Thursday, February 28, 2013

This week's inspiring pop culture moment: Brendan O’Connell

Courtesy of Brendan O’Connell
Each week we take a look around our pop culture world and try to find one moment that stood out as the most inspiring. It might be a celebrity who is doing charitable things; a TV shows that inspires us to be better. Here is this week's most inspiring pop culture moment. 

Brendan O’Connell is a talented painter who discovered his talents while he was in his 20s and living in Paris. While writing a novel about artists, he decided to teach himself to draw so he could better connect to his subjects. He instantly realized his inner passion. 

After returning to America years later, Brendan has found success with a series of paintings that make the mundane beautiful by depicting items in the aisles of Walmart. And while he continues to explore his own creativity, he hopes to inspire it in others. 

As a result, Brendan co-founded a very special organization. In a recent exclusive interview, he described his mission, “'s purpose is really simple. It's to spark next generation creativity.”

It’s seemingly straightforward aim, with a very loftier goal in mind. Brendan acknowledged, “In some ways when we look at the objects, services, products that you spend most of your time and money on, they did not exist 10 years ago. So it is creativity that made that happen. And you think of any list of huge society challenges that we have from healthcare to spiraling deficits we owe money on money on money. Like budget cuts is not going to pay that back, yet creativity can solve that.” 

Therefore, Brendan believes that has a job to “nurture and foster creativity in the next generation. It sounds very soap box-ish but the reality is that the generations between me and my kids, [who are 10 and seven] feel as if they are sophisticated consumers. There's almost not enough producers, makers, creators in between. Whereas I feel like there is great hope in that generation that's in younger elementary right now.” 

With funding from the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, Walmart, Crayola and several other companies Brendan set out to make a difference. He recounted the first big push, “We get 8,500 kids in Arkansas to participate in a project called the Walart Project. And the idea was what if we can crowd source creativity get everyone to think about the that same ideas and interpret it in their own way. What if we can make it a digital and analog event?” 

He continued, “There were three stages. They acted this out in the classroom. There were 35 buses over a five -our period that bussed 500 kids to an indoor football field, where they delivered their piece. So there was this public spectacle aspect. And then all of those images were uploaded through our app and they were digitally printed and now they are on a mural in downtown Bentonville, a 75-foot mural.” 

That event set the master plan in motion. As Brendan noted, “That became the catalyst of what was. It’s like, well, what if we could do a national event? In the fall of 2013, we're going to try to get a million kids to participate.” 

He explained how the expanded concept would work, “You can have school districts as large as the one Bentonville do a physical, digital thing. But you can have somebody on the reservation in North Dakota with 10 kids participate. So the idea is we're going to build the digital infrastructure so that art teachers, art moms, art angels can sponsor a group of kids and download the kit. And they can be mini-event grass roots coordinators through our template, as it were.” 

Brendan added, “Then the fantasy is to get to do something really stupendous, like what if we projected a million kids are digitally onto the Washington Monument? And so similar to what you're doing is if we get a million participants, we can now interact with them in an ongoing way to foster their creativity — first through projects and then we designed some cool physical products that can help bridge the creativity gap that's in our culture.” 

All of these plans serve to solve a problem in our culture, which Brendan is focused on righting. “Rewind to between the ages of eight and 12, most kids stop drawing and the reason they stop drawing is because they can't do the realism in their head. They see a horse in their head and what they put on the page does not look like that and they feel like they can't do it. But they see that Jimmy in the corner can draw and Jimmy is an artist and they are not. Now the problem with that is not that Jimmy actually is an artist and they may or may not be, but the fact that they self prescribed this they come to a corollary conclusion that Jimmy is more creative than they are, which is false.” 

That thought fuels his agenda. “Our mission is to use the act of drawing, because I can teach anybody how to draw in a very short period of time. And so what if we got every kid who walked into Walmart and the younger generation to learn how to draw? We would affectively change society. Sometimes it's hard to get out of bed but that's an idea that can get you out of bed.” 

To learn more visit Find out more about Brendan O’Connell’s artwork on his official website and follow him on Facebook.  

For related stories check out:
This Week's Inspiring Pop Culture Moment: Ludo Lefebvre

This Week's Inspiring Pop Culture Moment: The Biggest Loser

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