With Love and Light: The Story Behind "New York Loves Boston"

As law enforcement officials intensify their investigation into Monday's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, activist-artist Grayson Earle recounts a creative response to the tragedy.

3:44 PM Alexander: um 3:45 PM a bomb just exploded at the boston marathon me: what??

The news hit me in that familiar way. I was in the middle of making adjustments to some software we were using for the action we had planned for that Monday evening—a public projection of a subversive video game to celebrate Tax Day entitled "Tax Evaders." A malaise was getting the best of me as I Googled through a few headlines and sank into my chair. I couldn't care less about taxes at that point; the word "politics" left a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I just wanted to hug somebody.

I'm part of an art collective we call "The Illuminator" that spun off of the Occupy movement. Our history begins with Mark Read installing a projector in a residential building across from the Verizon highrise on November 17, 2011 and projecting a very visible “99%,” which came to be known as the "Bat Signal." Soon after that Mark and some fellow occupiers were given enough money to buy and modify a van, adding a swivel and vertical crank below a projector mount with the purpose of mobile projections around New York City and beyond. As a collective, we've joined underpaid workers on picket lines and promoted public festivals, among many other endeavors, literally and figuratively shining a light on issues that move us.

Something we care about deeply is the reclamation of public space, which we attempt to accomplish through public art installations. I view this is as being in contrast to things like Internet activism that take place in the comfort of our homes. While I appreciate the modes of sharing the Internet has enabled, I find that public art's value lies in the human connections it facilitates, offline. That said, we witnessed the power of social media in full effect on Monday night.

The Illuminator projecting messages of peace on the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo by Lucky Tran.


When I arrived at the rendezvous to meet fellow Illuminator Kyle Depew, I lamented our Tax Day mission and mulled over calling it off altogether. “What about doing a Brooklyn Loves Boston kind of thing?” I thought out loud. He agreed and we called up MarkLucky and Athena, and everyone was in agreement. The gravity weighing on my heart reversed directions like an ascending satellite and our entire outlook on the day changed. We realized that we had an amazing opportunity to brighten the day, if only by 12,000 lumens. Athena poured through her glow-letters to spell PEACE and LOVE (with a bit of black tape to correct the deficit of a "P.") Lucky and I created some images to project, and Kyle readied the van. It was a beautiful moment of teamwork that I'll never forget.

We parked illegally outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music and cranked up the generator. At one point, two BAM security guards came out to halt the operation, but when they saw what we were using their building for, they snapped a photo and let us be. A crowd quickly gathered and the atmosphere was that of a connected, mourning community. Peace signs, heart taps, and even nods from police officers driving by sustained the positivity. A custodian came outside to see what all the fuss was about and told us that he'd like to see “Togetherness is the Key” up alongside the "NY loves Boston" logo.

Though it won't bring back the lives we lost on Monday, I think that what we did meant something to those who saw it. It was our way of wrapping our arms around the folks that were too far away to touch. We may not know you, but we love you. I can't express enough gratitude to all the kind words we've received in the past 48 hours. You have all warmed our hearts and inspired us to continue our work as a collective with a renewed optimism.

The Illuminator is Mark Read, Lucky Tran, Annabelle Heckler, Susan Forste, Daniel Latorre, Kyle Depew, Athena Soules, and Grayson Earle.

Meet the Artist: Heidi Phelps on Wayward Women

Self-proclaimed "femme-forward" artist Heidi Phelps is getting ready for her first solo show. Her female-focused fine art screen prints will be on display at Tryst, a popular D.C. coffeehouse, throughout the month of April, with an opening night party and special performance by musician Wytold on Thursday, April 4. She said she hopes the exhibit inspires audiences "to consider how women are so often vilified or canonized for behavior that goes against cultural norms." The founder of Wayward Broad Studio, which opened last October, has steadily gained traction with her body of work. She recently showed pieces at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Art Gallery in Alexandria, Va. and was spotlighted  by BUST Magazine, which emphasizes women in arts and entertainment.

Last year, Heidi started a public participatory art project to raise awareness about Malala Yousafzai, the young activist from Pakistan who advocates for education, freedom of expression and women's rights. Yousafzai made headlines for suffering an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen, inspiring people like Phelps to respond through their artwork.

Currently, Phelps sells her digital artwork on Etsy, an online storefront that will soon include screen-printed T-shirts, tote bags and other accessories. She also vends at arts and crafts markets, like the annual Cheap Art Sale in Mount Pleasant and Benevolent Media's The Loving Market, both of which support causes that Phelps cares about, like ending domestic violence, supporting healthy lives for sex workers and creating a safe, supportive space for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. We met up with Phelps to discuss her latest projects.

A portrait of the artist. Photo courtesy of Heidi Phelps.

What was your inspiration for your latest exhibit at Tryst?

Art is communication. Jean-Luc Godard is famous for saying "Il faut confronter les idées vagues avec les images claires" ("One must confront vague ideas with clear images.")  My goal with this series of female-focused images is to get people thinking about how we define--personally and culturally--“good” versus “bad” behavior for women.  How do we expect women to behave, and what are our perceptions of women who go against our expectations?  What aspects of women’s behavior do we choose to focus on in pop culture, literary works, fairy tales, folklore and the media?

When tackling difficult themes, such as female vilification, you still create vibrant, beautiful imagery. What is your process for developing your work?

I just started thinking about intriguing women, and why I find them intriguing. When thinking about subjects that I wanted to draw, they were all over the moral and ethical spectrum but had one thing in common: they were all considered “wayward," or going against their culture’s definition of acceptable behavior.  As for the process, every piece starts off as a sketch on paper which is further developed and then manipulated digitally to make a graphic print.

You’re passionate about empowerment for women. What made you take up this cause, and how have your efforts been received in the community?

I feel like I found my voice through art. There’s a sense of empowerment that comes with the feeling that you’ve created something substantial out of nothing, and with putting your thoughts and ideas out there, making yourself both seen and heard.  I think, as women, we’re raised to put other people’s needs before our own, and often we’re meant to feel guilty for carving time out to focus on our own thoughts, needs, desires and interests. Art is a way of claiming my space, claiming my thoughts, and encouraging discussion about our perceptions of women, what qualities we admire and discourage.

Photo courtesy Heidi Phelps.

I'm always curious to see how artists effectively merge business into art. Tell me more about how you've met the challenges and opportunities of these two realms.

It’s hard to be a good promoter, event organizer, business woman and still have the time and headspace to be creative.  It’s even harder when you’re squeezing in all of these things around a full-time job that is unrelated to your creative endeavors. But it’s absolutely possible, and that’s the main point that I want to drive home to people: It’s a lot of work, but it can be done.

What are your long-term career goals as an artist? 

To eventually make art the main thing that I do, not something that I squeeze into my schedule as time permits, and to start a nonprofit that promotes creative expression for women and girls, somewhere down the road. I want my art to be directly linked to a good cause.

International Women's Day: Gaining Momentum

Photo by REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino. Happy International Women's Day! The global movement was created to inspire women and celebrate their achievements worldwide. The commemorative occasion originally started in the United States as a way for female laborers to demand shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. Now, people all over the world are organizing thousands of events, including political rallies, business conferences, local women's craft markets, theatrical performances and fashion shows, to support the cause. This year's theme is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum."

Here are some notable storytelling and design projects that caught our attention. Share links to some of your other favorites in the comments!

Today, Google created a Doodle of women around the world.


Singers and musicians released a special song, "One Woman," that was written for UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Dove launched a Photoshop action to un-airbrush unrealistic images of models, as part of its decade-long "Real Beauty" campaign.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has collected a series of reporting projects, "Women, Children, Crisis," that illuminates the adversity and crimes endured by women and children around the world. Here's one story about female indentured servants in Nepal.

The Huffington Post suggests "10 Female Artists to Watch" in 2013.

Multimedia artist Jaimie Warren recently showed "The WOAHS Of Female Tragedy II" exhibit at The Hole in New York. Photo via Huffington Post.

And in the world of social media:

There are a slew of campaigns that are tweeting for equality. Check out @VWCampaign, challenging the under-representation of women in the workplace; @EverydaySexism, documenting everyday experiences of sexism; and @_TYFA, the creators of the #TwitterYouthFeministArmy to mobilize a social media-savvy younger generation of feminists.

Instagram wrote a blog post to highlight influential women who use the photography platform to "document their incredible stories of talent, triumph and humanitarianism." The list of Instagrammers includes Bethany Hamilton (@bethanyhamilton), Yoko Ono (@yokoonoofficial), Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas (@gabbydoug2012) and Padma Lakshmi (@padmalakshmi).

And to get an official photo fix curated by the International Women's Day team, check out this board on Pinterest.

New Website Collects Ideas to Improve the World

rippleeffect Have you ever wanted to see current or  potential  innovations for poverty or the environment without having to do a lot of researching or reading?  Have you ever thought of an idea and wanted to tell the world about it and get  feedback?  How it could be different was founded for these purposes - to enable people to easily see, share, and suggest ideas in different categories and be like a “Wikipedia for ideas.” It features both abridged ideas from the world and from our community to make it easy to learn about and spread ideas.

My name is Jaya and I am one of the co-founders of How it could be different.  The idea for How it could be different was developed from my own personal desire to want to learn and spread ideas I thought were innovative and potential solutions to issues in the world.  In 2005, I visited a developing country, India, for the first time.  Though I had known about poverty, it shocked me to be confronted by elderly with missing limbs and child beggars on the street.  I wondered:  What were the best ways to alleviate poverty?  Why did countries have different standards of living? What was the best nonprofit/charity to donate to?  What were ways governments could best aid their citizens?  I began to keep lists of ideas and became interested in discovering and learning about what ideas were out there to be potential solutions and improvements.

As I began to keep these lists, I wondered if there was a website that I could go to and easily see great ideas without having to read and search for them.  There is so much information about innovation in the world – research papers, newspaper and magazine articles, websites, TED talks, think tank policy briefs, books – and no website to really easily access this information.  I believe one of the most useful websites on the internet is Wikipedia because it makes information easy to find.  With this in mind, I decided to create How it could be different because I believe there is a need for the world to have a website where ideas for improvement can be collected and easily accessed.   In addition, on How it could be different, people can vote for ideas they agree with, allowing us to show which ideas are most supported by the public.  With increased funding  for more development and staff, we hope to be able to also add links for people to easily advocate for ideas from the site.

So, please join us at How it could be different to be able to easily see, share, and suggest ideas.  We are also posting an “Idea of the Day” on Facebook and Twitter and would love to see you there as well.  In addition, please get in touch if you would be interested to join our team and help us continue to collect, build awareness of and inspire ideas for improvement.

For Valentine's Day, D.C. Artists Reflect on Love

For our February community event, we're hosting The Loving Market to support local nonprofits in Washington, D.C. dedicated to love-themed causes. It includes an online auction, pop-up shop (with a scheduled panel discussion and craft-making activity), art exhibit and evening reception, all to benefit Becky's Fund and Break the Cycle, which both advocate for freedom from domestic violence, and HIPS, which supports sex workers' health and well-being. To all of our participating artists, we posed one simple question: What does "love" mean to you?

See what they had to say below - and if you're interested in a piece, click on the image and place a bid on their work in our online auction: http://www.32auctions.com/lovingmarket

Dafna Steinberg

In my mind, love is not a simply one emotion. It is complex. It has levels. And it can be a source of great pain. There is an ache that many feel, a need to "be loved" and that ache can sometimes lead us to more harm than good. A lot of my work is about that ache and the paths it leads us down.











Elisa Rafter

Love to me is the individual's need to connect and feel connected to another. In doing so bonding to share in each other's joy and sadness, giving yourself to that person so that he/she becomes a part of you and you a part of him/her.

Emily Greene Liddle

My work is the hue-soaked advertisement and commentary on the human condition and experience. While the subject matter may initially appear light and playful, its content plays on deeper themes of contrast and contradiction in form, function, and perception in modern pop culture. The unusual pairings often evoke themes of sexuality, vulnerability, temptation, consequence, and danger--all unfortunate side effects of the thing we so endearingly call “LOVE”. Of course Love has moved mountains and crossed the seas, but Love has also caused death and destruction in the name of it. Our reality is somewhere in between: beautiful, invigorating, and lush, but imperfect and scarred along the way.
















Gregg Deal

When I think of love, I first think of my family. My wife and my children embody all that I am and want to be. I think this statement is true in friends as well, and one that someone, somewhere can relate to in some capacity. When you tear down all the crap, you only have your bare bones left, and that usually means your loved ones.


Greg Slade

I think that love is a genuine feeling of endearment for another living thing. Love is expressed in many different ways and sex wouldn't be close to the pinnacle of the definition. The ability to care for something unconditionally and contribute in its well being, to have a genuine sense of warmth when something is growing and maturing gracefully, flourishing. To take pride in the integrity of something, admiring its value and potential,coming with all of its perfect imperfections. In short, the desire to see someone or something do well in the life in which we inhabit: Unconditional implementations and exchanges of well being.

color-conduit garden refuge

J'Nell Jordan

My work is all about people and all about connections. I only paint from photographs I connect with, so in a sense they can be a form of self portraits in which I identify with or wish to identify with. I usually connect with their body language, or expression, because it remind me of a place in time that I once was or gives me some sort of nostalgic and familiar feeling. I don't usually know the people in the photographs I collect, and paint from, but I do see myself in them. You kind of have to see yourself in what/who you paint, because it is such an intimate activity. I think Love is acceptance, understanding and compassion towards another. To some degree, I think one must see themselves in the other person. When you self reflect, and learn to love yourself with all your imperfections and flaws, it makes it easier to love and empathize with others.

Live In Shanghai_JNellJordan (1)Copper Kisses _JNellJordan (1)Babydoll_JNellJordan (1)










Jack Labadie

I've felt the love in my life since day one. I'm lucky to have been surrounded by great friends & an incredible family who have supported me & my artistic drive. On top of that, I'm in a wonderful relationship with the loveliest little lady named Emily.  She inspires me everyday & I’ve been able to tell in my work.  Whether it is the subjects of my work or just the general approach & view of my pieces, I can feel a warmth & substance that wasn’t there before.  I have a heavy understanding for themes of ‘love’, I like to share that in my work.














Julian Lytle

I think love is a complicated emotion that we constantly struggle with trying to understand but we need live. Some of us try to fight it, some of jumps at any glimmer of it, some never find and some are lucky to have it at least once.

Max Kazemzadeh

"I think that in a kiss, one finds something too deep to joke about."

Mia Robinson

"Love is passion and endless play. It's following your heart and your dreams, no matter where they may lead you. Love is spontaneous, adventurous, and playful. It is present and open--embracing the ease and the challenge. AND, love is mobile. With that in mind, we ought to ALL be moving around and infusing everything we do with it!

My pieces are all infused with that kind of love. It is how I generally describe my art--from mediums I use (mobile devices) to my painting process and subject matter. I try to be playful and spontaneous. I try use new approaches. I almost never have a clue as to where it will end up. The messy brush strokes, textures and colors are all a result of me just loving to draw and paint. Being able to draw on my iPad also makes my passion accessible and available to me at all times. It allows me to be in a constant mode of ""love"".

My overall view on love and how it relates to my art is very simple: ""If I love the process...I'll love the piece. "" And I hope you do too. <3"

Paul Mericle

Love is like war, easy to start, but very hard to stop.


I believe love is the foundation for all things that live in spiritual peace. I have created some of my greatest works while painting in a state of spiritual state peace. In some of my more familiar paintings I often incorporate symbols and icons of love. Using things such as hearts and red tented colors to create the feeling of love and peace.










New Film Shows Girls Rising from Plight to Power

This post is part of Benevolent Media's ongoing coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. For more information, read "The Benevolent Guide to the Sundance Film Fesitval."

“Educate girls, change the world.” That’s the simple and powerful mission of the new documentary film and social action campaign Girl Rising, which was unveiled with a sneak peek trailer at a special event, “Creating Social Change with Film at the Center,” last Monday at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film follows the uplifting stories of nine girls from around the world, triumphing over obstacles to achieve an education. The voices narrating each vignette include Hollywood heavy hitters like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek.

But it’s the relatively unknown people behind the scenes that are trying to make the movie a force to be reckoned with. The Girl Rising project was borne out of a collaborative effort, led by 10x10 and its strategic corporate partner, Intel. The film was created and launched by an award-winning team of former ABC News journalists, including director Richard E. Robbins, and executive produced by Tom Yellin and Holly Gordon of The Documentary Group and Paul Allen, the founder and chairman of Vulcan Productions, and CNN Films acquired the film in the spring of 2012.


A panel discussion organized at Sundance revealed perspectives from each step of the filmmaking process, from ideation to distribution. It included the following experts:

Shelly Esque, Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs, Intel Bonnie Benjamin-Phariss, Director, Vulcan Productions Richard Robbins, writer, producer and director Sumathi Balasubramanian, Program Officer, Adolescent Girls, United Nations Foundation Holly Gordon, Executive Director, 10X10 Scott Glosserman, Founder and CEO, Gathr Films

If you look at “girls,” as a systemic issue, the statistics are staggeringly depressing. For instance, there are 66 million girls who are not in school; 14 million girls under the age of 18 will be married this year alone; and 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence each year.

The first cut of an early concept of the film, which examined these dire big-picture conditions, was scrapped. “It was equal parts pity and passion and that makes for a film that doesn't really get far in the world,” director Robbins said. The only glimmer of hope was found in the individual stories of the girls themselves, which inspired the filmmakers to revamp their approach. Now, you'll hear less about the global problem and listen, instead, to the narratives of Amina, Yasmin, Senna, Suma, Ruksana, Mariama, Azmera, Sokha and Wadley. They are the ones with something to tell the world.

In the end, supporting the film is a catalyst to change minds, lives and policy, according to 10X10's Gordon. She asked: “How would I make an argument that giving us $10,000 would be better than building one school? How does funding an awareness project lead to building hundreds of thousands of schools?”

Social Buzz

During filmmaking, Twitter and Facebook were just starting to take off into the stratosphere of social media marketing--a key advantage for the 10X10 team.

“We needed to find our girls education super fans,” Gordon said. Her advice was “to be very targeted and have defined verticals that you want to attack, because if you try to do everything, it’s not going to work.”

What resulted was an intricate yet clear web of relationships, spun through social media and in-person events, that involved a corporate partner, Intel, who shared 10X10’s vision of creating a better educated world, NGOs that were already dedicated to the cause, and philanthropists who contributed funding to kickstart the project.

In October, for the International Day of the Girl, 10X10 created social action toolkits for communities to get involved in supporting the Girl Rising campaign, which resulted in more than 550 independently organized events worldwide. The revolution was brewing.

Corporate Leadership

Meanwhile, Intel leveraged its technology expertise, marketing savvy, human resources (it has about 100,000 employees worldwide) and philanthropy partners to support the film.

“We were making a big impact but not creating the noise," Intel's Esque said of her company's girls education philanthropy efforts. "We were excited about the opportunity to help shape the entire campaign."

Intel brought in the C-Level backing; the filmmakers retained editorial control. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Nonprofit Champions

In the NGO world, it’s common knowledge that educating girls has the power to change the world. “The development folks knew that, but we were never successful in being able to message about it,” the U.N. Foundation's Balasubramanian said.

With the film at their disposal, girls-focused nonprofits have a better story to tell. And, more concretely, they will come closer to achieving their fundraising goals. Thanks to the 10X10 Fund for Girls’ Education, donations raised from the film will be distributed evenly among the nonprofit partners, including CARE USA, World Vision, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, United Nations Foundation/Girl Up, Pratham USA, Room to Read, and A New Day Cambodia.

Mass Appeal

Girl Rising will make its theatrical debut on March 7 and broadcast premiere on CNN in June. Screenings will also be made available on demand in hundreds of cities across the country through Gathr, a new Netflix-ish, Kickstarter-esque model for "bottom-up" theatrical distribution, as explained by its founder Glosserman.

On the big screen is where the filmmakers want audiences to watch the film. “You need to have a common experience in a theater; you need to feel the energy,” Robbins said.

More than a film, Girl Rising is a social action movement, and for that very reason, Robbins added, “the ending is still to be written.”

Register for 2013 Media That Matters Conference

media-that-matters Media that Matters is an annual conference presented by the Center for Social Media in Washington, D.C. It is designed for established and aspiring filmmakers, nonprofit communications leaders, funders, and students who want to learn and share cutting-edge practices to make their media matter.

The theme of the 2013 conference is "Measure for Measure," focusing on how we build impact measurement from the start, increasing sustainability of socially engaged creative media. MTM will provide opportunties to work on pitching, network with media professionals and filmmakers, attend workshops, and join conversations from professionals who are setting the bar in impact strategies for documentary film and beyond.

Workshops [Additonal cost & limited space]
Thursday: February 14, 2013
2:00-4:00pm Fair Use
3:00-5:00pm Get Your Impact Strategy Humming
3:00-5:00pm Media Entrepreneurship
Friday: February 15, 2013
9:00am - 5:00pm Keynote, Conversations, Networking and more! (Katzen Arts Center) 5:00pm Closing Reception (Katzen Arts Center)

Event Location Abramson Family Recital Hall, Katzen Arts Center 4400 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest Washington, D.C. 20016

Click here to register.