Creative acts that positively affect our society happen all the time, everywhere—from Rosa Parks, who stood for what she believed in by sitting down on a bus, to Osceola McCarty, a cleaning woman who, over the course of her lifetime, saved and eventually donated $150,000 to the University of Mississippi for a scholarship program. Miss McCarty, who left school in sixth grade, said, "I want to help somebody's child go to college." Her act of kindness touched the hearts of people all over the world and inspired others to give. Genesio Mortacci left $2.3 million to a small university in Great Falls, Montana, after having spent his life working as a janitor and dry cleaner. He had a passion for education and tending his roses and tomatoes. He was quoted as saying, "If you don't need it, you shouldn't buy it." He thought kids needed an education, though, because his gift has purchased it for many for many years.
The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is a treasure that celebrates and educates its visitors to the power of the creative spirit. The museum's founder and director, Rebecca Hoffberger (a visionary in her own right), has created an entire wing to showcase people whose creative acts of social justice have touched many lives. That building is named after James Rouse, whose visionary ideas helped to flame renewal and development of cities across the country. He's gone now, but his visionary approach to urban development helped to plant the seeds of change and the idea that our cities and towns ought to be places where people can grow live on.
The museum displays works by people who have no formal training in the arts but have an innate desire to express and to share their unique perception of the world. Artists like Ester Nisenthal Krinitz, who, at the age of 50, began creating 36 magnificent needlework and fabric collages depicting how she survived the Holocaust. Meticulously stitched, these works of art narrate a young girl's terrifying experience and her will to live. Ester never dreamed they would be exhibited. She only did it for her two daughters. Gerald Hawke created magnificent sculptures by gluing thousands of single matchsticks together. Gerald believed that each person is like one matchstick—capable of providing light—but that when people work together, their light becomes most powerful, bright and brilliant.
Stories, images and art fill the interior and the exterior of this museum with the power of the human spirit. It is not a static holding place for objects, but a living museum that encourages creativity, self-expression and action. Over the past several years, the museum has hosted a mentoring program with kids from the local high school. The kids worked with a master ceramicist and mosaic artist to completely cover the outside of the museum in beautiful cobalt blue glass pieces, chards of discarded pottery and broken mirrors. The walls symbolize the beauty that can be seen in all things, even discarded, broken objects. The lesson is reflected on the walls for all to see: When we value potential in things and in people, they will come to value it in themselves.