Local artist Zack Smithey hoped for a positive reaction to his work and a good outcome for local charities when he announced his Easter art hunt project. The response he got left him gobsmacked.
"It got way bigger than I ever expected it to get," Smithey said on Monday. "I got 2,000 friend requests on Facebook. I maxed out my friends list. It was quite the job just hitting confirm, confirm, confirm."
Smithey spent the first three months of 2015 creating 1,000 paintings that were hidden last week on a finders-keepers basis. He took them, 100 pieces a day, to various neighborhoods, concealed them, and then posted photos on Facebook to provide seekers with clues on how to find them.
Many of the finders responded as Smithey hoped they would, with gifts of their own for the needy when he sent out the call. "We raised $4,067 for Covenant House (a homeless shelter for teenagers) on Friday," Smithey said, "and about a large dump truck-worth of food, clothing, diapers and sports equipment, in a little over an hour. I gave away 100 pieces at that location, and we raffled off two large pieces that were 48 inches by 72 inches."
Part of the idea was to bring people to different parts of the region. That included Ferguson. "So many people said they wouldn't have gone there if it wasn't for the Easter art hunt," Smithey said. "They were so glad that they did, because it wasn't what they saw on the news. I want positive stories to be out there, instead of just the negativity that incites fears."
One night he went to Stray Rescue with 50 paintings, and raised $2,500 for the shelter in a little over an hour. At Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles, it was $1,500. He gave a painting to a homeless man downtown, told him to sell it to the highest bidder, and put out the word to his followers. The high bid was $65, "and he didn't have to pick any cans that day." (Another homeless man kept his painting, because the police realized he was wanted for a parole violation, and hauled him in before the buyers could show up.)
His followers on social media were enthusiastic. "A thank you seems insignificant for the incredible gift you gave the community this week," wrote one. Another thanked him "for the love you brought to St. Louis this last week... this is exactly what we, as a city, needed. One person CAN make a difference...!"
Will there be another Easter art hunt in 2016? "I will do something similar, but I don't want to be predictable, I don't want to be a one-trick pony," Smithey said. "I figure I have about nine months to figure out my project for next year."
On Saturday at Cicero's in University City, Smithey spent more than four hours signing his paintings, along with copies of a March 29 Post-Dispatch article about the hunt, hats, T-shirts, purses and other random items. "It was kind of crazy," he said. "The line went through Cicero's, out the door, and around the block." He also raffled off two large paintings, raising $2,000 to be shared by Growing American Youth and a local cancer patient's medical expenses.