In Z Hood: On the Wings of a Social Butterfly

Volunteers begin to paint the butterfly over the brown stencil. (Kelly MacConomy)

When Art Can Change the World

By Kelly MacConomy

ALEXANDRIA,VA- At the 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz posed a question: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” Popular culture embraced this conflating a theoretical principle—chaos theory—with butterflies in Brazil causing wind in the U.S. It spread like wildfire.

The crux of the theory is that small variations in existing conditions can subvert expected outcomes, with often widely unpredictable results. In Alexandria, 2019 brought unexpected changes to City Council, and a dynamic young woman, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, serving as Vice Mayor. Bennett-Parker spearheaded the effort to bring the The Butterfly Effect mural project to Port City.

Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker with Brian Kelly, Heather Peeler, and Tamsin Green. (Kelly MacConomy)

The Butterfly Effect & Social Butterflies

The Butterfly Effect is a global public art and philanthropy project that was founded in 2013 by California-based artist Tasha Wahl. The project’s website (butterflyeffectbethechange.com) says “The Butterfly Effect is an underground movement redefining philanthropy…by providing individuals the opportunity to give to a cause close to their heart.”

The Social Butterfly giving campaign pairs charitable causes and social media photo opportunities with the intent that philanthropy on the smallest level inspires contagious generosity, like a ripple in a pond or a domino effect. A lot of less is more.

Bennett-Parker first learned of the project on Instagram. “The Butterfly Effect Project highlights the opportunity for everyone to embody the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi,” she says, “becoming the change they want to see in the world by facilitating small acts of kindness, encouraging generosity and promoting creativity.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker receives help from volunteers to paint the Butterfly Effect mural. (Kelly MacConomy)

“The Butterfly Mural will build community, promote vibrancy on Upper King Street and spotlight nonprofits in a fun, interactive way,” she adds. Through September 8, visitors will be able to take a picture within the butterfly and select a charity of their choice (from a list of more than 250) to receive a donation, with funding provided by Ms. Wahl and ACT for Alexandria. The Butterfly Effect believes that we can be the change we want to see in the world by facilitating small acts of kindness, encouraging generosity, and promoting creativity.

Bringing the butterfly to life

Starting at 8:00 a.m. on a steamy day late in June, dozens of die-hard volunteers joined the Vice Mayor to piece together the intricate stencil that would guide painting of the mural later that day and the next to be ready for the fundraising kickoff. The butterfly pattern was provided by Ms. Wahl’s organization, customized for diverse Alexandria to include the pay-it-forward motto in Spanish and Arabic.

Bennett-Parker was joined, brushes in hand, by ACT President Heather Peeler and Tamsin Green, chair of the Alexandria Commission on the Arts. Mayor Justin Wilson, dressed in teal, happened to match the butterfly. Painters from Del Ray Artisans joined in and even members of The Zebra Press colored inside the lines on the Bloomers store wall situated along the South Patrick side at King Street.

Fundraiser for ACT for Alexandria. (Kelly MacConomy)

Accidental tourists and mural pilgrims alike may pose in the middle of the butterfly image, then choose from numerous non-profits to receive a donation thanks to funding provided by Tasha Wahl and an anonymous donor via ACT for Alexandria. Shutterbugs have a choice of about 250 charities. Donors email their pictures to alxbutterflyeffect@gmail.com with the name of the charity to which they choose to receive a donation in the subject line, or text them to 202-681-7594. The donation will be made in their honor. Social butterflies who want a chance to win an extra $500 donation (randomly selected after 9/8/19) for their charity of choice may tag @elizabethforalx and #butterflyeffect. The charity having the most donors will also receive an additional $500 donation. For a list of the over 250 local and nationally-participating non-profits go to www.bit.ly/alxbutterflyeffect.org. Thanks to Asana Partners, the Butterfly Effect Project mural will remain on view indefinitely. The FUNdraising event continues until September 8, 2019.

Come on down to Bloomers at 924 King Street for those selfie poses with the mariposa mural. Be a social butterfly! #butterflyeffect #bethechange #payitforward #findyourart Go #Tweet @Insta @Facebook- post those pics! The change you see may be your own.