Bethany Halbreich is an innovation consultant, the President and Founder of Incipe Insight and the Founder of Paint the World. This global, collaborative art project is dedicated to inspiring creative expression in individuals, organizations and communities by providing collaborative artistic experiences that enable participants to spontaneously engage their creative minds. Paint the World does this by securing large blank canvases and art supplies in low-income communities around the world that otherwise have little or no access to art education. It’s a simple idea with a lot of potential.
Read more about Paint The World.
Learn more about The Passionistas Project.
Passionistas: Hi, and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and today we're talking with Bethany Halbreich, an innovation consultant, the president of Incipe and the founder of Paint the World. This global collaborative art project is dedicated to inspire a creative expression in individuals, organizations and communities by providing collaborative artistic experiences that enable participants to spontaneously engaged a creative minds. Paint the World does this by securing large blank canvases and art supplies in low-income communities around the world that otherwise have little or no access to art education. It's a simple idea with a lot of potential. So please welcome to the show Bethany Halbreich.
Bethany: It is my honor to be here and speak with you, too.
Passionistas: What is the one thing you're most passionate about?
Bethany: That is a very easy question for me because I feel like the crazy canvas lady, sometimes I, everywhere I go, I carry around blank canvases. So it's wild that I don't have one sitting here with me right now, but I am the most passionate about providing the tools for others to create. And my vehicle of doing that is Paint the World. So I am most passionate about what I get to work on every day.
Passionistas: So tell us about Paint the World. How did you come up with the idea and what is it?
Bethany: The idea emerged by accident five or six years ago, because I was with a bunch of just a few good friends actually in the middle of the woods in a cabin and are well on our way to the cabin we needed to come up with some fun activities to do during our time together. So we just went to an art store and got a canvas and some supplies and then thought it would be a fun thing to collaborate on the canvas together. And these are really fun friends that I have. They're always encouraging creativity and they're just wonderful.
That's what we did. And then I was just really shocked by how beautiful the canvas turned out. So later that summer I did the same thing in a couple of different places. Usually when I'm by a canvas I'm very much an observer. I don't encourage other people to paint on the canvas.
I leave it there and I see what happens because in my mind, Yeah, just in doing this for years. It's very obvious that there's several stages to the canvas. There's the blank canvas. And this is usually when it's the most intimidating to people and people usually are a little bit confused.
Is this a, is this an installation? Is this meant to be painted on? Is this just what is going on here is an artist going to be using this later and they just left it here. Do we touch it? So anyway, I always find that stage of the canvas really interesting. And then someone always comes along and just finds the boldness in themselves.
Usually they're with a group of people. Sometimes it's an individual, but they find the boldness in themselves and they pick up the one of the paint brushes and they paint. And then after that, slowly, the canvas begins to be filled up, but it actually looks pretty bad in the beginning. There could be a sun in the corner.
There could be a stick figure in the middle of somewhere and because it looks so bad And I don't mean to put the judgment on it, but it's good that it looks bad in my mind because it encourages people who wouldn't define themselves as artists to actually paint on it.
And if it looks amazing, they wouldn't. That's the most magical part of the whole thing to me, because there've been so many people who have picked up a paintbrush and done some sort of contribution on these blank canvases that have never picked up a paint brush before.
Hundreds of people have done this and it is their first time picking up a paintbrush. That's wild to me. And it's usually those people who had impacts the most and it's always just blown me away and they always turn out so beautifully in the end because after they begin to be filled up over time, I usually leave them in a particular location for around 24 hours sometimes just during the day, so around eight hours but they always tell a story of that community vision. They, if you look at it, they visually feels like that community. It's amazing. So that's where I started to bring in some union analysts and there's a whole other part of the project. They're really understanding the community through the art that the community gathers to create.
But that's Paint the World and over the last five or six years, even though it started out as an experiment it quickly became clear that this needed to be a bigger project than just something I, did every now and then for fun. So it's an now it's a nonprofit and it's growing.
Passionistas: That first person who comes and paints I don't know how often you see that moment, but did they tend to paint in the middle of the canvas or did they pick a good corner?
Bethany: It actually varies and it depends on how confident that person is feeling, and you could tell when a person is unsure they, they, usually start in the corner, but the person who does contribute to the canvas first, they tend to be bold. They tend to be confident. And then it's only after them that the people who haven't picked up a paint brush before contribute to it.
But so usually actually it is in the middle because they're more competent people are feeling more creatively, confident in that moment. And that's interesting, cause I really does define, it takes the piece in, on a path. That first move is it's so important.
Passionistas: So how do you get to know the people. Did someone interview them afterwards? What's that process.
Bethany: It's certainly been a bit of a challenge over the past five or six years to position the nonprofit as it is because it's neither an art program or a public installation.
It's a mix of the two. And if it were more of an art program there would certainly be an element to it where I would interview people and, there, we might do a workshop around it and stuff like that, but, and also there could be an element to that if it were public installation, but I just am so committed to it, taking on a life of its own.
The only thing that I've gotten close to in that realm is just pretending to be a an onlooker. And so sometimes I walk by and I'm like looking at it and I act confused and I noticed someone else's standing there and I say, Hey, do you what's this, I just pretend to be in their shoes, but I've done that a lot.
Yeah. And I've gotten to in the beginning, I think I asked more direct questions and there were actually a couple of people who said you need to who figured out who I was and who said or who figured out what role I play in the installation, but who has, who have said, you have to do this everywhere. This should be in more places. And there were people who really inspired it to grow at that stage.
Passionistas: Have you set up like little GoPro cameras to capture that?
Bethany: There have been a couple of times that I've done that, but believe it or not, I haven't found a GoPro locking system with a key. Someone should make it, I can't find it anywhere.
Maybe someone's made it in the last few months and I haven't noticed, but but yeah, that's also another, that's a challenge cause I usually just leave them. And but yeah, that would be ideal to do time lapses of all of them.
Passionistas: How many cities have you done this in so far?
Bethany: About 35, thus far there've been a lot of repeat canvases in the same city. And we hit the most cities when I did something called the Mongol rally. Have you heard of the Mongo rally? It's it's this crazy drive from Prague to Mongolia and that through that drive we passed 23 countries and so I did a blank canvas and in 12 or 13 of those countries, and that was really fun. So that probably up to the country count,
But through the, actually the tiny home video I have a tiny home as well. And someone filmed a a YouTube video of it a little while ago, and it had so many views and the YouTube video was really just meant to be a tour of the tiny house.
But the videographer asked me some questions about what I do, and I told him about Paint the World. And he said, we have to include this. At least at the end, it has to be in there some somewhere I'm usually don't do this, but, and I was like, okay, great. That's awesome. Thank you so much. So I talked a little bit about it and the video ended up being 15 minutes long and I, and there was a two or three minute segment about Paint the World at the end.
And I thought, for sure, no one would watch a video of that length until the end. But I should believe in, I guess I should believe in YouTube viewers a little bit more in there. And their attention span because so many people watched until the end and then reached out after that. And that was a tipping point for Paint the World because before that the audience was really small.
It was just me trying to push this nonprofit forward. And now there's, there are people who reach out every day because of that video. And I'm so thankful for it. So now there are people all around the world that are launching blank canvases. We just started an ambassador program. And there was someone from Zanzibar who just emailed me this morning about doing a blank canvas and in her village there. And it's just the power of the internet.
Passionistas: So did people get their own supplies or do you send them supplies?
Bethany: So I've just created this community of ambassadors and I've connected them with a ton of resources. I've made a ambassador portal on the website.
So it basically has this really in-depth FAQ question, everything that I've found really useful throughout the years. Just basically examples of how you can set up which stores supply lists, stuff like that. We were going to use Go Fund Me Charity to set up separate team fundraisers for each of the ambassadors, but they unfortunately actually are discontinuing Go Fund Me Charity.
We're going to have to move to another platform, but the canvas setups are usually pretty cheap. Usually it, depending on where you're located definitely can do a big blank canvas for under a hundred dollars for a whole set up.
So yeah it's mostly just building the momentum, making sure that everyone isn't feeling like they're doing this alone because it's a bold activity. And it's not every day that you see someone putting a blank canvas in a community and just leaving it there for other people to do what they want on it. So it's a lot of community building and seeing where it takes us.
Passionistas: And now what happens with the paintings after they're completed?
Bethany: There are so many things that we can do with these paintings afterwards. In the past, I've held a little art auctions alongside restaurants in the area where the paintings were done. Usually the money that we raised just went back into doing more blank canvases. So it's a very cyclical thing. So each ambassador each location where we'll have link canvases, we'll probably end up doing something like that post COVID, hopefully. It's hard, you can never know.
The timing of the blank canvases has been delayed a little bit just because of the restrictions, but I hope that in the next couple of months we'll be able to get them popping up everywhere.
But the other thing about this project, it's a completely different aspect. So there's the benefit of the activity itself which is certainly increasing communities, creative confidence, increasing the agency that particular collective or community feels in moving their own ideas forward. And the canvas is just a tool but I really do believe there's a big connection there.
And then the other aspect of this is really, really understanding a community, working to understand the community through the art that that the community gathers to create. And there's so much literature on looking at mostly street art in communities and using that as a tool to understand that community's trajectory and there, there are so many communities in the world where the voice that seems to be the most prominent from that community is usually not the most accurate. Someone who might rise to power in a particular community might just be the one with the most money, but might not represent that what's really going on in the community. So using this art is a way to do that. So one of the larger goals and purposes behind paint the world is really to to navigate the relationship between art and community decision-making.
So to really make it obvious that investing in the arts is urgent and not just an extra activity as we often see it as, but I truly believe it's critical in progressing forward in a collective and a positive way.
It makes me so sad that the arts community feels so constrained. And usually, it's because the funding that's offered to the arts community puts you in buckets. It's either a program or an installation. It always focuses on artists, people who define themselves and artists. It's just wild to navigate government funding and all anyway. So my wish is for the art community to feel much less constrained than it does now. There's so much potential there.
Passionistas: You’re listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Bethany Halbreich. To learn more about her global, collaborative art project visit PaintTheWorld.com.
Save the Dates for the 2021 Passionistas Project Women’s Equality Summit, being held virtually this year on August 20 through August 22. For details go to ThePassionistasProject.com/2021 Summit.
Now here’s more of our interview with Bethany.
So how did COVID affect your project?
Bethany: The original program of Paint the World which is the, putting blank canvases up and and really scaling the the amount of blank canvases in the world that was tremendously impacted, obviously, because there was no encouraging of public activity safely. So public collaborative activity safely. About, I think that in April I started to get real, which isn't long. It only took me a month to get restless.
Yeah. And probably the beginning of April. So it really took me only two weeks. I was like, you gotta do something. So I rented a van and a white van, which was not a good idea because I learned that white vans are are usually not housing the most innocent of there were always police after me.
It was wild people reporting the white van. And that's another story, but I rented a white van. And I dropped I dropped blank canvases and supplies off at hospitals across the country. And so I drove to I drove to the west coast and back I started in New York and I went to about 30 actually in the end, I think it was closer to 40 because the project grew a bit but yeah, dropped off supplies at 40 hospitals and Was really pleasantly surprised, raised by the fact that the hospital staff that ended up it was the supplies were just for the staff members because I was just hearing that they were so overworked and obviously this is a, this is an activity that could bring stress relief.
And and also one that could help us understand what they're going through. But but the most responsive hospitals were actually the ones that were the busiest. That was amazing to see. And the ones that, that appreciated the project the most, like really saw and felt the the positive effects of it.
That was really, it was amazing. But that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for COVID obviously. And that, that, made me think of other avenues for Paint the World and men. We, didn't a virtual paint the world project as well. And that was fun because there were people from all, all around the world who participated in that and that idea might have not emerged if it weren't for COVID.
So despite the challenge in the beginning, towards the initial activity of the organization the mission has actually been expanded and and now it's much more global than it was a year and a half ago.
Passionistas: How did the virtual version work?
Bethany: Basically I got together a number of the people who reached out over the, since that YouTube video was actually released and we got together, had several zoom calls to talk about possibilities and they basically each ended up hosting their own version of Paint the World within their communities virtually.
But they all did different things with it, which was the intention. So the the woman that became involved in South Africa, she basically made a video of her completing an activity. Basically she did a handprint she used that as a metaphor too, because our hands are, the carriers of germs and we're like afraid of other people anyway.
So she did a hand print and then you had to write your COVID story. Each piece really looked like a multimedia masterpiece. It was beautiful. But then at the end of that, she combined all of them into the south African flag. Using the, basically just using color blocking.
And so she made the collaborative peace in the end. But each person had an individual experience.
Passionistas: I would love to see an exhibit of all of the pieces from the project in general, but specifically from the hospitals during COVID. Yeah, sure. Those are really powerful.
Bethany: The pieces that came out of the hospital project were really were light-filled. They were optimistic and the colors that were everyone gets the same colors which I think is important because then it's easier to see the contrast between what everyone does with them, but but the colors used were usually lighter tones, brighter, happier. The images were positive. And those were from the, usually from the busier hospitals.
Passionistas: Have you thought of doing a book?
Bethany: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Certainly a book of all of the pieces more of a coffee table book that you could just, browse through and see where the, where each piece came from.
But I'm also working with a few of the Jungian analysts that I've been speaking to about creating a book that's really focused on the. Potential impact of the arts in policy and in community. Decision-making because there's a huge disconnect there. And there actually isn't a lot of literature out there around it.
So it's been a challenge for me to find the evidence, even though I know it's, it's clear that this works and there is so much, there's so much benefit on multiple levels, but it's difficult. It's difficult to find literature on it because not a lot of people have tackled that that relationship between between arts and really, community decision-making and policy and everything there's.
Anyway, we're working on that. That'll be cool that'll be a book.
Passionistas: So now how can people get involved?
Bethany: You can go to Paint the World.com and click the join tab. And there's a few options there, or you can, and you can follow the Instagram @gopainttheworld, or you can reach out to me directly @bethanyatpainttheworld.com and I would be so excited to speak with you about being involved.
Passionistas: So you've done other things that we want to talk to you about, too. So you have a company called Incipe Insights. So what is that?
That is basically how I earned money to keep paint the world going. That's my day job and Paint the World, my life job.
But basically it's a it's a strategy and design innovation consulting company. It's a boutique consulting companies, so very small it's me and a team of right now, four other fabulous women. And basically we work with. Really interesting. We work with companies like PepsiCo and IBM, but also a lot of interesting startups on strategizing the most impactful path forward.
The reason why I started doing this was because there, there are great consulting companies like McKinsey and Deloitte and and all of those, but they are so expensive. And smaller organizations that don't have millions of dollars to spend on consultants. Don't have access to to that sort of strategy work.
And to me that's ridiculous because they're the ones that really need it to grow and to move forward and to make the impact that they need to make. So that's what we focus on. Incipe insights, basically a cheaper version of McKinsey or of those larger, but a much better version.
But but yeah, that the work that I do with Incipe I actually started from PepsiCo. Because I began the internal innovation expo alongside a really incredible man within PepsiCo, but we basically work together within R and D. So PepsiCo is a lot of different different departments, but but the food scientists within R and D weren't necessarily leading the innovation.
So we want to, it usually came from marketing. So we wanted to shift the shift, the innovation power really to, to R and D. And so we started this internal innovation expo to do that. And through that, I really learned so much about new product innovation and and what it takes to move products forward and to actually make an impact with them and use, the materials, the technology necessary, all of that. So that was a great, and that was what began Incipe Insights. So yeah, that's what I, that's what I do to to earn a living and and support, Paint the Worlds basically
What's one of your favorite success stories from Incipe?
Bethany: It's one kind of in the making right now. So I've been working on for the last couple of years with the University of Hawaii on building their Connor innovation program.
And that has been, that's been really fun because it's an academic culinary. That's basically bringing methods that these big companies use to. They're bringing those methods to their students and actually working with a lot of restaurants in the area I met on innovating in that way. They're open to having fun and they're open to experimenting.
They have a chocolate bar. It's so cool. This has all been virtual. So I, I only dream of experiencing all of this fun stuff that we've been working on, but but that will be, as I know, that will be a success. And that's the thing that I'm most excited about that Incipe Insights worked on.
Passionistas: Are you an artist yourself?
Bethany:] Oh, thanks for asking. I paint and I do love to make art. I'm one of those people who believes everyone's artists obviously, but yeah. But yeah, it's something that when I do it, it's like my meditation, my version of meditating. I do have a website where you can see the art it's called awakened art.co. So a lot of animals and very colorful animals. It's what I enjoy painting the most.
Passionistas: What do you think is your best habit?
Bethany: Exercising on a daily basis is my best habit because it brings me so much energy. I would never say that I'm an athletic person. I've never felt like I was an athletic person. But I started doing at home workout videos and sanity, which is a kind of an OJI at home workout video with Sean T as the host.
And I just changed my life cause I, I feel I feel so much more energy. I don't diet. But I just move my body every day and I exercise and that keeps me in tune with my body. And there's such an incredible relation between the health of our body and the health of our minds and, while we're able to produce whether that's, with work or creatively.
Passionistas: So what's the most rewarding part of Paint the World for you?
Bethany: The most rewarding part of Paint the World is just seeing people paint on a canvas that have never painted before. I think that is the most mind-blowing thing. It just feels like I can't explain it. It gives me life. It's just such a beautiful thing to see that someone is creating and doing something that they wouldn't have been doing if you didn't just do it. This one bold move and go at it. Cause it's, it takes me out of my comfort zone sometimes to be carrying around a canvas and supplies. And I'm like, now I'm used to it actually, because I'm always the crazy canvas lady lugging all of this stuff around. But that moment is what makes it all worth it.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Bethany Halbreich. To learn more her global, collaborative art project visit PaintTheWorld.com.
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