You Are Not Alone: The 3rd Seaport Mural Fest & Beyond

Written by Georgia Eggers
With Photos by Katie Godowski

Photo by Katie Godowski

The sun was shining through the intermittent clouds, as I made my downtown commute to the South Street Seaport. Off the train, I walked for a bit, turned the corner, and there amidst the rumbling of cars on the bridge overhead was a strip of wall by the waterfront, strokes of bright yellow, black, gray, and white took form. It seemed like a group of friends had come together to paint. There was a clear community in motion as I crossed the street, eager to be closer.

When first invited to do this interview, I didn’t know what to expect. The You Are Not Alone team had started this 160-foot mural in May, Mental Health Awareness Month, marking the third consecutive year of the Seaport Festival. This year, 11 artists contributed to the cause, all on the same wall, with anyone and everyone invited to watch them set up and paint. The murals stay up the whole year until they’re replaced by the following festival, remarkably remaining untouched by rogue graffiti.

This community built around the project is one of compassion, individuality, and connection. So

People and artists gathered near the walls in smaller groups, sitting down and chatting. Photographers were taking shots, video interviews were being conducted, strangers were walking through, friends were popping by. I can see how this description may come off as overwhelming, but somehow it wasn’t at all.

This community built around the project is one of compassion, individuality, and connection. So, in honor of one of the You Are Not Alone Murals goals: to uplift and individualize artists for the cause, I will do my very best to do what they do (best) and shine some light on the friendship that started it all.

You Are Not Alone Founders, Sam Schutz (Left) and Annica Lydenberg (Right) / Photo by Just A Spectator

The You Are Not Alone Murals public art project began in 2019 when Samantha Schutz, author of the memoir I Don’t Want to Be Crazy and Annica Lydenberg art director, lettering artist, and muralist (artist name: Dirty Bandits) teamed up to work, though their friendship began years ago when they were 19. They started with three murals in Brooklyn, done by Lydenberg and fellow artists Adam Fujita and Jason Naylor. Today, they have close to 100 murals around the world. Schutz says she “couldn’t have dreamed of this outcome,” but the ‘you are not alone’ message was already brewing long before this.

The author started receiving letters from readers with the repeated sentiment that her book made them feel less alone. “There is importance in being forthcoming with what you’re experiencing,” Schutz’s said.

Speaking with Schutz, the author was more than happy to be candid about mental health matters in the world, as well as her own. She grabbed a pack of Oreos and we slowly meandered down the path, looking at the murals, and handing out cookies to anyone who needed them. When asked why she started writing, she said, “I needed to look back and chronicle where I’d been to see how far I had come. I wanted to help heal myself.”

While the discussion around mental health remains stigmatized, there have been improvements, particularly in the last decade. However, Schutz’s memoir, originally published in 2006, was far before public opinion took a turn toward embracing awareness. She noted that when the book came out, there wasn’t much literature about panic attacks. “Someone has to go first; somehow has to be vulnerable,” she said. By choosing vulnerability and risking fears, such as the title portrays, it turned out many people didn’t think she was crazy – they felt the same way she did.

The author started receiving letters from readers with the repeated sentiment that her book made them feel less alone. “There is importance in being forthcoming with what you’re experiencing,” Schutz’s said, as it can encourage people to seek help and talk more openly about what they’re going through or what they’ve been through in the past. “Sometimes you’re only ready to hear and not ready to share yet. So, when other people are doing the sharing, there’s the option to enhance and amplify it.” This memoir was the catalyst in creating a safe space for people to feel understood. And this spark in connection is still felt as the You Are Not Alone Murals embolden more people to share their story.

Photo by Katie Godowski

The honesty and rawness in Schutz’s memoir touched people all over the world and one person in particular, her friend, Annica Lydenberg. The artist described the moments she read Sam’s book: “it wasn’t until I read her book that I could understand just how much she was struggling.” The ability to express oneself, as Schutz did with her memoir, allowed others to see and hear her fully, finding a piece of themselves in her story. And this concept creates one of the crucial pillars of the You Are Not Alone Murals: they encourage artists all over the world to make their own mural and share it to the world with the same message. By doing this, there are different people expressing what something means to them. It’s how they interpret it. The message is for everyone, but everyone has their own story.

Their hopes are that people see these murals, sometimes in a serendipitous way, and have the thought that “it is real, maybe I’m not alone.” The more murals, the better. The more locations, the better. The more people that see the message, the better.

When it came to the technical aspect of consistent ideas to send a message to the world, being direct was very important. The project was intentional about the words ‘you are not alone’ and colors they use, focusing on yellow, black, and white.

Lydenberg shared her own experiences and struggles to consistently see the positive in things, which further inspired the fundamental importance of repetition in their project. She believes by consistently hearing something, having experienced it for herself, you will start to believe in it. Their hopes are that people see these murals, sometimes in a serendipitous way, and have the thought that “it is real, maybe I’m not alone.” The more murals, the better. The more locations, the better. The more people that see the message, the better. “Once you realize the murals are coming from something, someone, and not just one, but hundreds of people, it makes it that much more believable.”

When it came to choosing this year’s artists for the Seaport Mural, it was crucial that different languages and cultures were represented. This year, languages range from Ukrainian to Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. “Each of these artists is lending their creativity and their vision. The words are the same, the colors are the same, but what everyone brings to it is something different.”

Art by Peach Tao / Photo by Katie Godowski

One of the artists, Peach Tao, a Chinese-American artist, shared that there is no direct translation of “you are not alone,” in Mandarin. She wrote in her artist statement: “for the Chinese version I chose 你不是孤獨一人 . Because the word 孤獨 is more about the internal feeling, a lonely mentality.” The importance of different people being able to read the message, falls in line with this idea of repetition and clarity around mental health. There can be no hesitation and doubt when it comes to saying you are not alone. “Seeing the phrase in your native language has a lot of power in it, the message is for you,” Schutz says.

Other artists involved in this year’s Seaport Mural Fest include: Ross Pino, Yukiko Izumi, Juan Carlos Pagan, Sara Lynne Leo, Yuma York, Lauren Clayton, Olga Muzician, Vexta, David Puck, Lauren Hom.

Photo by Katie Godowski

The You Are Not Alone Murals continue to encourage people all over the world to use their slogan, colors, and paint murals wherever they can, offering a helping hand and funding whenever possible. Lydenberg says the most important part of the project is that the artists are uplifted. Her biggest priority is that “artists still feel supported from afar. I don’t want it to grow in a way where people don’t feel a part of the community.”

Murals have been created in India, many U.S. states, and someone even painted a mural on their garage door in Canada. “Anywhere there are people out and about, is worth it.” The murals need to be outdoors and for the public. Schutz says “painting outside is a very intentional way to reach people. The idea of stumbling on one of our murals by accident, can be really beautiful.”

As light rain started, the artists did not stop. They simply put their hoods up, but never wavered from their mural. However, a few minutes later, the rain came down much harder and everyone grabbed what they could, laughing, and running for cover under the bridge. A quick break for the artists that had 2 days to complete their mural. The Oreos made it and were passed around. And I decided that it was probably time I go, a hard decision to make, as I felt I could have interviewed everyone there, and still not tire of hearing a new person’s opinion.

If you are ever in the area, or not at all, and even if it’s raining (you now know there’s no excuse, if the artists can manage, so can you…) I recommend you go to the Seaport, learn about the artists that contributed and also find a little bit of yourself there too.

To further look into the different artists participating in this year’s Seaport Muralfest please visit the link.

Georgia Eggers was born and raised in New York City. She moved to Ireland for university, studying international relations, politics, and economics. Having recently moved back to NYC, she is currently freelance writing as well as being an online English tutor. She believes through writing, you can always find the answer you’re looking for… and everyone should have a journal to express whatever they want with it!