Murals With A Message
Street art with soul. A message that resonates around the world. The 2022 edition of “You Are Not Alone,” a mural project created by two long-time friends, finds its home at the Seaport this summer. The series of seven murals created by nine artists can be found along the East River Esplanade and bike path, north of the Tin Building, located on South & Beekman Streets.
In early 2019, Annica Lydenberg — art director, lettering artist, illustrator, and mural painter — and Samantha Schutz – publishing director, mental health advocate, and the author of the critically-acclaimed anxiety disorder memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy — founded a community-based art project with three murals in Brooklyn. As of July, 2022, there have been 55 “You Are Not Alone Murals” painted around the world, and the team has received more than 300 submissions from more than 25 countries in other mediums.
The parameters are simple: Each artist illustrates the phrase, “You Are Not Alone” (in any language), uses the the color palette of yellow, black, white, and gray, and shares their work online. Lydenberg and Shutz hope to inspire artists to create work in their communities — and spark hope and conversations about mental health. Here, they share more about the project’s evolution and impact.
How did you meet, and how did the “You Are Not Alone” project come to life?
Annica: Sam and I first met in college when we were 19. We connected creatively immediately. Inspired by Sam’s poems, I would take photos and make illustrations into art books. To honor Sam’s vulnerability in writing her anxiety disorder memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy and the frequent responses that she got from readers saying, “Your book made me feel less alone,” I wanted to paint the first mural that said “You Are Not Alone.” We each have a creative skill that allows us to connect with others, this project was a way to combine the two.
Sam: It’s truly humbling to see how my journey with anxiety disorder and subsequent memoir were the catalyst to start this project. Never did I dream that the reach of my work could extend this far. We’ve collaborated with incredible sponsors and partners like Howard Hughes Co. and The Seaport, NAMI-NYC, Priority Bicycles, and MOO. Annica and I have also formed a corporation, Purpose Projects NY, Inc. and are in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Sam, why is it important for you to be open about your experiences with anxiety?
Sam: A magical thing happens when I open up about my experiences with anxiety to someone: the other person opens up too. Suddenly that person is telling me private things about themselves, their spouse, friend, or child who has struggled with mental health issues. It’s as if that pain was sitting just below the surface of their skin waiting to break through. All they needed was to witness another person opening for them to burst. And with that bursting comes relief. Openness leads to connection. My wish is that this cycle will continue to gain momentum through “You Are Not Alone” and create a true community of people stepping up and sharing as a way to heal themselves and help others.
How did the pandemic affect your approach or commitment to the project?
Annica: The prevalence of mental health struggles since the project’s first inception has made it feel impossible to consider walking away from this project for me. The pandemic forced us to reconsider how we reach people as well. As people started to stay more local to their neighborhoods, we expanded to include work created in any medium that could be shared online. I am so deeply touched by the artists we’ve connected with, their stories have moved us and moved others.
Sam: Annica and I were always looking at the “You Are Not Alone” message through the lens of mental health, but in the beginning we didn’t feel we should push that connection onto people—they could bring whatever meaning they wanted to the words. That said, we have become even clearer about putting forward our mental health message since the pandemic started. Teaming up with NAMI-NYC has been a big part of that shift and can be seen in how we offer mental health information, links to resources, and have participated in some of their events.
You’ve said that repetition is an important component of the project. How does sticking to a few guidelines (e.g. the color palette and the “You Are Not Alone” message) relate to mental health?
Annica: I have always had a hard time hearing compliments or positive messages. So for me personally, I didn’t think something like this could resonate the first time I heard it or saw it. I would need to be confronted with that message over and over to begin to believe it to be true.
What appeals to you about the Seaport as a home for the murals this year?
Annica: Watching people stop and take in the message while we were out painting was unreal. It is such a perfect spot full of real New Yorkers and visitors.
Sam: I love that when you approach the murals from either direction on the path, they come as a surprise. When you pass under the FDR by the Tin Building and start heading North, the light is dim and it’s kind of moody. But as soon as you get to the other side of the FDR and into the light, you are hit with these bright yellow murals. And when you are approaching from the South, there’s a bend in the path right before you get to the murals, so you don’t see them as you are approaching. Surprise is a part of the project that really speaks to me. I like thinking that when someone unexpectedly comes upon one of the murals, they feel like there was a bit of fate involved in them discovering the message at that particular moment.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of this project for you?
Sam: Connection, connection, connection! Essentially, everyone submitting work is saying, “I get what you’re going through.” or “I am an ally.” My hope is that the person who feels comforted by receiving that message will also pay it forward by being vulnerable and sharing the message with someone else who needs to hear it.
Annica: This project moves me to tears on a very regular basis. I never thought I’d see that as a good thing, but it is truly unique and special. To be creating this with Sam is also so important to me, I have learned so much from her personally and professionally over the years. It’s a real honor.
The You Are Not Alone murals are on display along the East River Esplanade, South & Beekman Streets. Learn more about the artists behind the murals here.
Want to help spread the message and get involved? Learn more about how you can support the You Are Not Alone creative community, as they create an in-depth, feature-length, and impactful documentary that helps erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.