It’s a tough time to be an artist.
Since the start of the pandemic, muralists, street artists and other visual creators have lost commissions as projects have been postponed and budgets have been cut. In order to make art, creators have been pushed to adapt their work in ways that were unheard of or unimaginable a year ago.
As the founder of Philly-based creative consultancy agency Rory Creative, Brendan Lowry has been acutely aware of the pandemic’s effect on artists. And as the pandemic continued to sideline artists throughout 2020, he became determined to find a way to use his agency to ensure local artists could be paid for their work and gain exposure, even while sheltering in place.
His solution: The Draw to Action coloring book, a coloring book for people of all ages featuring original designs from 30 Philadelphia-based artists, the proceeds from which would raise funds for contributing artists and organizations serving various communities in Philly.
A coloring book not only acts as a veritable portfolio for artists but, as Rory creative producer Debora Charmelus says, provides some “relaxing entertainment for people during this time at home.” In fact, studies from the past two decades show that coloring activities for adults can alleviate anxiety and induce a meditative state.
“We may not be able to put together an art show right now, or come together in person, but I think that, in 2020, we really learned the power [of] thinking differently and spreading your message in different ways. This is just our contribution to that,” says Charmelus.
Since going on sale on January 12 for $20, the book has already generated $14,000, the proceeds from which will all go to the designated organizations. Within 48 hours of its release, over half of the 750 copies of Draw to Action were sold, and Rory Creative has ordered a second batch to be printed; the agency tapped Kensington-based, environmentally-friendly publisher Fireball Printing to print the book.
Contributing artists weren’t told to follow a theme, but much of the art that adorns the 44-page coloring book is related to Philly or the pandemic: There’s a portrait of Benjamin Franklin in a face mask; bottles of hand sanitizer; water ice; cheesesteaks; soft pretzels.
Most of the contributing artists are people of color. Unlike previous projects by Rory Creative, including Draw to Action’s 2019 predecessor “Track Takeover,” which replaced advertising billboards along the SEPTA station platforms on Walnut Street with the works of artists, the pandemic made the search for artists mostly digital. While some of the artists in the coloring book have worked with the agency before, Charmelus says the agency found many of the artists through the #PhillyArtist tag on Instagram.
Charmelus and her team see the potential for a project like this to spread to other cities, though, for now, their focus remains on their own backyard.
“We see this growing outside of Philadelphia,” Charmelus says. “We see this being an opportunity for us to help fundraise for grassroots organizations in [other] cities. But I think for us, the most important thing is that we’re bringing attention to the organizations and the artists that are doing the work here.”Photo by Sophie Cécile Xu