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Public Art Project’s Activist Roots Expand Beyond the Box

While Wen Chang's childhood friends work on their paintings, David Everitt-Carlson prepares more cardboard squares. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

While Wen Chang’s childhood friends work on their paintings, David Everitt-Carlson prepares more cardboard squares. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

BY NICOLE JAVORSKY | Wen Chang noticed a structure with miniature cardboard paintings set up beside art supplies when she was walking along the High Line earlier this year. The materials were there for David Everitt-Carlson’s initiative called iThinkOutsideMyBox. As her two-year-old son created a painting, Chang learned about the project and the man behind it.

By the early afternoon most days, Everitt-Carlson has supplies ready for people passing by the W. 22nd St. area of the High Line to create their own artwork, which they can take home or add to the project’s collection.

Chang’s toddler son is one of over 20,000 participants in Everitt-Carlson’s project. Yet, iThinkOutsideMyBox started out as a solo endeavor in Zuccotti Park five years ago during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Everitt-Carlson had plopped himself inside of a cardboard box that he found in the park and started painting the panels.

David Everitt-Carlson's display, set up along the High Line, notes the project's roots in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

David Everitt-Carlson’s display, set up along the High Line, notes the project’s roots in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

“In the beginning, it was about me doing stuff,” he said. “It was about my artistic ego.”

In Sept. 2011, he returned to New York City from Vietnam, where he had worked in the advertising industry. He didn’t have a job lined up, and the stock market had just crashed. Experiencing unemployment during the economic downfall is what drew Everitt-Carlson to Zuccotti Park to participate in Occupy. 

He had been interested in art for as long as he could remember, so painting signs was a natural fit for him within the movement.

Then, while he was sitting in his cardboard box making brushstrokes, a young girl came over to ask him if she could paint too. She ended up making a peace sign, and became the first participant in his project. Soon enough, others in the park also joined in the creativity.

“The more I kept working, the more people wanted to join in,” he said.

The iThinkOutsideMyBox display features a dose of optimism. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

The iThinkOutsideMyBox display features a dose of optimism. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

According to Everitt-Carlson, the project started as a “protest vehicle” — a way to draw attention to the Occupy movement and spread its message. By the time the leaves started changing colors the next year, he moved the initiative to the High Line. This time, instead of focusing on bringing awareness to Occupy (and himself), the project would be centered solely on the vision and creativity of other people.

When Everitt-Carlson was a creative director for advertising agencies, the job often required him to impose his vision on the tasks performed by others. “You need to give direction and flat out tell people what to do,” he said, in reference to the ad business.

Now, working on a public arts project, Everitt-Carlson has to take a step back.

“Here, I had to learn how to walk away. The more open I made it, the better work was created. When there is no theme, the themes come to us,” he said. “What inspires me the most is the freedom with which people create. I wouldn’t think of all of these things.”

When he brought iThinkOutsideMyBox to the High Line, 500 paintings were made within the first season.

“After that, it just snowballed,” he said.

In August 2016, when Chang returned to the High Line with two of her childhood friends from Taiwan, Everitt-Carlson was sitting cross-legged and barefoot on a mat at the same spot of the High Line. 

Chang told him about her prior visit, and Everitt-Carlson tried to remember the painting her son made. He saves all of the paintings created by High Line goers and posts a portion of them on the project’s blog, Facebook page and Instagram account.

“He did more abstract art,” she said of her toddler, laughing.

Since Chang is a creative arts therapist, Everitt-Carlson asked her if she knew why the most popular subject matter for his participants to paint was the human eye.

“Maybe because it’s the window to the soul?” he suggested.

She smiled and said, “Sounds good to me.”

High Line goers pause to look at the structure displaying artwork made by previous visitors to the elevated park. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

High Line goers pause to look at the structure displaying artwork made by previous visitors to the elevated park. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

I first met Everitt-Carlson in the fall of 2015 while walking along the High Line. He asked me if I wanted to paint, and I accepted the invitation. Almost a year later, I returned to write this story. As I watched Chang’s friends paint their cardboard squares, I remembered how special it felt to stumble upon the iThinkOutsideMyBox setup and spontaneously take the opportunity to paint anything I wanted.

Though I originally expected that someone involved with Occupy would be more focused on economic justice, Everitt-Carlson seemed most engaged when discussing the current phase of iThinkOutsideMyBox, where people passing by him can slow down their pace and take time to paint.

Everitt-Carlson said that he has also brought the iThinkOutsideMyBox project to business executives at companies so he can earn some income, and they can also think outside of their boxes to perform better in their jobs.

When this detail surprised me, I asked about whether or not working with business was at odds with the project’s roots in Occupy Wall Street — a movement focused on illuminating economic inequality.

He said, “There’s no tension because I’ve been there. I’ve had their jobs. I don’t draw a line between the two.”

Wen Chang snaps a photo of her friend holding the painting she created. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

Wen Chang snaps a photo of her friend holding the painting she created. Photo by Nicole Javorsky.

On the structure showcasing the work of past High Line goers, there were two cardboard panels perpendicular to each other. One panel had “A Better World” written on it; and the other read, “Is Just Around the Corner!”

Visit David Everitt-Carlson on the High Line at W. 22nd St., starting at 6:30 p.m. daily, to paint a cardboard square. More information can be found at iThinkOutsideMyBox.com.

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  1. […] Public Art Project’s Activist Roots Expand Beyond the Box – 2011, he returned to New York … a job lined up, and the stock market had just crashed. Experiencing unemployment during the economic downfall is what drew Everitt-Carlson to … […]