From the streets to Children’s Mercy, one KC artist’s murals are making a difference

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One local starving artist has found a way to turn his hobby into a career and bring smiles to sick children at the same time.

Donald Ross' story starts on the streets with his distinct murals, popular in the Crossroads Art District, a few blocks from Children's Mercy Hospital.

"I used to work for a sign company, and I was here doing some installation," he said. "Someone from facilities pointed out that I was covered in paint because I was a muralist, and he said I should look more presentable. I teased him back and said I'd like to see more murals or better murals around here."

David Ross

 

Ross got his wish -- and a new job in Children's Mercy's maintenance department, painting the walls cream.

"I was asked to spray paint outside, and the maintenance staff put me in the right place with the mural," Ross said. "And I think that's when the questions started to come out about where did this come from and how can we do more?"

Fast forward 15 years, now Ross spends all his time creating cartoon characters with bold, bright colors. He hops from one Children's Mercy campus to the next, designing and redesigning areas in need of a little TLC -- including ambulances.

"I think we got close to about 200 murals and creative spaces used for distractions, and I lost track, in this building alone, around 1,500 cartoon characters," Ross said.

One hallway, found in the Adele Hall Campus, is where kids are separated from their families as they go to surgery.

"As they walk down the hall, they can point out things like, 'Can you help me find the butterfly? or 'Where is the red dog?' And as it becomes a conversation, it lowers hopefully their anxiety about what their next journey is going to be," Ross said of the murals painted in the hallway.

Ross's murals are so popular with the kids at Children's Mercy, they voted to slime him at their summer camp. He got green goo poured all over his head.

"When the slime was rushing over me, I wasn't really sure if I did something where they wanted to get me back or it was due to popularity," Ross said. "But I knew what Nickelodeon was when I grew up, so I understand that it's an honor."

Also an honor: knowing his murals make a difference -- on the streets and at the hospital.

"I think every artist would love the chance to have their work viewed a whole lot more," Ross said. "It's even more rewarding when it's going toward a purpose. They're not selling anything here other than peace of mind."