This post is part of “The Pitch” series, which follows up with socially conscious creatives who submitted to the inaugural Benevolent Media Pitch Night competition in November 2012. At the event, held in Washington, D.C., 13 different projects and organizations presented 3-minute proposals on how to use storytelling and design for social good, for a chance to win funding to make their ideas a reality. (Read about all the winners and finalists here.)
Lea Faminiano and Liz Belfer started Guardians of the City as part of their MFA Design and Technology thesis project at Parsons The New School for Design. They are both passionate about exploring the world and art in all its forms.
Guardians of the City is a superhero street art project for school children in the urban landscape of New York City. The goal of the project is to empower children to take ownership of their community and raise awareness for positive change. The project establishes and encourages community public arts through a repeatable artistic educational experience, and it helps us identify and understand what needs to be protected. Children address social issues and express them by drawing fictional characters, bringing to life superheroes, or "Guardians," that use their powers to protect the parts of NYC that need them the most. Because many communities lack agency in the visual aspect of their environment, this gives children the opportunity to affect their environment and the meaning imbued in it.
Tell us about your project. What's new?
Guardians of the City is a superhero street art project that asks kids to create superheroes to protect their neighborhoods. We began this project to give children a more visible voice and to empower them to take ownership of and make visible changes to their environment. Since Benevolent Media's Pitch Night we have continued our work at the after school program at PS 18, doing a number of Guardian-related activities, including creating a mini Staten Island out of cereal and shoe boxes, which the children will defend in a superheroes vs. villains game. We are also currently working on a mural with PS 132 and DreamYard in the Bronx. A selection of our best works was recently showcased at 3rdEyesolation's monthly Paint ‘n Poetry in Brooklyn. Most recently we had the honor of attending Kids Comic-Con and created some amazing new superheroes which you can check out on our website, guardiansofthecity.com.
Do you have any requests for collaboration or calls to action?
We are looking for spots in neighborhoods that need a Guardian’s attention and care, particularly venues with large street facing surfaces capable of displaying the children's superheroes. A great platform for this would be the temporary boards around construction sites. We would also really love to find a printing sponsor, as so much of our artwork and outreach material relies on paper. As always, if you need a Guardian, let us know where and why, so that we can make one for your neighborhood!
What have you learned from your work thus far?
We have gained a great deal of experience in collaborating with other programs. We've been working with schools and community centers all over NYC, as well as around the world! We work with a range of children that vary in age and location, so we have had to learn how to tailor our lessons accordingly. The most important lessons that we've learned are to "dream big" and also that "it doesn't hurt to ask" - two lessons that go hand in hand in making our project dreams become reality.
What have you learned from the children you work with?
When we started this project, we wanted to give children a voice in their communities, and through them, we are constantly gaining insight into what their neighborhoods need and how they can be protected. It's been amazing to hear the kids express that they love art because it "lets us use our imaginations" (Aniyah, Grade 2) and "helps me express my emotions" (Faith, Grade 2).
What's your superhero alter ego?
Liz's alter ego is Bandit Angel, a firefly-like creature who throws sparkle bombs into dark alleys, allowing people to pass through them safely. Lea's is Turtle Warrior, a warrior turtle who defends children in playgrounds against bullies' hateful insults with his thick green shell shield.