The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 24, 2014

Art Feeds bus ransacked; Director responds by encouraging acts of kindness

— A bus fashioned into a mobile art workshop by volunteers who worked on the 2011 “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in Joplin has been hit by theft and vandalism.

The executive director of the group that runs the bus says she is reacting not with anger, but with a suggestion that others commit random acts of kindness this week.

“We have chosen how we feel about this — to respond in a positive way — and that’s what we want to encourage the community and our children to do, too,” said Meg Bourne Hulsey, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Art Feeds.

Thursday morning, staff members had planned to prepare the bus, known as “Van Gogh,” for a community event that night.

“We found the side door had been broken into, and the sound system and DVD player had been stolen, as well as a microwave,” Hulsey said. “But the biggest issue is the front dash. The wiring was ripped out.”

She estimated the value of the stolen items at $1,200. While those items can be replaced, she’s unsure whether the damaged bus can be fixed.

“It’s a 1989 Winnebago Spectrum that ‘Extreme Makeover’ converted and gifted to us on the show a few years ago,” Hulsey said. “The unique thing is, there were only 95 of that model ever made.

“That makes parts incredibly hard to find, and people who know much about it are hard to find, too. At this point, we’re uncertain about its function again.”

Hulsey said that while the incident was “incredibly frustrating,” it served as a “really big reminder of what we do.”

When Art Feeds began, it served 700 children on a weekly basis; today, it serves about 4,500. Staff members work to help build the youngsters’ confidence, self-worth, expressiveness and creative capacities, “so when they grow older, they don’t make decisions that would lead to something like this,” Hulsey said of the theft and vandalism.

“We want them to grow into the kind of adults that give of themselves to others. The kind of adults that work to solve a problem several ways when things get hard. Adults that work to build each other up, not tear each other down. Most of all, adults that don’t hurt others to get what they want.”

To send a message that “violence doesn’t win,” Hulsey directed her anger to launching a campaign via her blog that encourages others to do small, kind acts this week.

“It’s something we try to teach our students all the time,” she said. “If someone hits you on the playground, don’t hit back. We are trying to be an example in our response for our students. We don’t want to perpetuate that cycle. We want to break it with some positivity.”

Hulsey’s blog offers recommendations for such kindness, including taping compliments to the ground for others to find, leaving positive notes on car windshields, paying for the person next in line at the drive-through or surprising a stranger with an impromptu tap-dancing performance.

“Get creative, get out of your comfort zone and dream big,” she wrote.

She also encourages those who do such kindnesses to use the hashtag #ArtFeedsRAOK in social media to illustrate for Art Feeds what they conjured up.

Meanwhile, the bus has been sidelined from outreach programming until it can be fixed — if it can.

“We were to go to (Jefferson City) with the bus in March for Youth Art Month in Missouri, and to Springdale last Friday for a mural project,” Hulsey said. “And our first art walk is coming up this month. If we can’t get it fixed, we won’t be able to make an appearance, and it’s really a staple.

“Sadly, the bus doesn’t just belong to us, it belongs to all our students. The kids in the community have ownership over it. It’s theirs. But at the end of the day, we’ll still do what we do indoors, whether we have the bus for outdoor events, art walks, or whatever.”

Tornado wake

THE ART FEEDS BUS was crafted from a 1989 Winnebago Spectrum during the October 2011 weeklong “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in which seven homes were built for victims of the 2011 Joplin tornado. The bus, like the houses, was revealed during the television show that aired in January 2012.

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