When flooding swept through Tennessee in May, destroying homes and property, shutting down workplaces and schools and killing over twenty people, Nashville natives Matthew Parker and Vadis Turner wanted to help, but weren't sure how.
"We knew that something had to be done ASAP," Turner said. But, she said, "One person going and handing out coffee isn't that helpful. You have to bring people together as a force and make something happen."
Further complicating the desire to pitch in: She and Parker, childhood friends, were no longer living in their home state. Turner, 33, a mixed-media artist, was working as an adjunct professor at the Pratt Institute in New York. Parker, 34, an independent film producer also based in New York, was working on a movie in Louisiana.
Distance hadn't sapped the pair's love for Tennessee, however, they said. They had been in talks to collaborate on a picture book called Nashville Counts!, with proceeds to benefit the charity of their choice, even before the flood. When disaster struck, their cause became clear.
"Nashville to me is a sense of home. When I say I'm going home, it's not to my apartment in New York, its back to Nashville," Parker said. "We grew up there and it's such a strong community. When something happens to home, you want to do what you can to give back."
Gill Holland of Holland Brown Books agreed to front the publishing costs, and Parker and Turner decided the proceeds from book sales would go to Hands On Nashville, a flood-relief organization the state government recommended.
"We were honored and intimidated," Turner said. She and Parker put together a list of local artists they asked to contribute -- including bestselling PEN/Faulkner Award winner Ann Patchett, who currently lives in Parker's childhood home and agreed to write the introduction.
The two co-creators designed the project as a picture book to help kids learn to count, focusing on 20 Nashville cultural institutions, from hot chickens to the Country Music Hall of Fame. "It's fun for adults because the artwork turned out beautifully," Matthew said. The book launched the weekend after Thanksgiving with a silent auction of the original artwork.
"I was nervous about it, but so far, so fabulous," Turner said. The auction brought in some $10,000, including sales of the book as well as the original art, most of which sold in the first hour. Volunteers from Hands On Nashville catered and helped work the event.
The Nashville Counts! project underscores that there's more than one way to help out in a crisis, and leveraging personal talents can be a good place to start. Turner said her initial reaction was along the lines of, "I paint pictures -- how does that help a family whose home has been destroyed in a flood?" Yet since the launch, stores have been calling them to stock and restock the book.
"People have been walking in requesting it," Parker said. "People really embraced it," Turner added. "I'm thrilled by it."
Check out some images from the book below:
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