Thursday Spotlight: Masks In The Wild Commissions Artists and Promotes Public Health

Photo by Tayler Smith

In a time where public health and artists’ careers are at risk, Masks In The Wild boldly and resourcefully looks to uplift each of these vital entities. A grassroots project that provides aid to artists who want to create and distribute free masks to loved ones, healthcare workers, and those in need, Masks In The Wild is timely and, per its permit, an “essential business” aimed at removing the fear and stigma surrounding our new normal of mandatory mask-wearing in public. Through its mission, artists are commissioned to create, and the public benefits via the sharing of secure and free resources.

Launched by Wallplay and 25 KentMasks In The Wild symbolizes the innovative and community-centered ethos of Brooklyn creatives. All New York City artists are welcome to apply for a commission online, and to learn more, here is our Thursday Spotlight interview with Wallplay founder Laura O’Reilly.

Greenpointers: Your main work is with Wallplay, which based in the neighborhood. Can you explain the scope of your work there for those who may be unfamiliar? How has the company evolved in your time of leadership?

Laura O’Reilly: Wallplay is a hyperlocal platform that programs and operates vacant spaces with commercial pop-ups and art exhibitions until landlords secure permanent tenants. I founded the company with my best friend and cousin Alessandra DeBenedetti in 2013. Currently, Wallplay operates 14 spaces throughout New York City. In the summer of 2019 we partnered with 25 Kent to transform their ground floor spaces into “community hubs.” We strive for our spaces to be powered by the local community by facilitating the ability for locals to apply to program the spaces that inhabit their neighborhood.

New Yorkers model the distributed masks; see more on Instagram @masksinthewild

Talk to us about the genesis of Masks in the Wild — are you an artist yourself and/or did you want to utilize our creative community to its fullest potential?

I grew up in Manhattan in the performing arts community and the thing that has always stood out to me is the electricity in the street. You may see a man naked in a trench coat one minute and the most beautiful sax performance behind a piece of street art the next. Masks In The Wild was born out of a desire to help artists connect in a safe and essential way while bringing that same magic to the street that makes New York, New York. Instead of sterile medical masks artists can help create a new emotional response and bring a smile to New Yorkers who have been isolating. It’s been a traumatic experience for many. Art heals and we need to connect to art now more than ever.

You must’ve received a number of great mask submissions. Have there been any patterns or designs that you’ve particularly enjoyed? Any motifs amongst them?

They have all been great! It’s hard to pick favorites — I personally love Roxie Darling’s fringe masks, Julia Sinelnikova’s sculptural masks, and Cameron Loeb’s costume-inspired work. Each artist expressed themselves authentically and each mask has been very unique. They are still in the process of making their masks. We welcome submissions at www.masksinthewild.com.

Once the artists are commissioned, so to speak, do the masks go to you to distribute to those who sign up and request them?

We provide a stipend and materials to the artists. Once each artist has completed their masks, and after taking sanitization precautions, they are invited to distribute 20-30% of the masks hyper-locally to loved ones and essential workers in their neighborhood. Many artists are connected to non-profit organizations assisting those in need already. The packs we provide have safety instructions & disclaimers. We are then going to distribute the remaining 70% to local food banks and organizations doing home deliveries to the elderly.

To take a step back, how are you doing at this moment?

I’m hopeful for the future. With every adversity comes opportunity for change. I have faith in humanity and I believe that we’ll come out of this stronger on the other side. Wallplay, like many businesses, suffered severe losses but we luckily don’t have lease liability with the way our business model works, so we have been able to survive. I feel gratitude for all the support we have received with PPP funding and our community of creatives who have a resilient spirit. I also have my boyfriend’s extremely cute dog Bennie to thank for being the best emotional support animal a gal could ever ask for; it makes the harder days a little easier to get through.

Masks In The Wild came together so quickly: what has it been like watching it grow and what are your continued goals?

Masks In The Wild’s Lead Producer Colby Cannon Welsh and Wallplay’s Director of Programming Regina Harsanyi have done a fantastic job adapting quickly in real-time. Safety precautions were number one for us. Colby did extensive research and has implemented a great system. We were also officially permitted to operate as an essential business by the local government. Producing a project in the middle of a pandemic presents challenges that we have never had to navigate before. We are excited to see Masks In The Wild grow! We are very grateful for the portion of our grant from Rockefeller Brothers Fund that we were able to utilize for the project and hope to attract new donors and partners to see the project grow and take on a life of its own.

Anything else you’d like to add? We so appreciate your work!

There are DIY resources on www.masksinthewild.com if you would like to make your own masks at home. Use the hashtag #masksinthewild to come up in our live feed. We are also actively accepting submissions for Wallplay 25 Kent from local artists who would like to be featured in the windows.We’ll be doing a QR code project that features artists work in the windows. Submissions are open at www.wallplay25kent.com

Learn more at masksinthewild.com

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vanity Fair, American Theatre, HowlRound, Observer, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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