In 2013, artist and self-proclaimed civic “actioneer” Evan Meyer launched a neighborhood beautification project to spruce up a single Santa Monica corridor by partnering with fellow artists and placing murals up and down Lincoln Boulevard. In the years that followed, the project evolved into Beautify Earth, an expanded version of the modest Westside mural project that’s resulted in 9,000 works being painted on walls across the globe.
In February, Meyer and co-founders Paul Shustak, Ruben Rojas, and Igor Beylin launched Beautify, a for-profit tech platform and offshoot of the Beautify Earth non-profit. The website matches artists’ profiles with commercial and residential building owners who want to fund murals on their walls, as well as sponsors including American Express, Starbucks, AT&T, Heineken, Zappos, and TOMS. To date, more than 400 artists have registered on Beautify.
In March, the coronavirus led to sweeping business closures as safer-at-home orders went into effect. But even in quarantine, Meyer and Beautify artists have continued to color the landscape, interpreting the effects of the outbreak in their work like so many other street artists around the world. So far, Beautify murals have gone up on walls and boarded-up windows outside more than a dozen shuttered stores, restaurants, and clubs, from Pasadena to Santa Monica, giving the artists an opportunity to keep expressing themselves and earn money during a shaky time while giving neighborhoods a shot of optimism.
“There are three things we try to get the artists to focus on,” Shustak says. “Celebration, community, and health.”
You can see those themes on the boarded-up Sur La Table near Third Street Promenade, where Meyer, Rojas, and other artists painted “Togetherness!” in big, red letters. Or on the boarded-up Wasteland vintage clothing store a few blocks away, where Corie Mattie painted “After the Plague Came the Renaissance,” referencing Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam and the Renaissance movement that emerged from the Black Death in Europe. You can also see it on Meyer’s mural of a simple flower outside of a yoga and taichi studio in Pasadena that resembles stained glass.
“The reason why we’re around is because there are millions and millions of walls and structures that look like prisons,” says Meyer. “We don’t have to live in a world of grey, beige cinder blocks. If you put positive messages and color in people’s lives, they feel better and treat people better. You have a self-perpetuating world of color, inspiration, and joy. If not, the alternative is garbage.”
Rojas, a full-time artist, is responsible for more than 100 murals across the country. As a response to the pandemic, he painted “You Can’t Quarantine Love” outside the Chestnut Club and “Love is Standing Six-Feet Apart” outside Rustic Canyon, both in Santa Monica.
“A lot of my work is living through love,” says Rojas. “It’s not coming from a place of fear or anxiety. Quarantine is such a negative buzzword. We’re not a government voice. People are tired of hearing, ‘Stay at home!.’ I can do my art and still follow the rules and get people to feel safer. You can’t quarantine love no matter how isolated you feel.”
Rojas adds: “Murals are not only good for the health of the community, but they’re a crime deterrent. Art attracts eyeballs. It attracts visitors. So it’s gonna make it hard for people to loot businesses.”
Corie Mattie, who lives in Hollywood with her doctor brother, has created several murals under the hashtag #LaHopeDealer, a play on the image of the neighborhood dope dealer. But instead of drugs and poisoned candy, Mattie says she’s handing out “positivity and hope.” Her first project for Beautify is located on the back of an empty pop-op shop in West Hollywood. Painted canary yellow, the mural reads “Cancel Plans. Not Humanity” and features a likeness of Mattie wearing a mask and trench coat, along with the word “Hope,” the Twitter icon, a laptop, praying-hands emoji, and cell phone.
“You can cancel plans, but you can still stay connected to your friends and family,” says Mattie.
Mattie’s work has become such a viral hit she regularly sends out DIY stencils of her mural to other people who’ve displayed them in cities like New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, and Austin.
“I wanted people to tap into their creativity and feel a part of it,” Mattie says. “This is a weird time. People are struggling mentally, too. It’s a way to express themselves. It’s like art therapy. This is an L.A. thing, but I wanted to close the gap in terms of community. It could apply to any city. If I can’t be there, my pieces can be there.”
Recently, Beautify launched a new campaign called “Back to the Streets,” which aims to get 1,000 murals by 1,000 artists in 100 cities as they reopen after the lockdown. For each mural, the artist makes $7,000.
“It’s a campaign to bring people back to the streets in a joyful, community-minded way, but not too soon,” says Shustak. “We wanna remind people what they loved about being out in public and in the community. It’s also a way to protect and save urban spaces from blight that occurred during this time of neglect.”