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the power of sidewalk chalk

Christie Costello, Recruitment & Marketing Manager, muses about the creative yet simple ways people share their ideas with the world and how they in turn, inspire others to do the same:

Last summer, as I dashed out the door to catch the bus, a neighborhood kid caused me to stop just outside my backyard gate. This kid made me laugh, think, and wish I was a kid again. This kid made me excited to continue on with my day. The funny thing: this neighborhood kid wasn’t even present; what stopped me was his or her chalk drawing on the sidewalk asking a simple but important question:

what do you enjoy

In that moment, this neighborhood kid helped me realize the power of guerrilla street art.

Guerrilla /street art is defined by Keri Smith (artist/illustrator turned guerrilla artist) as “any anonymous work (including but not limited to graffiti, signage, performance, additions, decoration) installed, performed, or attached in public spaces, with the distinct purpose of affecting the world in a creative or thought- provoking way.”

This is exactly what my neighbor did, in leaving this adorable, simple, chalk art question on the sidewalk. I’ve since noticed many other subtle, creative works of art all around me.

A poignant note from a Portland cyclist

I know exactly what Smith means when she says “these little gestures encourage me to not take our world so seriously, to contemplate for a moment something outside the predictable.”

Yet they don’t have to be anonymous, or just on the street. You can create them in everyday actions with others. “You can affect someone’s day or even change the world (one interaction at a time), just by presenting someone with something different than what they might expect,” Smith writes.

During my two JV years serving in domestic violence shelters, I realized the potential in myself, and everyone, to directly or indirectly impact another. It became part of my practice of incorporating my spirituality into my actions, and attempts at living simply and intentionally. I learned I could try, hope, to make a situation slightly better for survivors we served. Leave an encouraging note under the door the day of her job interview; remind her progress she’s been making; sit with her through her struggles. Even with small things, we can affect someone’s day, even in the slightest way.

The hard part was not always seeing the impact. And in life, we don’t always know the results of our actions. So often, women left shelter suddenly, and we never knew if anything we did made any difference. Yet I’ve learned to be ok with that. I don’t always need to know the impact of my actions to feel like it was worthwhile.

Similarly, the beauty of guerrilla art is you may never know what inspiration may come,  if bad moods are lifted, what thoughts may be provoked when you put your vision out into the world, whether in writing on a card, with paints on a canvas, or chalk on a wall.

Where one leaves graffiti, another leaves a message of hope with falling hearts, just a few blocks from the Portland JV Mac House

Likewise, we don’t always see how the work we struggle to do each day may in fact be vital step in creating a more just world, even if it only comes many years after we leave.  

Whether guerrilla art, or just random acts of kindness, things like this create connections between the artist and the viewer, the giver and the recipient. Anyone one can be a guerrilla artist, a creator of kindness, or be open to finding such things. We can all cultivate this appreciation for small things around us, and practice putting good energy into the world; it is in a sense, a form of spirituality

A guerrilla knitter beautifies the fence of a construction site near the JVC Northwest office. 

If you shared a vision, hope, or idea with your community, what would you want to say?

A few real-life, creative ideas from others:





*quotes from Keri Smith’s book The Guerrilla Art Kit: everything you need to know to put your message out into the world.




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