Tornadoes: The View from Earth
5/23/2011 7:53 PM
Astronaut Cady Coleman sporting a classic CERF
T-Shirt on the International Space Station
I am in Kansas City for the National VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) Conference that begins tomorrow. Sitting in my hotel room, I am taking a break from the coverage of the horrific tornado 150 miles south of here in Joplin, Missouri to watch NASA’s coverage of the Soyuz 25 mission bringing U.S. astronaut Cady Coleman back to earth. Like many others we at CERF+ are admirers of Cady's, but we also feel a special connection to her because she is the wife of one of CERF+’s founders, glass artist Josh Simpson. As I wait for news of her safe landing in 12 minutes, I am reminded of what she said to NPR’s Scott Simon on last weekend’s Saturday Edition. "During my time up here, we've had the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the conflict in Libya, and the flooding in the South," she says. It's hard to reconcile how hard life is on the planet with the angelic view she has from above. "I'm not looking forward to giving that up."
Back on Earth, in Tuscaloosa, I caught up with bladesmith, Wayne Suhrbier in the living room of, what from all appearances was either an art collector or an artist. It turned out to be both: photographer, Barbara Lee Black was hosting Wayne and his wife, printmaking professor Sarah Marshall until they locate a place to live. Before it was destroyed, Wayne had doing his benchwork in the garage studio of their home in Forest Lake, and had an arrangement with metalsmith Steve Davis to do his forge work in Steve’s studio at the Kentuck Art Center.
While their home is a total loss, most of Wayne’s tools can be salvaged. The tornado failed to carry off his prize 500 lb. anvil, and as a maker of tools, repairing tools is not a big stretch. He did lose some materials that will be difficult to replace. He has moved his tools to storage, and is looking for a temporary studio situation. His table at an upcoming knife show will be a little spare, but he plans to go and try to keep his business on track.
|The view of Forest Lake across the street from Wayne Suhrbier's home and studio
Forest Lake was an early subdivision of modest bungalows clustered around a small lake bordering 15th Street, one of Tuscaloosa’s busier commercial strips. With few salvageable structures and virtually no trees left, no one knows what this neighborhood will look like in the future. The University of Alabama is in the midst of a growth spurt, and real estate developers are hot to turn these newly-leveled neighborhoods into high-density (and ugly) student housing and “game houses” that are occupied only on football game weekends by revelers.
Meetings to determine the future of these neighborhoods had already begun. Hoping artists were not too meeting-weary, and, with the help of Kentuck, we scheduled a meeting at the Kentuck Art Center, where my own studio was once located, to try to bring together as many of the affected artists in the area as possible. The Kentuck Art Center, across the Black Warrior River in Northport, is an arts hub in the area, and organizes an extraordinary arts festival each October. The meeting was an opportunity for us to talk about artists’ experiences and needs and to get out information about sources for arts sector assistance, including that from CERF+.
Taking it Back
A year after the floods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, artist and arts activist Mel Andringa told me that there were three kinds of responses to the floods there. Some people wanted everything put back exactly as it was, some wanted to get as far away as possible so nothing like that would ever happen to them again, and then there were artists, who said “This disaster has taken something away from me and I am going to take back something from it that will help me as an artist and a person.” Several artists were already thinking about how they might incorporate the disaster experience in their work, and the Kentuck Arts Center created a space in their schedule for an exhibition of work that rises out of this disaster. The exhibition April 2011: Turmoil and Transcendence will open in July, and sales of works will benefit the United Way of West Alabama.
In Kazakhstan, Cady Coleman emerged from the space capsule with her characteristic smile. It was a perfect day for a re-entry.
Here on Earth, this information from FEMA on surviving tornadoes will come in handy. Astronauts are nothing if not prepared.
Listen to a story on Birmingham’s public radio station WBHM with a brief interview with Alabama Artist Mary Ann Sampson and CERF+’s Cornelia Carey.
Read an article in the Tuscaloosa News about how potter Kerry Kennedy is raising funds for local charities.
Americans for the Arts President, Bob Lynch, talks about arts sector preparedness and response in this podcast.
Some good tips from ABC News on surviving a tornado.