Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: FargoMoorhead Rocks

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

Em Christie has been bringing art to the community for the past four years through an unusual art medium—rocks.

“I was looking for artistic things to do that were community-centered, and when I stumbled upon the FargoMoorhead Rocks group, I dove in headfirst. It was immediately something I identified as an approachable art medium,” Em said. “Canvases can often be really intimidating. There’s pressure to create ‘art with a capital A’. However, a painted rock is just such a low-pressure medium. People who feel like they aren’t an artist aren’t afraid to try painting a rock.”

FargoMoorhead Rocks is a local offshoot of The Kindness Rocks Project, which supports connection through the painting and placing of rocks with cheerful designs or inspirational messages throughout the community for people to find and enjoy. The grassroots initiative strives to support random acts of kindness by bringing smiles to the faces of strangers when they are surprised by the discovery of one of the “hidden” rocks. Members of the local public Facebook group paint rocks and hide them throughout the FargoMoorhead area, occasionally sharing hints and clues as to where a rock might be hidden. In addition, most of the rocks have the address of the public Facebook group written on the bottom so that finders may learn more about the initiative or post images of the rocks they have discovered. Finders are encouraged to keep the rock, leave it for someone else to find, or hide it in a new location— whichever will bring them the most joy.

As a random act of kindness, it is elegant in its simplicity, and has a startling amount of reach. While the rocks may start out being hidden locally, followers of their group can see images posted from people who have located rocks in places as far off as Canada, Texas, Florida and England.

While Em is just one of many members of FargoMoorhead Rocks, they have put their own spin on the initiative by spearheading public events that aim to involve the community through both the painting and discovery of rocks.

“I see it over and over at events,” Em said. “People begin to mingle. They instinctively encourage each other, oohing and aahing over what their neighbor is doing. They compliment each other and share smiles. It’s a huge part of this project.”

Since 2018, Em has hosted free public rock painting areas at both large events, like Slugfest and Pride in the Park, and smaller events, like the series of Pop-Up Painting Parties this past summer, all at their own expense.

“Really, everyone is an artist,” Em said. “I want this to be as accessible as possible.”

While Em provides everything needed to create the rocks—paint, brushes, rocks, finishing spray and sealer—they are hoping to make their public rock painting events even more accessible going forward.

“Since I fund everything myself, I currently only have one table and six chairs. To create more space, my only option is to put blankets, paints, and brushes on the ground nearby. For many people, this is not an accessible option,” Em said. “Or if I am set up at a park, wheelchair users end up being stuck at the end of a picnic table instead of in the middle of the action. FargoMoorhead Rocks is such an inclusive group, but this is one area we need to improve.”

Improvement is on the immediate horizon, as Em was selected as the June 2022 grantee of the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation. The gift of $1000 will enable them to purchase additional tables and more accessible seating, making future events far more accessible to participants.

“I am so excited that the grant will help me include more people. I think it’s something that everybody can try and everybody can succeed at, even people who are just starting out at painting and have maybe never held a paintbrush. No matter what you paint, when it goes out into the world and somebody finds it, your rock unexpectedly creates a smile where there wasn’t one before. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a huge, earth-shattering change, but I think this project is changing the world for the better, one smile at a time.”

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at cassclay

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