AMSTERDAM — Ella Blanchard and Grace Smith wanted to give their neighbors on Hickory Ridge Drive something to smile about.
Around 1 p.m. Tuesday, the two started at one end of their street, just past the entrance from McKay Road and, armed with a healthy supply of chalk, started drawing.
They didn’t plan on stopping their impromptu art project — a mix of brightly-colored inspirational messages and drawings — until they’d reached the other end of their cul de sac, about six hours later.
“We’ve been seeing what’s on the news, and it’s all been pretty negative,” said the 15-year-old Blanchard. “We just tried to brighten up our street and do something more positive.”
By the time they were about three-quarters of the way down the street, Hickory Ridge Drive was littered with smiley faces, hearts, stars and rainbows, as well as a number of positive messages.
Some were more generic, uplifting messages like “You Got This!,” “Rise Up!,” “Love Life” and “Better Days to Come,” along with multiple Bible passages.
Others were more socially conscious, including multiple Black Lives Matter messages and calls for equality like “No Place For Hate,” “We Are Equal,” and “There is Only One Race. The Human Race.”
The two said they undertook the effort to combat the seemingly relentless negativity of the last few months, between the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died while in police custody.
“We just wanted to kind of spread more positivity than there has been going around,” said the 14-year-old Smith.
“Spread some important messages,” Blanchard added.
Once Blanchard and Smith started, they were determined to keep coming up with as many messages as they could to cover the entire block.
“At least down to the bottom of the hill,” Blanchard said. “That’s what we want to do.”
There was one small complication that arose.
A little while into the project, Blanchard and Smith began to realize that they didn’t have enough chalk to finish the entire street.
“I had to get my parents to get more,” Smith said. “[The chalk] started getting too short.”
A quick supply run later, and the girls were back to drawing.
Their efforts started to draw attention, as neighbors on Hickory Ridge Drive did what they could to encourage Blanchard and Smith as they scribbled away on the hot asphalt on a toasty June afternoon.
“A lot of neighbors have come out, talked about it with us, given us snacks and stuff,” Smith said. “They’re encouraging us. It’s very nice.”
Spontaneous displays of public art have become commonplace as signs of encouragement during the COVID-19 crisis. The 518 Rainbow Hunt effort has seen thousands upon thousands of rainbows appearing in different places — shop windows, houses, fire hydrants — throughout the Capital Region, while last month Hagaman resident Georgiann Mock brightened up her entire street by secretly placing rainbow-colored ribbons on mailboxes and street signs in the middle of the night, providing a surprise when her neighbors awoke the next morning.
Blanchard and Smith weren’t hoping for a surprise, but they did take a similar inspiration.
“We want to brighten up peoples’ days,” Blanchard said.
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.