What’s your favorite color? (I mean the one that you most enjoy looking at, not the one that looks best on you.) Does the answer vary with your mood? We know that it varies with age and culture: The largest contingent of Americans prefers blue. But what does it say about your personality and outlook?
Consistently among the “least popular” colors in preference tests, yellow is typically associated with people who are sunny, positive, extroverted, idealistic, energetic, gregarious. But what if you’re a sluggard/introvert/curmudgeon who most likes looking at bright yellow objects when you’re feeling most depressed? (Asking for a friend.) Could it be that yellow is therapeutic?
Kingston-based artist/activist G. Riley Johndonnell, a/k/a Uncle Riley, believes so, and he has made it his personal mission to bring a little more yellow – well, maybe a lot more – into this drab and dreary world. He founded a not-for-profit, UMEWE.org (as in you/me/we), dedicated to happy yellow subversion of the dominant social order of doom and gloom. In fact, he has made it the focus of an entire artistic and philosophical movement, frequently pressing the claim that Optimism is as valid an aesthetic as Modernism or Cubism.
Johndonnell went so far as to develop a new color to add to the official Pantone palette, which he dubbed International Optimism Yellow (108C), a/k/a INT-O Yellow. It’s as bright and sunny and cheery as yellow can get. Want to market a new line of antidepressants? Manufacture the capsules in this color and watch the money roll in. Prefer to dress all in black to demonstrate how Gothically artsy you are? You’ll have to step aside for a bit: International Day of Happiness is coming on March 20, and Uncle Riley is going to be making a bright yellow splash.
The artist’s presence first made itself visible amidst the grime of Midtown Kingston in 2016, when he launched a pop-up gallery called the (P)optimism Shoppe at 622 Broadway. (See Fiona Steacy’s article about its opening at http://bit.ly/2t22Oo4.) Johndonnell invited 100 Kingston High School students into his studio to paint individual flower motifs onto dinner-plate-sized yellow discs and put them on display, calling the installation Pollination; on the reverse of each is the student’s own idea for how to make Midtown a brighter place. He made an art video with members of the Kingston police force (against a bright yellow backdrop, natch) reclaiming their role as Peace Officers. He’s working on painting rocking chairs yellow, to be placed in pairs at strategic points in Midtown “to inspire/chronicle dialogue and community connectivity.”
The Optimism wave that’s building here is directed most of all at enhancing mental health, and specifically with shining a light on the oft-undiagnosed problem of depression. It started last year with a “Paint the Town Yellow” campaign in Madison, New Jersey, and this year the City of Kingston, Health Alliance, the Ulster County YMCA and other local agencies are partnering with UMEWE.org to paint Kingston yellow on March 20 to celebrate International Day of Happiness. Festivities will continue through May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. “Our goal for the future is to make this a turnkey program that mayors’ offices (anywhere) can download and activate with community members,” Johndonnell told Almanac.
Kickoff parties are happening this Saturday, March 3 for “We Are #INTO Yellow,” a collaborative exhibit between ARTBAR Gallery and the Storefront Gallery that challenges participating artists to go hog-wild seeing what they can create with Pantone 108C. As part of Kingston’s regular First Saturday art offerings, opening receptions will run from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Storefront Gallery, located at 93 Broadway in the Rondout, and from 5 to 9 p.m. at ARTBAR, located at 674 Broadway in Midtown. The paired shows will run through the month of March.
On Tuesday, March 20, there will be a Mayoral Proclamation and Yellow Ribbon Ceremony at City Hall, followed by a Yellow Party at ARTBAR starting at 7 p.m. Kingston residents and visitors are encouraged to wear yellow and “do a good deed” on International Day of Happiness. “We envision a weekly program of speakers and art exhibits running March 20 to May,” according to Johndonnell, along with yellow-themed fundraising parties and events benefiting mental health service organizations. Hosts are being sought for “Community Garden” yellow flower murals; donors are invited to help out at www.gofundme.com/umewe; and social mediaphiles can show support by making the hashtag #INTOyellow go viral.