22, 2011 tornado that destroyed 8,000 homes, 400 businesses, and killed 160 residents in Joplin, Missouri, the “Butterfly Effect: Dreams Take Flight” project was forever transformed into a community’s hands on work of art and healing.

The first Art in Public Places Project took place last year in April 2010 with the unveiling of the mural in Joplin City Hall, painted by Anthony Benton Gude, grandson of the late Thomas Hart Benton. Continuing with the pursuit of creating art in Joplin, the second project was planned over a year ago and received support from Missouri Arts Council, Art Works, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri, George A. Spiva Center for the Arts and of course, the participation of Joplin residents.

For the butterfly project, Dave Loewenstein, lead muralist, was brought in by Sharon Beshore, chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, for his unique method of creating murals.  Loewenstein said, “I’ve lived here since July and it’s really come to feel like home.”  The mural was painted on the side of the Dixie Printing building located at the corner of 15th and Main Streets in Joplin with the permission of the owner.

"And trees put forth new leaves to sing in joy before the sky" -Langston Hughes

The usual process of creating a mural is generally left to the artist to handle by themselves, but Loewenstein and Joplin have found a new technique. “The community mural project planned to involve any children and adults to create art,” Sharon Beshore said.  Forming a team of people including an assistant muralist, a videographer and documentarian and many other active members, the team began workshops that brought in ideas from more than 300 Joplin adults and children.

At the dedication Jo Mueller, the executive director of the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, said, “Hundreds of children had the opportunity to talk about their ideas and to make sketches and hold them up and show their ideas.” Many of these ideas can be seen on the mural.

The mural project engaged over 575 children and adults in participating in public art. With seven months of work already under way, May 22 brought changes and obstacles to the project but the team and Joplin community pushed on. “I got to watch people come together to share experiences and to talk about who they are and where they live.”  Amber Hansen, assistant muralist, said.


“We didn’t want this to be a tornado wall,” Beshore said. “We wanted it to be a reflection of Joplin.” However, as workshops continued the images of tragedy and loss that resulted from them began to change the project as people dealt with their personal experiences in the tornado.

“Children started drawing wings, butterflies and angels. They said that they saw these things wrapping their wings around them for protection,” Said Beshore, “I couldn’t get butterflies off my mind, and it seemed to be the only thing I would draw.” Paired with children’s drawings of ice cream cones and flowers, butterflies became a theme that carried through the mural.

On Sunday, September 25, 2011 the Joplin community celebrated the dedication of the new mural on 15th and Main. As the St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary students began singing, their light hearted lyrics gave Joplin a reminder to “don’t worry, be happy!” With over two hundred people at the dedication ceremony the mural was unveiled, presented by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Cultural Affairs Committee

“This is a beautiful, vibrant race to the future” said Mueller. After the ceremony children and adults went up and got a closer look at their handiwork. The children were reaching up to touch the flowers, wings and other drawings that they had helped put there.

Children and adults were reaching up to touch their handiwork.

“This is a wall that children and adults can come back to and say, “I had a hand in this!” Beshore said. As Joplin continues to rebuild homes, businesses and lives, we rebuild the community as well, on wings of unity. Another project in the works, Called to Walls, which assistant muralists Amber Hansen and Nicholas Ward are kicking off was also a part of making Joplin’s new mural. The project aims to view middle American communities and their stories of murals, art and history in their communities, including Joplin. A trailer for Called to Walls has been posted at:


To learn more about Dave Loewenstein and the mural process visit:


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