Street art disrupts the everyday landscape of a city and in doing so can inspire, enlighten, and teach. With the onset of the pandemic, misinformation and subsequent confusion spread from the government left communities were in unease. Larger organizations, smaller cities, and individual street artists took it upon themselves to spread information, hope, and messages of unity through street art, helping public maneuver through the pandemic.
In March, the U.N. put out a call asking artists to make work that could help share life-saving information on COVID-19. Almost 17,000 designs, ranging from photography to hand-drawn posters to graphic design, came in from 143 different countries. Some work focused on hope and togetherness, while others shared words and visuals that would encourage people to make healthy decisions, like hand washing, and social distancing. The artwork was curated for accuracy according to the World Health Organization’s guidelines as well as for visual strength, and are now displayed on the website: https://unitednations.talenthouse.com. The public is encouraged to browse the work, download it, and display it in business windows and homes.
Arts organization Amplifier created a similar competition for artists, with a focus more on mental health and well-being during the pandemic. All the work is also being displayed on a website ( https://community.amplifier.org/campaign/global-open-call-for-art/ ) and encourages people to share the work, spreading words of support and positivity throughout their communities. Amplifier turned a collection of winning pieces into murals, in collaboration with another arts group called The Illuminator. A piece by artist Marvin Madariaga of a nurse praying was projected onto the side of a New York City hospital during the heat of the pandemic there. Aaron Huey, Amplifier’s founder, expressed that “in times of uncertainty, art is more than beauty or decoration - it’s a tool. Art can heal, art can save lives, art can bring together - even when we’re apart.” (npr).
Smaller cities around the U.S. have stepped up and started their own public art PSA campaigns as well. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the city recently commissioned ten local artists to spread essential pandemic related messages to the public. The final pieces dotted the city, adding colour, hope, and sharing essential information. Artist Adam Serrano was one of the selected artists. His finished piece lets his city know, “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me,” in multiple languages. The message to his community is clear: masks save lives.
Independent Washington D.C. based artist Robin Bell has been known for his public projections onto buildings around his city. Since the pandemic hit, his messages have changed to adapt to a new normal. He is known for his politically charged messages, critiquing the current U.S. administration, but lately, he’s been focused on public health announcements, projecting messages like: “DO WHAT YOU CAN AND STAY HOME,” “WASH YOUR HANDS” and “WHERE ARE THE TESTS,” from his living room window.
Street art helps create conversations in communities, and in times like these, the art world must amplify common public health knowledge. Artists are spreading awareness and public health information, picking up the slack for a government that has been spreading misinformation. With colourful and unique posters, murals, and projections on the walls, public health information and messages of hope are spreading in an empowering and community-oriented way, demonstrating that we truly are in this together.