Neighborhood Art Can Spread Kindness and Joy in a Community to Combat Isolation and Loneliness

By David Burton

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Robert Frost once said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” While many families are sheltering-in-place, that phrase could be “good art makes good neighbors,” according to David Burton, a county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension. 

“Greene County MU Extension has been working on a neighboring project for about a year. We are teaching people how to improve their communities by first getting to know their neighbors,” said Burton. “It all begins with learning and remembering the name of your neighbor. That changes the whole discussion. It changes a greeting from ‘Hey you,’ to ‘Hey Steve’ and eventually to ‘Hey Steve, you want to come over for dinner tonight’.”

For example, while families are sheltering at home, chalk art can be a way to bless your neighbors, right on your sidewalk or driveway. Residents of Willard, Mo., organized a “Chalk Art Walk” toward the end of March. This week in the city of Republic, some individuals have been working to organize safe activities within neighborhoods.

“Some ladies in my neighborhood took this to a new level. Cathy Baker and Julia Casella created different weekly themes for April. Along with another friend, Rose White, they sent out fliers and organized a neighborhood Facebook group to let families know about the themes. We are hoping that other neighborhoods in Republic will join us,” said Burton.

There was an effort on Facebook a few weeks ago to do Bear Hunts in neighborhoods. People would put a stuffed bear in their front window, and children, when going on walks with their parents, would hunt or look for bears from the sidewalk. That idea is based on the book, “Going on a Bear Hunt,” by Michael Rosen.

“That was a fun way to interact with your neighbors, no matter your age,” said Burton.

This week in the Republic neighborhood where Burton lives, the theme is “Quotes and Sayings.” 

“We are asking neighbors to make it large and inspiring. A little fun, for all ages, while we stay home and stay safe, and get some fresh air walking around the block,” said Burton.

Next week in his neighborhood, the theme is an egg hunt. Homeowners are being asked to decorate their yard, landscaping, or home with colored eggs so children can have a visual egg hunt while walking with their parents. 

During the last week of the month, the neighborhood theme is “art walk.” Homeowners are encouraged to create and put unique art in windows or yards.

“Our family is talking about several ideas that might bring a smile to someone passing by,” said Burton. “We know that his virus is contagious, just like panic and anxiety. But kindness, joy, and optimism can also be contagious. I would rather take part in spreading kindness and joy, and optimism and art or other neighborhood activities can be a way to make that happen.”

These events are something any neighborhood can organize. All that is required is for one person to take the imitative in communicating with neighbors about a theme and then see what happens.

“Don’t expect everyone to participate. But, everyone that does is a step in the right direction,” said Burton. “Then don’t let the momentum end. Use this energy to do a neighborhood cookout this summer or kick off an active neighborhood watch program. Even with those great efforts, it still comes down to the individual taking the time to get to know their neighbors.”

More information about neighboring and community leadership can be found on the MU Extension website at http://extension.missouri.edu. The Greene County MU Extension website includes information about the neighboring project, including an overview video about the art of neighboring. That information is online at http://extension.missouri.edu/greene.