A Riot of Kindness

The outer wall of the Amsterdam in St. Petersburg’s EDGE District turned into an all-people’s canvas on September 11, conveying messages of kindness to commemorate the day in the global Kindness Riot.

“It’s so amazing that I got to be part of this,” said Brian Messick. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done… It’s absolutely awesome and fantastic and moving.”

Messick brought the idea to the Amsterdam owner John Cullen and his girlfriend Zoie Torres as a way to mark the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Together, they called on the local art community, invited the public and supplied paints, music and craft beer for the “Paint Your Kindness” mural on the bar’s outer wall, which had previously displayed a rainbow for the Pride Parade.

“You bring people who aren’t artists, and you make them feel welcome and accepted, and allow them to express themselves,” Messick said. “You give them the opportunity, and look, they do it. It’s a success and a fabulous thing. We need more of this kind of stuff in St. Petersburg, absolutely.”

Local artists including Mason Schwacke, Nicholas Kekllas, Sebastian Coolidge and Juli Brown, painted the larger elements of the mural. Aron Paden painted the Mette, symbolizing unconditional, unattached loving kindness. The public painted their words and images of kindness in the remaining space.

Schwacke said having all artists work side by side, together with the public, creates “a friendly competition.”

“Everybody feeds off of one another,” Schwacke said. “That piece that homeboy did is so amazing, now I got to step it up… It’s about progression, learning and having fun.”

The day was not without challenges, but the “rioters” took it in stride.

“It poured down rain, and people stayed,” said Messick. “They stayed, and they came inside and everybody had fun and when it stopped, everybody came outside and painted. They didn’t bail on this; they thought it was something exciting to be a part of.”

A quote from Aesop is the centerpiece of the mural: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Said Amsterdam owner John Cullen – who implements his own acts of kindness in the business district and in the community by hosting auctions, fundraisers and providing exposure to local artists and brewers, among other things ¬– says, “Businesses have the opportunity to be the vehicle to promote [significant causes], other than doing things like ‘ladies’ night.’ There’s a bigger picture out there.”

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