What if college students had to create public art projects that maximized social impact?

College students in Mumbai are addressing the needs of their city through school projects. They have created and implemented, with police support, murals, political commentary, repurposing of places that are frequently peed on (you read that right), and play spaces soliciting community feedback. They also created "The White Wall Project: A whitewashed wall, stage and canopy" to inspire gatherings, performances, and film screenings."

But my absolute favorite of these college students' projects were the ones that interacted directly with young children. They created playgrounds in the slums made from reused materials (tires, bamboo scaffolding). They hosted interactive art festivals fostering creative self-expression. And they performed plays inspired by the oral history of Mumbai on top of buildings next to public squares. Who said a rooftop can't be a stage?

Through these initiatives, read: university projects, these students have begun to transform the largest city in the world. Living in India I'm all too aware of the filth and forever-accumulating garbage in the streets preventing public gatherings. One college student began stenciling an image of Gandhi which ignited into a public-cleaning campaign and now, these inspiring college students, are also cleaning the streets of their beloved city. This is the next generation of India.

This is what higher education could be. 

What if all products had to be disassemble-able so they could have multiple lives?

What if we exposed children to the idea that resources are finite, and products become obsolete too quickly? What if we challenged children to create products from their previous counterparts? What if all products had to be disassemble-able so they could have multiple lives? Wait a minute! Children naturally do this! They takes things apart and put them back together and take them apart and make new things! This is a huge conversation that, I believe, we should be having with children. Let's inspire them to create not just from what we already have, but with the idea that what they create will not be an end in itself.

In this video they explore the idea that products should be made in a way that make them easily disassemble-able so they can go back to their manufacturer at the end of their life to be reused in new incarnations. I like the idea of companies re-hacking their own products. 

Art Break Day



Last year I attended Art Break Day and had a blast drawing with local kids and getting a feel for the larger creative Auroville community. Over the course of the year I became very close with Krupa, the event’s producer, and since this year’s event was occurring 2 days before I left India I just had to go! I spent the whole day volunteering for the event, which meant handing out supplies, making art, meeting people, seeing old friends, and yes, being a unicorn. It was one of my many perfect endings to a life-changing year of experiences.

Art Break Day happens all over the world on the same day as a kind of simultaneous burst of creative expression. School groups came, students with special needs, local families, and tourists. It was so special to see everyone being so serious and intent on their art. Many people stayed for hours, totaling about 200 people from 10am-5pm. The theme, “I am…”, encouraged an array of ideas, one of my favorites being “I am the mockingjay.” Aren’t all of us activists and social developers in some way mockingjays?

After spending a year as the director of the 3rd most visited site in Auroville and the largest residential volunteer community in India, Sadhana Forest, I have met so many people! Art Break was kind of like a stroll through the past year or a goodbye party of sorts as I felt what’s so special about Auroville and recognized how enmeshed I became in this world. It’s amazing how quickly you can make a home for yourself.

I am the world.
I am wandering.
I am now.

What if students engaged in their own community re-purposing, co-creating their environments through street art and getting to know their neighbors?

What if students engaged in their own community re-purposing, co-creating their environments through street art and getting to know their neighbors? 

I am so inspired by Candy Chang. She creates community forums in unused public spaces that bring people and ideas closer together. What if students were exposed to the following projects and challenged to engage their communities through unused public spaces? 

Here are my Candy Change favorites: 

Before I Die is probably Candy's most widespread project. It turns the side of an abandoned building into a chalkboard of wishes, dreams, and bucket lists. The project gained so much popularity that Candy designed stencil kits, in different languages, that she sends around the world, upon request, so that "Before I Die" walls can be recreated elsewhere. What a way to share with and inspire your neighbors and motivate yourself to follow your dreams! 

Neighborland is "an online/public installation tool for civic collaboration. Organizations can ask questions to their community about the places they care about. These questions are tied to real world projects so residents’ ideas and feedback will lead to change." Say what? The people have a voice? And someone wants to listen? Hell yeah! This project aims to solve local issues through community feedback. One example asked for ways to make a particular street safer. 

Community Chalkboards "provide residents with a free and accessible platform to publicize events, post jobs, ask questions, and self-organize... Inspired by a community chalkboard in Liberia by Alfred Sirleaf." What a way to repurpose the chalkboard! In small communities, particularly where not everyone has internet access, a community events chalkboard is a brilliant way to gather your neighbors and share. 

This installation consisted of a wall of post-it notes that were pre-stamped with fill-in-the-blank statements about the number of rooms in your apartment and how much you pay in rent. I love that this installation seeks information that neighbors are too shy to ask each other but really want to know. This was inspired by the Illegal Art "To Do" project, which created a mural of post-it notes in the shape of the words "TO DO" so that passersby could share their daily "to do" lists. After all, we all have them, right? 

Lost Horizons Night Market (2011)

One day a few years ago in NYC a friend called me up and said, “Want to go to a secret interactive art party tonight?” I replied, “Do you know me?” I asked where to meet only to find that the location would be shared a few hours before the event. That evening, we took the subway to an industrial neighborhood in Queens and walked a few blocks from the subway towards an even more desolate area. We came across 15 parked box trucks on each side of the street with what looked like a costumed nighttime block party sandwiched between them. It was wild.

Upon entering this world a haze washed over us. Women swayed towards us in zombie attire; pirate men snuck behind the curtains at the back of their trucks. A buzz was humming as performers began to take their places.

Our first activity consisted of being blindfolded by a costumed guide who led us into a noisy crowded truck filled with strange sounds and things to feel. The guide walked us through a story complete with choral banging that let us know our 7-minute adventure was coming to an end.

The box truck with a maze of fog and strobe lights was a little too intense for us so we checked out Casino Fromage. Walk in and pull the slot machine handle to find your combination of bread, cheese, and topping that would then be made for you by a seasoned chef. This was a particularly popular truck, and I’m not just saying that because they’re friends of ours.

On to the Japanese tea room, with it’s very long and narrow entrance ramp and heavy red velvet curtains parting way to a long and narrow table though the middle of the truck, complete with votive candles, tea waitresses, a brew master, and lithographs of old NY hung about on the walls. The soft music, barely lit atmosphere, and hum of chatter made this truck one of our favorites.

Walking between the trucks I came across friends from near and far, old and new. It was surreal, like stepping into another dimension. My senses were heightened the entire evening and my adrenaline pumped with each new encounter. What a fabulous idea! Taking the mundane blank canvas of an empty truck and creating an interactive world, an experience, for free, for others. What a gift!  

Lost Horizon Night Market is now expanding to have a countrywide event, which features trucks simultaneously leaving NYC and San Francisco, participating in Night Markets across the country, and meeting in the middle for a huge Night Market. I hope they come to a city near you!

The Ceiling of Kapaleeswarar Temple


The Ceiling of Kapaleeswarar Temple

In February I was traveling with a friend through Chennai. We were hot and tired and wanted to rest somewhere beautiful. We came across the Kapaleeswarar temple with its long open-air structure and freshly painted ceiling of colorful mandalas. We rested, we watched, and we took in the sights and sounds of a calmer, quieter, cleaner part of Chennai.

How much water can you really conserve?


Informational Signage

I believe in informational signage.
Signage that teaches.
Signage that shows you another perspective.
Signage that is clever.

Halfway through my year at Sadhana Forest I began thinking about ways to make the physical community “show” more. 

As a visual learner I know that many people need to see something and allow it time to sink it. Visuals create repetition, which create habit. You can already experience Sadhana Forest through taking a tour and hearing about all of the ways we’re sustainable, reading about it on our website, taking photos when you visit, and absorbing it through experience. Now you can also get the numbers, the cold, hard statistics. 

In an effort to increase ecological awareness through resource management, the “why” of our community actions, I researched, designed and painted these informational boards, using materials from our Recycling Hut.

Hearts of the World


Through the New York art scene I was introduced to friends of friends who have a project called Hearts of the World. They travel to the far reaches of the planet inspiring children to follow their dreams, overcome their fears, and discover their ideas and choices about life. I was excited to be able to invite them to Children’s Land, at Sadhana Forest, a project that gives maximum choice to local children in the form of unschooling. Hearts of the World talked with the children, explored their emotions, and gave them free reign to imagine their world. It was very powerful. Next the children were given blank anatomical heart outlines to paint with their dreams for themselves and the world. As I looked around the hut I could see that the children took this workshop very seriously. It was important to them.

Hearts of the World is creating sacred, special moments where children can look at, discover, and explore themselves and their world through creative self-expression. Hearts of the World, I salute you.