Carrying a bucket of chalk and approaching an empty sidewalk outside her home, an artist sits down, ready to bring a little joy to the outside world.
People are seeking creative ways to encourage each other while respecting the restrictions of social distancing, a recommendation of “limiting close contact with others as much as possible (about 6 feet),” according to the Center for Disease Control.
Social Sidewalking captures and shares images of chalk artwork with the hope of inspiring others on Instagram. With messages such as “We are in this together” and “It’s a beautiful day to stay in the neighborhood,” students, families and community members share joy with each other during a time of uncertainty.
Seeking to encourage the Siloam Springs, Ark., community, Anna Carlson, senior biology major at John Brown University, got together with a group of friends to form the Social Sidewalking team. “We realized that writing messages on the sidewalk was an affordable way that people could communicate beautiful ideas while still practicing social distancing,” Carlson said. “Our goal is to remind people that they are not alone during this challenging time and that they can still create moments of meaningful human connection from a distance.”
So far, the @SocialSidewalking Instagram page has over 20 submissions from artists in Siloam Springs and across the U.S., including Louisiana and Virginia. Carlson was surprised to see how far the Social Sidewalking movement has spread. “Although I usually just imagine children using chalk, it’s been fun to hear stories of individuals from many age groups getting involved,” Carlson said. “One of the contributing artists is a young woman in her twenties. When her elderly neighbor saw that she was making chalk art, she also wanted to participate, but she didn’t have Instagram. She asked her daughter to help her send the photos.”
Kelly Benware, director of campus life and activities at JBU, contributed to Social Sidewalking with her three kids. “Our kids love art, sidewalk chalk, projects and a chance to help others. They ran outside ready to draw in the sun … I love a chance to be creative, help people out and encourage people. I have also tried to spread word with friends and have seen some of their art re-posted on the Social Sidewalking page,” Benware said.
For individuals feeling worried or lonely, Benware encourages them to not focus on anxious thoughts. “Like many, anxiety is something I have started to struggle with some in my adult years,” Benware said. “While I have found this time with family refreshing, I would encourage others to think on good memories and the blessings they do have. That and taking time to get their minds off their worries and focus on others. Think of how you can encourage or do something for someone else.”
“Use your gifts. If you’re good with words, use words. If you’re good with art, craft some beauty; if you love to encourage, send a message to those on your mind,” Benware said. “If God is speaking to you, share His words.”
Riley Weaver, a JBU alumna that graduated in 2019, lives in Dallas, where the city is currently on lockdown except for essential businesses. Weaver decided to contribute to Social Sidewalking in order to encourage her neighbors. “In a big city like ours, there are lot of public parks and other spaces. A lot of people are still wanting to go to the public parks … I wanted it to be a message to encourage people to stay home, to stay in the neighborhood,” Weaver said.
Carlson hopes that more people will get involved with sharing positivity in their neighborhoods. “If you’re interested in contributing to Social Sidewalking, please write an encouraging message on your sidewalk. Then, take a photo and DM it to our Instagram page or tag us in the photo,” Carlson said. “We’d love to share your work! Feel free to also text your neighbors to join in.”
For those who are unsure of their artistic skills or do not know what to write, Weaver offers some inspiration. “Think of something that you wish someone would say to you. It could be a Bible verse or something like ‘Try to stay positive,’” Weaver said. “Chalk goes away with the rain. It isn’t permanent if you make a mistake. And it’s a good way to connect with others.”