Skywriting, scavenger hunts, and signs: How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance

Even while social distancing, Atlantans are finding creative ways to engage with their neighbors and communities

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
In Virginia-Highland, Olga Urraza has been setting up scavenger hunts for her neighbors.

Photograph courtesy of Olga Urraza

Virginia-Highland resident and preschool teacher Olga Urraza always felt everyone has an inner child, but making artwork for a yard scavenger hunt as her neighbors shelter in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak has reaffirmed it. After hearing about teddy bear scavenger hunts in other neighborhoods, she printed out 12 bears, laminated them, and hung them up around her yard, from windows to trees to the mailbox. The teddy bears were a hit with neighbors strolling past her house, and in subsequent weeks, she’s swapped them out with farm animals and butterflies. “Everybody plays, and everybody smiles, which is what I wanted,” says Urraza. “To give and spread happiness through these hard times.”

That sentiment has been shared by others throughout metro Atlanta. In Buckhead, Her Campus co-founder Windsor Western collaborated with local company Bravest Balloons to create a magnificent display on her front porch. “We’ve had countless neighbors stop by to take pictures and have met many members of our community as a result,” she says. On a smaller scale, Clarkston resident Kamilla Bridges placed “googly eyes” made from paper plates on bushes outside of her friend’s home.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
Kamilla Bridges gave these bushes some personality.

Photograph courtesy of Kamilla Bridges

Even while social distancing, Atlantans are still finding a way to connect with their neighbors through various forms of art. Here are just a few of those projects.

LightItBlue Atlanta
SkyView Ferris wheel

Photograph by Erin Sintos

On Thursday, April 9, several landmarks around the city including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the SkyView Ferris wheel, and the College Football Hall of Fame participated in the national #LightItBlue campaign. The campaign is meant to thank essential workers on the front lines while also bringing calm to city skylines.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
A heart above Buckhead

Photograph courtesy of Falcon RV Squadron

Hearts Over Atlanta
Retired Delta pilot Randy Sage has been taking to the sky for over 45 years. His Peachtree City-based flying group, the Falcon RV Squadron, was inspired to do flybys over local hospitals as a way to say thank you to medical professionals. Groups of eight to 10 planes created large hearts in the sky above hospitals in Atlanta, Thomaston, and Peachtree City. “They’re all to say thank you to the medical personnel and essential workers because of all the extra work they’ve been doing over the last several months. Just our way of kind of paying back to the community,” Sage says. There will be more hearts coming soon, but for now you can watch a video of the magic here.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
Artist Bianca Acosta displays her Sign of Solidarity. She is also selling a print of the illustration.

Photograph courtesy of Living Walls

Signs of Solidarity
Monica Campana, founder of Living Walls, hadn’t put pencil to paper in seven years until the coronavirus shut down the city in mid-March. Feeling anxious about what was happening in the city and the world, she sketched a banner that she eventually hung outside of her house that read, “We’re all in this together.” This inspired her to revive an on-going project that the organization began in 2017 called Signs of Solidarity.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
Elizabeth Lang displays her Living Walls sign.

Photograph courtesy of Living Walls

They commissioned 16 artists to create their own banners, and with the help of a donor they were able to expand to 30 artists. While the banners are on display at people’s homes, Living Walls has encouraged them to be shared on social media. “They’re also giving people a break from everything that you’re seeing on Instagram and Facebook or Twitter regarding COVID-19.” Campana says. “We’re giving people an extra thing to look at that may give them a bit of hope.”

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
An illustration by artist Barry Lee is digitally displayed on the side of the Reverb hotel downtown.

Photograph courtesy of Living Walls

The social media posts have inspired people to create their own banners not just in Atlanta, but throughout the South. The campaign has also led to three mural commissions for Living Walls, one of which will be on the Atlanta Medical Center in Old Fourth Ward. They also have digital banners on display downtown that will rotate in the coming weeks.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
Cody Thompson’s rainbow spanned two windows.

Photograph courtesy of Cody Thompson

Window Art
One of the most popular ways people have been communicating with the outside world is through window art. Rainbows, a symbol of hope, are appearing in various sizes throughout neighborhoods. Photographer and Vinings resident Madison Hernandez helped her four-year-old nephew paint a rainbow on butcher paper. When they hung it in the window, he excitedly ran out to see it. “I told him it could help spread positivity in the neighborhood,” says Hernandez. In Sandy Springs, Cody Thompson created a rainbow out of tissue paper that spans two windows. “I needed something to do with my hands that wasn’t answering emails or household chores,” she says. “Seeing the neighborhood kids stop and point at the rainbow has been so fun.” Go for a walk, and you may see rainbows in Sandy Springs or hearts in Ormewood Park and East Atlanta Village.

Another group working to make windows cheerier is L’Arche Atlanta, a home-based community in Oakhurst that supports people with developmental disabilities. Before the pandemic, they were set to launch a meet-up program, but instead, community events coordinator Becca Van Galder hosted a virtual meetup where the group created signs thanking essential workers. “The main focus was to connect and to do something for the community,” says Van Galder. The group spent 90 minutes together on the Zoom call, which gave them plenty of time to catch up while creating their art. L’Arche plans on hosting more Zoom meet-ups, which are open to anyone.

Scavenger Hunts
With so many kids home from school, many communities are organizing teddy scavenger hunts. In Sandy Springs, Ashley Miller asked everyone in her 265-home neighborhood to hide a bear either in a window or yard. She found that this was not only a great way to engage children, but also the adults in the neighborhood who are now grandparents. “This quarantine has shown that everybody can band together,” says Miller. “Normally, I feel like everybody’s really busy and nobody connects.” Next week their neighborhood is swapping out teddy bears with safari animals.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
Spruill Arts Center produced yard sign versions of this mural as a fundraiser for artists.

Photograph by Lia Picard

Yard Signs
In Dunwoody, the Spruill Arts Center replicated their “Everything Will Be OK” mural, created by artist Jason Kofke, into yard signs that were sold as a fundraiser for artists impacted by the pandemic. Despite some controversy with the artist, who initially wasn’t involved in the project but is now working with Spruill, the signs have become popular symbols in Dunwoody and elsewhere.

How Atlantans encourage each other from a distance
A sidewalk sign made from wooden pallets

Photograph by Lia Picard

In Brookhaven, printed signs dot yards with messages such as “after the storm comes the rainbow” and “we are in this together.” Some homes have hand-painted signs to thank essential workers.

Some have added a humorous twist on their yard signs. When Atlanta shutdown in mid-March, Emily Holden, a Decatur resident and owner of Jimella’s Bakery, decided to put out a “joke of the day” on an Ikea chalkboard. “We live off a big cut-through street for walkers and cars,” Holden says. “It’s been so much fun to watch people go past it. If I don’t put it out early enough they chastise me.”