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5 Public Art Installations to Inspire Joy

Can the word “Happiness” written in chalk really generate feelings of happiness? Can we elevate our mood by simply looking at a kind phrase on a sticker? (spoiler alert) YES! 😊 Interactive public art has the power to positively impact us, both as individuals and communities. It can capture our imaginations, build community, and also help us understand that much of the power to transform our experience is in our own hands.

Living in Los Angeles, I feel fortunate to enjoy a daily dose of art, on the sidewalks, walls of buildings, and everywhere in between. The wings in the featured photo above are one of the local favorites, bringing smiles to people passing by, who are often inspired to take pictures with the art. Though I’m a huge fan of all of the street art, I’ve learned these displays around the city are not for everyone. My husband, for example, has a strong aversion, especially to the wings for some reason, and gets comically annoyed with all of the picture-taking. So of course, I had ask someone to snap this photo of me 😜

Look, honey. I have wings ! 😇😘

Whether you’re an art fan, a wing-hater, or an artist yourself, I hope you enjoy checking out the following public art installations. In true Spread Happy spirit, they set out to make the world a better place, and are beacons of hope and positivity. If you’re interested in seeing more photos or videos about any of the projects, be sure to click on the heading links.

Happiness Here, started by The Mazeking

I love this public art project, that literally Spread Happy from New York to Paris, in the most simple and beautiful way. In chalk, a circle was drawn around the words “Happiness Here,” with the directive “Step Inside for Happiness” written just outside. Immediately after the first installations were created in 2012, people flocked to these circles around the city, and truly felt happier from the experience. Is that really all it takes?? Talk about the power of our minds and imaginations!

Before I die…, started by Candy Chang

OK, so Death is not the first word that comes to mind when we think about Happiness 💀 But as illustrated by this street art project, contemplating death can have the positive effect of helping us identify how we want to live.

Candy Chang didn’t quite realize the impact her artistic endeavor would have when she came up with this idea in 2011 while grieving the death of a loved one. She covered the side of an abandoned building down the street in New Orleans with chalkboard paint, and stenciled “Before I Die I Want to ___________.” Leaving chalk for people walking by, she hoped folks might take a moment to reflect on death and life, and share their reflections with the community. To her surprise, when she returned the next day, the wall was completely filled! People all over the world have since been inspired by her work, and there are now thousands of installations in multiple languages, across 70 countries.

This prompt about death, which is really about our lives, inspires us to honor our hopes and dreams, shedding light on what matters to us and feels important in this precious life we have. If you’re open to it, take a moment to consider how you might fill in the ____________.

Play Me, I’m Yours, started by Luke Jerram

Music has the potential to bring people together, as Luke Jerram hoped would happen when he conceived of the idea to place pianos around the city of Birmingham, UK. What started with 15 pianos in 2008 has grown to more than 1900 pianos in over 60 countries. Each street piano is uniquely decorated by community groups, and donated locally, often to schools, after being played and enjoyed out in the street for 2-3 weeks.

In this video, as you can imagine the lively and positive experience around street pianos, one person commented “you can see smiles all over.” Other words people used to describe the interactive exhibit are “joyful,” “community” and “love.” This definitely fits under the umbrella of The Spontaneous Smile Project! The installation also inspired other types of creative projects that featured the pianos, including time-lapse photography and a music video that utilized 24 pianos around the city. So amazing all around!!

You Are Beautiful, started by Matthew Hoffman

photo by David Drexler

This art concept began in 2002 with 100 stickers, designed to brighten people’s day around the city of Chicago. Millions of stickers later, along with the murals and art installations it inspired, this positive message has brought smiles to people all around the globe. In fact, even I’m feelin’ pretty great right now, just writing about it! With this photo in front of me, I honestly feel like my heart has opened up a bit. If you’re up for it, before you keep reading, take a moment to look at the sticker, hang out with it a little longer and notice what effect it has.

Art in the Alley, started by Lisa & James Quillian and Sharon Koskoff

This annual event is at the very intersection (literally 😆) of public art and community empowerment. Coming together to create positive change, this Delray Beach, Florida neighborhood has transformed the once overgrown and trash-filled alleys into vibrant passageways for all to enjoy.

It started in 2010, when Lisa & James (my awesome in-laws!) became frustrated by the city’s empty promises to clean up the streets, especially the alleys that had become a hotbed for drug-use and crime. They decided it was time to take action, and with the help of neighbors and friends, cleared a path through the alley behind their house. Once it was cleaned up, community members gathered to create large works of art to hang on the fences along the alley, and voila, Art in the Alley was born! Sharon came on board to helm the artistic vision and supply the materials, and now in it’s 9th year, this homegrown project has not only increased safety and community engagement, but has also brought countless smiles to residents and visitors alike.

Changing the world together, one alley at a time!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and musings, and am curious about your experiences with public art. Have you seen or come across other inspiring installations? Are there art-related projects happening in your community?