Thrive Collective recently announced the winner of its inaugural #KindnessBeatsTheVirus Free Mural Contest. PS 155, the William Paca School in East Harlem, received the honors among a field of 1,100 Instagram entries from students and public schools in New York City.
Jeremy Del Rio, the co-founder of Thrive Collective, said the mural contest was one way the organization responded to empowering students during the COVID-19 crisis and shelter-at-home restrictions.
Thrive Collective, a 501(c)(3) organization, “creates hope and opportunity through arts, sports, and mentoring in and around public schools.” Core programs – Murals, Music, Media, Mentors, and Sports – connect artists, youth workers, and volunteers with local schools as teaching artists, art directors, coaches, and mentors.
On March 18, just two days before Governor Cuomo issued New York’s “Stay at Home” order, five students from Thrive Collective gathered with two teaching artists, street art legend Toofly, and Del Rio to wrestle with two critical questions: One, how could they pivot their school-based arts and mentoring programs online when schools were closing indefinitely? Two, what unique value could their community of artists and students offer a world shattered by an unprecedented global pandemic?
“As the conversation evolved, the questions converged into a much bigger idea,” said Del Rio. “What if the catalyst for long-term recovery might be old-fashioned kindness? The kindness that’s synonymous with practical, tangible, demonstrable grace. The kindness we’ve seen modeled by first responders, health care and other essential workers. What if kindness like that goes viral? How might the world be different if students, parents, youth workers, and artists used social distancing to create a more beautiful world together?”
By mid-April, the campaign grew to include a free school mural contest; contributions of coloring pages and content from scores of artists worldwide; lesson plans, daily activity prompts, video tutorials, and remote learning classes for schools. Additionally, a growing collection of social media posts tagged #KindnessBeatsTheVirus from students, artists, and volunteers around the world testified that kindness may indeed go viral.
Acclaimed New York actress Luna Velez (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) was the first national voice to lend support to the effort. “Shared trauma creates opportunities for shared healing,” she said. “Our most basic human instincts require connection to heal in community. Whether you identify as an artist or simply as human, the pandemic provides unique moments to connect with others creatively.”
NYC graffiti pioneers Crash, Sonic, and Bio from TatsCru volunteered to curate the “Wildstyle Coloring Book,” which turned into a three-volume series because of the response from artists around the world.
Within a week of the first book’s release, orphanages and children’s hospitals from as far away as Thailand and Paris were sending photos of colored sheets. Locally, humanitarian groups were printing copies and distributing them to juvenile detention facilities and with emergency groceries and care packages.
In an article that was posted as the Coronavirus was severely impacting New York City about six weeks ago, Del Rio wrote: “It’s never too soon for hope, never too early to start healing. Today is a great day to creatively connect with your neighbors, to express kindness as gratitude or generosity or compassion.”
“Creativity helps us get there. Youth workers and artists are uniquely positioned to nurture that kind of tangible grace. Our students taught me that.”
To donate, volunteer, or seek more information on Thrive Collective, visit www.thrivecollective.org.
RELATED: To celebrate “the completion of the craziest school year in at least a century, and all the ways students have creatively connected despite social distancing,” Thrive Collective joined with other arts organizations for HeART Beat Online, a one-hour virtual arts festival hosted on June 25: