|FLOTUS and 8th graders at the New Museum with a painting by Trey Speegle|
New York City, NY - First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday morning kicked off the fourth anniversary celebration for Let's Move! with a visit to the New Museum to get a sneak peek at the Taking Back The Streets art show. The gritty, colorful exhibit features the work of 14 acclaimed street artists who made pieces inspired by Mrs. Obama's Drink Up hydration campaign, designed to drench kids with the idea that water is as cool as the city's downtown art scene.
Since Drink Up was launched in September of 2013 by Mrs. Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the foundation that supports Let's Move!, it's had all kinds of celebrities sign on as endorses, from elite athletes to the Muppets. But the exhibit is the first by street artists to both rain attention on child obesity and serve as an antidote to the pro-soda and junkfood advertising messages kids are assaulted with on a daily basis, according to organizer Rose Cameron, CEO of bottled water company WAT-AAH!, which markets its sugar-free "functional" water to kids and teens.
Cameron led Mrs. Obama on a tour through the gallery so she could see the works that use the Drink Up water-drop logo or the campaign slogan, "you are what you drink so drink up," or a combination of the two. Shepard Fairey, perhaps best known for creating the iconic poster of Mrs. Obama's husband for his first run for national office, donated work, as did Kenny Scharf, another well-known artist.
Their images will also be used on special-edition bottles of WAT-AAH!, one of the corporate partners that has signed on to support Drink Up, along with the nation's major bottled water makers, filter makers, and tap-water proponents. Artists Swoon, Metro Zu, Maya Hayuk and Lichiban have also donated art.
Mrs. Obama looked a bit like she was ready for one of the artists to do her portrait as she strolled the gallery with Cameron, clad in a pop-art-inspired pattered skirt with a maroon top and black suede knee-high boots.
|The kids tell Mrs. Obama about their school projects|
The kids created their own Drink Up art, and also had a painting party with Speegle while Mrs. Obama toured the exhibit, helping fill in some of the colors on his piece--"with good old Benjamin Moore paint," Speegle said. He uses vintage paint-by-number images as the basis for his oeuvre, and created a smaller silk-screened canvas as well as a massive 8 x 16 foot work featuring the words "Drink Up."
The giant work will go on a national tour with the rest of the exhibit after the show finishes its New York run. Later, the art will be auctioned off to raise money for PHA and for WAT-AAH!'s own foundation. Founded six years ago by Cameron, WAT-AAh! is now sold in more than 10,000 retail outlets nationwide, as well as in schools.
Thirteen-year old Sophia Stewart-Chapman--like her classmates clad in a gray Drink Up t-shirt--read Mrs. Obama a prepared statement welcoming her to the show, and explaining why it is important to kids.
"Growing up in New York City I got to see New York’s famous graffiti and street art every day," Stewart-Chapman said. "Today, I often feel bombarded by images that can be confusing or encourage poor decision making. That is definitely not the case with WAT-AHH!’s Taking Back the Streets exhibition...it is so important for youth to be inspired by the power of art and this art is creating such an important message."
"By making drinking water cool, I’m learning that young people just like me can take control of our health."
Mrs. Obama applauded the kids, some of whom were practically levitating with thrill.
"This is so exciting and you are all so cool," Mrs. Obama said. "You are guys are gonna make a huge, huge impact on the health of our nation."
The WAT-AAH! bottles, Mrs. Obama said, make you "just want to drink water."
"Keep it up, keep it up," Mrs. Obama said. "You guys are role models for so many kids, the fact that you guys can be involved in something this huge and exhibit this kind of creativity all over country is like a once-in-a lifetime thing, so you should feel very excited because I certainly am and this is really, really, really good."
The kids are in the midst of a year-long social justice project that is part of their 8th grade curriculum, according to their teacher, Sarah Barlow, and chatted with Mrs. Obama about their projects. She listened, standing in front of the group, who stood in a two-deep line against the theater wall.
One student said she was looking at environmental issues, and another female student explained she was focusing on sex trafficking. "That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? That it’s happening here in this country," Mrs. Obama said. A male student said he was focusing on veteran’s issues, in particular Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Mental health support is "so important" to "our veterans," Mrs. Obama said. "It’s an issue I care about and I work a lot with military families."
Mrs. Obama praised them again.
"This is amazing, amazing, you guys are so, you’re on it," she said. "I feel now comforted to turn the world over to you--because we’re gonna do that. It’s so good to be informed and to do it in a creative and artistic way."
|Speegle photographs FLOTUS as she signs his painting|
"Look at that, you’re tagging, you’re bombing, Michelle Obama!" Francillon shouted from where he was seated behind the ropeline that held back a small audience of about twenty and the far larger press contingent observing the action.
Mrs. Obama posed in a group photo with the kids and took a separate portrait with Speegle before handing out hugs to all before departing. 13-year-old Lola Picayo almost imploded after her hug, doing a little dance and squealing with excitement. According to teacher Barlow, the kids were invited because bottled-water maker Cameron's son was an eighth grader last year at the progressive school.
After she left, Mrs. Obama headed off to visit a different kind of operation that markets cool, joining Jimmy Fallon at Rockefeller Center to tape The Tonight Show. Celebrating his debut week as host of the iconic late-night chat fest, Fallon has helped Mrs. Obama mark the anniversaries of Let's Move! in past years. Actor Will Ferrell was also on the show, and the threesome did a skit together.
Mrs. Obama will celebrate the second anniversary of Let's Move! with more events next week; her schedule is here.
"I was pretty nervous, but mostly excited about meeting Mrs. Obama," said Stewart-Chapman, the student who introduced the First Lady. She was unaware of Let's Move! and Drink Up before her school was invited to the art show, she said.
"I should for sure drink more water," Stewart-Chapman said. "I drink mostly soda and juice. Me and all my friends could drink more water."
|Speegle with the First Lady's signature on his piece--and the pen she used|
Speegle was also thrilled with meeting Mrs. Obama, he said: "You know, she couldn't be any more charming and blindingly beautiful."
He also likes the idea of the Drink Up campaign, and the Taking Back The Streets show, he said. "I could definitely drink more water," Speegle said. "Everyone could, right? And it's a great way to engage kids."
He said he hopes to one day display his art with Mrs. Obama's signature in a big, permanent show of his work if it's not purchased by a collector.
Mrs. Obama also attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser while in New York.
Taking Back The Streets was at New Museum for just one day for the launch of the exhibit, which included an evening reception that had a guest-list of local luminaries. It will be a pop-up exhibit for the general public to view from February 22--March 1, 2014, at the WallPlay gallery space, located at 118 Orchard Street at Delancey Street. Artists Shantell Martin, Damien Mitchell, Tony Concep, VESA, Damon Johnson, MENT and Smurfo also have work in the show.
The exhibit can be viewed seven days a week from 11:00 AM-7:00 PM, and artists will be on hand to help kids and families create more art, a WAT-AAH! spokesman said. After the New York pop-up, the show will be in Washington, DC, in mid-March at a yet-to-be decided location, and then will tour the country.
"Drink Up is working to remind people that drinking water is one of the best things you can do every day for your health,” said Drew Nannis, PHA’s chief marketing officer. "This art installation, and subsequent national tour, not only helps us do that, but also recognizes the power that positive marketing can have. We’re incredibly thankful for these street artists’ creative genius and WAT-AAH!’s leadership in helping us show everyone that you are what you drink and when you drink water you Drink Up."
|Artists Lichiban and Maya Hayuk pose with their art|
*CLICK HERE for links to all Let's Move! posts on Obama Foodorama.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; last photo by @Tonyncp