Artist and musician Alex Cook uses his creative gifts to spread hope and encouragement.
The YOU ARE LOVED mural project, which I created in 2014, uses the power of art and simple messages to bring uplift to people around the county. Collaborating with schools, places of worship, prisons, and many more, the project creates enormous murals whose subject is one of these 5 messages:
- YOU ARE LOVED
- YOU ARE NEEDED
- YOU ARE IMPORTANT
- YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
- YOU CAN DO IT
Having struggled for four years with depression, I chose these messages because they were the very things I most needed to know and feel during that time. It has always felt crazy to me that there is so much negativity in our public spaces. After coming out the other side of that depression, I thought, “Why in the world do we need to be subtle about the fact that we need love? That we have a desperate need to know and feel our value?”
In 2013, I was creating a mural at an elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. The principal had told me that one of her hopes for the mural was that it would help the students feel loved. As I considered and thought about what kind of image would communicate that thought (and as I watched all these precious children walking through the halls) it dawned on me, “We will tell them directly!” And the first YOU ARE LOVED mural was born.
From that point I have dreamed of making these murals, towering over us with the message of our value, our belovedness, our importance. And the idea has been met with enormous enthusiasm.
At the same time, I feel that sometimes it’s a challenge to the public norm to confidently proclaim that we are loved. In one case, as I began a YOU ARE LOVED mural in a prison in Massachusetts, I could feel the skepticism around me. I felt fear that I was going to look foolish, that I would be mocked for being so open about this. But, I knew that this would be part of it from when I started. And the mural got all kinds of reactions. Some people did think it was silly. Others adored it and were visibly moved.
To me, that’s just right. I know that not everyone is going to immediately feel the same way I feel about it. Many people may feel exactly the opposite and have an opposite inner reaction. But my hope is to start conversations between people and within ourselves. Am I loved? Are we important? Who decided? And on and on. We, as a culture, have a lot of thinking to do about our worth and the worth of others.
I saw the ultimate proof of the value of the project last winter when I received an email from a man who told me that he had been considering ending his life. “I said a little prayer to ask for guidance,” he wrote, “and later took a walk and saw this …” and attached was a picture of a YOU ARE LOVED mural. “It felt like a personal message to me,” he wrote.
As far as I can tell, it is only a firm understanding and feeling of our value and worth that makes it possible to get up every day and contribute to our world. I long to make more and more of these murals, anywhere and everywhere, and make an end to a culture that is embarrassed to acknowledge our need for love and our ability to give it.
You can more YOU ARE LOVED murals and learn how to bring a YOU ARE LOVED mural to your community at YouAreLovedMurals.com.
Here are a few samples of my art:
Photo: Alex Cook
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