Thanks to unexpected funding, Chattanooga arts organization Mark Making is delivering "Love Notes to Front Liners" at area hospitals. The artists' chance to pay it forward comes as health-care workers are dealing with stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
"They love writing these cards. They love being part of a bigger effort," Frances McDonald, founder and executive director of Mark Making, said of the artists. "This is a way of connecting to other communities, to tell them, 'We're here for you. We care about you. We know you're there and you're suffering and you're going home to your families not knowing if you're taking something with you.'"
The initiative was funded by an anonymous individual donation and a foundation contribution in memory of Summerfield "Skeeter" Johnston III, enabling participating artists to receive a stipend for their creative efforts. In addition to creating artwork for individual cards, the artists are writing personal messages to medical personnel thanking them for their courage, compassion, determination and dedication.
A verse expressing gratitude by Chattanooga poet Erika Roberts-Blackmon also appears inside each card.
McDonald said the cards are hand-delivered in bulk, and the artists are taking extra safety precautions with each cards' creation.
"Everybody's wearing masks to make them, [and] we're Lysoling," she said.
McDonald said an initial batch of 92 cards was delivered to Erlanger hospital, and another 230 will go out Monday to staffers at CHI Memorial and Parkridge hospitals.
"To receive these personalized cards truly touched the hearts of our staff," Jan Keys, senior vice president and chief nursing executive of Erlanger Health System, replied to Mark Making. "Erlanger patients, physicians, nurses and all other staff are working hard to keep our community healthy and safe. We know that you all are doing your part by the message of support in the form of beautiful artwork in these cards. Thank You, Always."
In addition to McDonald, the participating artists are Amanda Brazier, Shea Brill, Randy Fairchild, Robin Howe, Judy Jasinski, Cindy Procious and David Riall.
"This project has felt like a far greater gift for me than for the Erlanger health-care workers," Howe said. "Until this project was initiated, I felt helpless as I wanted to be a part of the healing process. Love Notes to Front Liners has opened a path to support these truly amazing and dedicated workers."
McDonald said the initiative flowered as "one of those serendipitous things." Mark Making artists often work with underserved or disenfranchised populations, including people with disabilities, the homeless and the incarcerated, with a goal of transforming communities through the arts.
When their outreach classes at the Hamilton County Jail were canceled due to coronavirus concerns, the artists initially reached out to the inmates they were no longer seeing on Tuesday nights.
"We missed them and sent them notes," McDonald said.
Later, a few of the artists were talking about widening that circle of reassurance by sending notes to medical personnel.
"Our front-line people should be hearing from us in the arts community to know they are loved and supported and that we're thinking about them," McDonald said of the conversation.
Soon, the two unsolicited donations arrived, helping Mark Making deliver on its mission that artists feel valued and that they are compensated for the work they do.
During these difficult days, "it's important that we show our support" to artists as well, McDonald said. "No, they don't just whip up cards. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of heart and soul."
Professional artists who want to be included in the project should email email@example.com.
Donations of support via PayPal can be made at www.markmaking.org.
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Friends in deed are friends indeed.” During these uncertain times, it’s reassuring to have people who come through for you. Whether it’s medical professionals going the extra mile in the fight against the coronavirus or a neighbor who has delivered groceries to your doorstep, here’s a way to offer your thanks. Tell us the examples of courage and kindness shown to you. Your stories of gratitude will remind us that together we will make it through. Submit your stories online at www.timesfreepress.com or email Life@timesfreepress.com.