abstract art with heart
Category: Culture

Painting for Peace: Restoring Hope in Ferguson Through Art

Exhibit at National Urban League brings town’s story to thousands from across the nation.

Most of the artwork is simple, yet extravagant, colorful and inviting.

For Ferguson, Missouri native Carol Swartout Klein, the best way to respond to the tumult and violence that shook the small St. Louis-area town three years ago was to bring people together through art.

“A lot of communities experience crisis, but the big question is what comes next,” Klein said.

What came next was a gathering of artists who produced paintings to replace store windows lost in the violence. Author Klein turned that work into a children’s book, Painting For Peace in Ferguson, with all proceeds going to help her hometown rebuild.

“We created the children’s book because we knew as people tried to process what went on in Ferguson that children weren’t given a voice,” Klein added. “This is a way for them to express themselves.”

Original artwork from Painting For Peace in Ferguson is on display at the National Urban League Conference this week in St. Louis. Regions is sponsoring the exhibit and hosted a Thursday night reception for the author and artists that drew attendees from across the U.S.

four people standing next to large art canvas
Chase and Moxie Doctor, Dahven White and Sheri Goldsmith show off some of their artwork.

Dahven White lives in the Central West End, not far from Ferguson as the crow flies but far removed from the chaos that dominated the airwaves. When she heard about what was going on, she wanted to help. She took her family and the art supplies she had on hand, not knowing what they were getting into.

“The media made it sound like we were taking our lives into our hands,” White said.

They found the Missouri National Guard, armed with weapons, patrolling streets. But they found the guard members to be friendly with the painters and the neighbors. And the citizens of Ferguson wanted to share the moment. So her family teamed with her friend, Sheri Goldsmith, who had provided an initial sketch that had to be approved before they could get started.

man looking at large painting of a face
Some of the paintings are personal, drawing the observer back into a chaotic moment in time.

Chase Doctor, White’s then-14-year-old daughter, had no hesitation about being in Ferguson.

“I was watching this on TV and I realized this was history,” said Chase, now 17. “Years from now, what was I going to tell my kids that I did? Did I stay at home or did I get involved?”

The exhibit marked the first time the artists had seen the painting since they initially finished three years ago.

Attendees of the conference took the art in slowly, pausing for photos and to read captions.

Arriel Bivens, a resident from nearby Jennings, brought her son, Mikey. A fifth grader, Mikey was selling his own effort at art – a glossy entrepreneurial book he published titled Mikey Learns About Business.

Bivens paused as she viewed the panels of art.

“Voice and creativity matter,” she said. “All you heard about was the bad stuff, but this proves there is beauty in Ferguson, and there are people who see the beauty in all of us.”

Painting For Peace in Ferguson has drawn rave review, winning the Independent Publishers’ Outstanding Book of 2015 and the 2016 International Literacy Association’s nod as Teacher’s Choice.

To learn more, visit the nonprofit’s website.