A mural was recently painted in Santa Monica, California, with the word “Togetherness.”
It covers the front of a homeware store that closed during the pandemic, and is painted in hues of pink, yellow and red. This mural is no random gesture – it’s part of a new campaign called Back to the Streets, which aims to create 1,000 murals by 1,000 artists in 100 cities across the US, on walls owned by business and property owners.
“We’re seeing messages like hope, positivity and community, ideas that will last past Covid-19 as well,” says Evan Meyer, the chief executive of the Santa Monica-based Beautify, who is organizing the murals. “The general values of good deeds and community, more than ever, are important now.”
Beautify launched on 1 May as a sister company of Beautify Earth, which has helped control Santa Monica’s city pollution and litter and has mounted over 100 murals, on everywhere from dumpsters to utility boxes. “We don’t want any ugly walls,” says Meyer. “The goal is to end ugly wall syndrome and to get people to care about their communities, be part of the process.”
Meyer and his team work with local neighborhoods, artists, business improvement districts, real estate developers, landlords and business owners to place murals that benefit the community. “We are the platform that connect people,” says Meyer. “A lot of people have empty white wall space outside their liquor stores and condos, it looks boring and neglected. This is an opportunity to brighten the streets.”
He explains the importance of the Instagram factor, where a bland wall turns into a hashtag-worthy site, drawing more people to it as well as attention to a cause. “You’re creating landmarks,” he says. “Everyone is taking photos of street art because it’s awesome. It’s authentic pieces of culture that represent community. It’s the story of the local community.”
So far, the artworks they’ve mounted range from hearts to messages of hope, unity and togetherness – a far cry from a snarky online world pre-pandemic, where this kind of hippie-like ‘peace and love’ simplicity would often get the eye-roll emoji.
“We need to protect our streets from becoming sad places quickly, when places are abandoned and don’t feel like they have love or life,” he says.
“We want to save our streets today and bring them back tomorrow, get people excited as we start to come out with hope and positive messages. Once we get through this, the world is going to be the best it’s ever been. Stay positive, we’re going to get there. The streets will be beautiful.”
But are they really going to mount 1,000 murals across America? That seems like an astronomical task, especially in a time when spray paint and artist materials are not necessarily easy to obtain for everyone.
“We have sponsors willing to do murals by the dozens,” says Meyer. The Beautify website is a marketplace where business owners can upload photos of their empty walls for artists to see, create their proposals, contact the business owners and complete their collaborative contract, and payment, online.
They have mounted murals already in Pasadena, West Hollywood, Seattle and Oakland, with artworks by artists such as Guerin Swing, Gino Loffredo, Sel Dog, and Corie Mattie, who is so far one of the few female artists of the group.
Mattie has created a series of coronavirus-themed murals in yellow, black and white, as a way to uplift passersby, using a cartoon of a person wearing a face mask opening a long coat to reveal hope and prayers. Among the encouraging slogans for her murals, she has written: ‘Cancel plans, not humanity,’ ‘Close your doors, open your mind,’ and ‘Hope is free, give it away.’ One she created in Santa Monica reads: ‘After the plague, came the renaissance.’
“My brother is a doctor in Los Angeles and my mother is a cancer survivor who is an at-risk person and I wanted to find some way to help raise awareness and also give hope,” says Mattie. “A unique opportunity has arisen for artists during Covid-19, a period of strong artistic expression. Sometimes, you can’t describe a situation with words, so that’s where art becomes more relatable and valuable.”
Each paid project for artists comes with a hefty fee, like one mural willing to pay an artist $5,000 in LA to a project in Iowa willing to pay $18,000 to paint a building. Artists are slated to get 78% of the profits through Beautify. According to Meyer, “Our goal is to get them work and get their work out there and to get artists paid.”
Ruben Rojas is another muralist working with Beautify, who has created the “You Can’t Quarantine Love” mural on a boarded-up cocktail bar in the artist’s neighborhood in Santa Monica.
The goal is to get people thinking about our new world, going forward, he says. “We know ‘quarantine’ as a negative buzz word and this was an opportunity to repurpose it for good Rojas. My motivation stems from action and responsibility to inspire positivity and change.”
With an overwhelming response through social media, he has learned the power of public art through the pandemic. “Every time we paint a mural, we are creating culture and history,” says Rojas. “Humans have been painting on walls since the dawn of time, and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. If anything, I see us painting the entire world in color.”