Resting on a large boulder on Atlanta's Clifton Road, between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the fire station, and across from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, I spied it.
An illogical generosity of spirit. The bright painting of a colorful, happy, whimsical creature. And, taped to its lower edge, a note bearing the message:
The proposition intrigued me. I loved the painting, the message, and the random way in which I had come upon it. (I could have taken the bus instead of walking that Sunday morning to Emory’s Cannon Chapel ecumenical, open worship to hear Bishop Jones preach the sermon on The Ministers' Manifesto. Or, my passing the boulder could have been too late. Or too early.)
Yet I was suspicious. Who gives away such loveliness? And merely for the price of a promise to smile at random people more often?
More self-tormenting questions: Who would check my faithfulness to hold up my side of the bargain? Shouldn't the find go to someone else... more deserving... a child? Yet I wanted it. How could I reconcile my doubts and take up the offer?
Within seconds, I had formulated my plan. I glanced around hoping no one was watching. And then I took it.
The painting and the note would travel with me the following week to Israel, in what has become my semiannual rite of passage, from Atlanta to Tel Aviv (and then back).
Once in Israel, I would deliver the package to my Jerusalem cousins (shown in this and the next photo). And I would task the Zohar family, including Daniel, Ohad, and Aviah (among the stars of this blog) with the proposition.
Checking the web address on the note provided clues to the art and ways of Bren Bataclan. Born in the Philippines and educated at top U.S. institutions, in 2003 Bren began The Smile Boston Project, his street art project to brighten spirits.
Eventually, the project grew and evolved several additional goals, including bringing art to people who typically don't go to art museums and galleries, giving paintings to people who may not be able to afford original artwork, creating murals in schools and hospitals, and everywhere spreading smiles.
Worldwide, Bataclan has left bright and vibrant paintings of his colorful characters on park benches, in subway stations, schoolyards, and other public places — such as the large boulder on Atlanta's Clifton Road. To each painting Bataclan attaches the same note.
Don't you want the project to smile on you, too?
Update | To find out who won the "Smile Project" 2009 feedback prize, meet me here!