March 09, 2008

Smiling at random, from Atlanta to Jerusalem with the Smile Project

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 Bevel 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!


Madeline said...

Yes! How wonderful. Have you been smiling at random people? I always feel smiled upon when you visit my blog but have you smiled at strangers? I love this.

Tamar Orvell said...

Madeline, you caught me: I have not been smiling at strangers, at least neither more nor at random than before I helped myself to the art treasure on Clifton Road. Which reminds me... I must ask the Zohar family, custodians of the find, your question. Whew... and thanks for pricking my conscience;-)

JeSais said...

love love love this!

Anonymous said...

I am joining you on the smile project. I took a walk today and was disturbed by how many people I passed that were not smiling not to mention those who would not even utter a word. I will smile at everyone I see! Thanks for the reminder.

littlepurplecow said...

Loved reading this. What a precious find. I'm working on my own little postcards of hope to scatter about. You might enjoy learning about Krystyn's project, Hope REVOlution, here:

Anonymous said...

Loved the story of the smile painting - so how have the smiles been spreading in Israel? Things are really odd here in the States today. Everyone woke up this am to the news that we've officially re-entered the Great Depression, only without James Stewart to protect his bank. It really was the first inkling of cold fear of the spreading financial mayhem ... the "recession" till now had been about them, not the rest of us. So I thought of the smile on the rock.

Tamar Orvell said...

From an e-mail message and a phone conversation —

DANIEL: Hi Tamar, How are you? I wrote a feedback to the man that painted the cute thing... I just don’t know how this sweet creature named. I hope that it’s fine.

I was amazed to see your lovely painting. In fact - he coused me to smile. I glad that there are people like you - carring other people like you - carring other people to be happier. — Daniel Zohar דניאל זוהר

(There are many words that I’m not sure if they need to be fixed...) Bye

TAMAR: Some questions —

1) Where did you hang the painting?
Daniel: Over the shelf in the living room.

2) Are you smiling at more people?
Daniel: Yes though I don't know if its because of the picture.

3) Do others in your family smile at random more often?
Daniel: Same answer... and they express more joy.

4) How old are you, and in what grade?
Daniel: 15 years old, in 10th grade.

Todah raba raba [thank you very, very much] dearest Daniel!