Murals for Medical Relief (MFMR). Image credit: VINCO.
Dave Seidler is a co-founder and CEO of Muros, a global art activation agency that brings together local mural artists with brands and businesses to create unique and impactful spaces, environments and outdoor advertising campaigns.
Art activation agency Muros shares how their pandemic mural initiatives brought joy, hope, and dialogue to communities in 2020.
We’re coming up on the first anniversary of the pandemic’s start, and although there’s light at the end of the tunnel thanks to vaccines, we’re still in the thick of this public health crisis. But it’s not too early to look at lessons learned—to examine what the pandemic taught us about hope and fear and humanity. One of those lessons is that art is essential. In fact, we need it now more than ever.
Early in 2020, as media reports on a mysterious new virus first began trickling in, it was business as usual, in the art sector and across other industries. In a remarkably short time, everything changed. Travel restrictions were imposed, and life as we knew it came to a halt. At my company, we had to put projects on pause to keep people safe. We were in a holding pattern, unsure what would come next.
My team and I talked about the sense of anxiety that pervaded the art world and the Chicago community where we are based. We discussed the fear and negativity that overwhelmed our social feeds. And because we believe in the power of art to help people come together, survive adversity, and commemorate important events, we started brainstorming ways we could help during the pandemic.
Activating art: 30 days, 30 artists
Muros is an art activation agency, which means we focus on making art happen. Creating art during the pandemic was going to be different by necessity, but we wanted to launch something fun and exciting to interrupt the doom-scrolling and uplift the community with creativity and compassion. Our first pandemic initiative became #MakeWithMuros, a social campaign to feature 30 artists over 30 days.
#MakeWithMuros was also about providing a place where artists could show and sell their work under these unusual circumstances and where the community could observe the creative process via video and images online. The simple act of watching other artists create can be inspiring for our community, and our featured artists responded with content that was raw and real, and incredibly powerful.
The last artist we featured in #MakeWithMuros was Natalia Villegas, in partnership with Creative Souls, an organization that showcases designs created by artists with disabilities. Natalia’s art is emotional and positive, and all of the artists featured in #MakeWithMuros came together to promote her content on the platform, which is exactly the kind of uplift #MakeWithMuros was designed to create.
Murals for Medical Relief (MFMR). Image credit: VINCO.
Honoring healthcare heroes with art
As the pandemic deepened in springtime, hospitals were overwhelmed and we knew we needed to do more. In Chicago, some of the hardest-hit hospitals were in the Illinois Medical District, an area with a lot of gray, dark buildings. We saw them as the perfect canvas for uplifting art to honor the healthcare heroes who were putting it all on the line for everyone in the city.
Muros teamed up with VINCO, another local Chicago company specializing in media production. Together, we set out to work with local artists to not only pay tribute to healthcare workers but also to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Funds for area hospitals, including Cook County Health, Northwestern Memorial, UI Health and Rush University Medical Center. The project was called Murals for Medical Relief (MFMR).
In May 2020, local artists painted a series of murals in the district, dedicating their time and amazing talent to create art inspired by healthcare workers and encouraging others to express their appreciation by giving back. We also worked with businesses to provide food to frontline workers putting in long hours and teamed up with a local brewery, District Brew Yards, on a limited edition MFMR IPA.
Art for the MFMR IPA was provided by local artist Blake Jones, with sales of the IPA and print sales from the murals going to the hospital relief funds. Prints of the murals were also sold with proceeds being split between the artists and the campaign. Altogether, we raised more than $20,000.
@Properties. Image credit: Muros
Responding to calls for justice and celebrating diversity with art
The pandemic wasn’t the only trauma we experienced in 2020. After George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, a new generation of activists demanded justice during the Black Lives Matter protests around the U.S. and abroad. We looked for ways to work with businesses and artists to commemorate peaceful protests and celebrate diversity with art that could bring communities together.
We believe it’s crucial for artists of color to be able to create an unfiltered, authentic vision. So when @properties generously donated a large space for a mural, we thought of Dwight White II, a Black artist we worked with during the MFMR project and other initiatives. Inspired by activists’ calls for equality and justice, Dwight created an emotionally engaging mural centered on a young Black boy, symbolizing millions of kids who deserve to grow up in a better world.
Muros also worked with Brookfield Properties to celebrate diversity with live paintings at the Shops at Merrick Park in Coral Gables, Florida and at Ballston Quarter in Arlington, Virginia. Four artists at each property celebrated Hispanic heritage and diversity and inclusion themes with safely distanced in-person events. The events respected the artists’ vision, and funds raised from auctioned canvas pieces were reinvested in community organizations that support justice and equality for all.
Art is essential, so the "show must go on."
As 2020 began to wind down, we faced another decision: whether or not to host our annual Titan Walls event, which is Chicago’s largest mural festival, in the middle of a pandemic. Spoiler alert the answer was YES! We of course had to make some changes to keep people safe, but outdoor murals are inherently safer to view than indoor artwork, and bringing people together—while safely apart—was more important than ever.
Over eight days in October, a diverse team of artists and partners spread color and creativity all over Chicago to brighten the city and bring joy to observers. Along the way, we raised money through beer and merchandise sales for Hope for the Day, a non-profit that empowers the conversation on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. With suicide rates surging due to despair and dislocation associated with the pandemic, we felt the need to contribute anyway we could.
Image from Brookfield Properties project (Ballston Quarter). Image credit: Brookfield Properties
Last year reaffirmed that art is encoded in our DNA as humans.
The urge to come together around art is older than a 45,000-year-old cave painting and as recent as the #BLM street art you pass on the way to work. Humans need art for inspiration, as a way to remember where we’ve been and express hope for the future. Artists need to create, and their journey often reflects the path their community is on—and lights the way forward.
We need art, now more than ever.
Muros' tips for how artists and organizations can create murals of impact in their communities:
Offer what you have and team up with others who support your mission. Maybe you're not an artist, but your business has a wall. Maybe you don't have a wall but you can keep artists caffeinated and fed. When everyone is coming together for the common good, small contributions can go a long way.
Leverage your network and social media. If you need help getting started, let your peers and online community know what you're looking to do and need. Networks are powerful things and can help make fast connections to get you on your way.
Get creative with your canvas. From digital formats to boarded-up windows, we saw art take place in many forms this past year. Focus on what's available to you vs. what's not.
Partner with your local neighborhood or city officials to work together to truly create impact for the greatest number of people. You'd be surprised how far the support of your local alderman or art council can go.
2020 was a year of creative problem-solving in the arts sector. Here are more ways art was shared with communities despite restrictions.