Portraits of Hope is changing the world one colorful panel at a time

Let’s paint IN numbers.

  • Category
    People
  • Written by
    Kelsey Allen
  • Photographed by
    Jack Zellweger

It all started with a children’s book. In 1995 Ed Massey, an artist and activist, was invited to read his children’s book, Milton, at a pediatric hospital. He noticed how confined the children were and decided he wanted to create an environment for them where they could expand their creativity outside the limits of the hospital. The sick children in the hospital became the first group their many volunteers served.

Ed joined forces with his brother, Bernie Massey, who has a background in human rights and social issues education, to create Portraits of Hope (POH). Initially the program was formed to benefit sick and disabled children. Their organization has now grown from its origins in a small children’s hospital to having tens of thousands of volunteers—including Girl Scout troops, high school students and social service agencies—contributing to their mission.

The Massey brothers’ ultimate goal is to educate people of all ages on the importance of teamwork, community bonding and social issues through large-scale civic art projects. Their first project was beautifying the declining Beverly Hills corridor. They chose to paint and infuse color into a 165-foot-high oil tower, now called the Tower of Hope.

The project led them to create special paintbrushes for the disabled and ill children Ed met at the pediatric hospital. They created mouth and shoe brushes for children with limited movement in their arms and legs, as well as telescope and hockey-stick brushes for children who were in wheelchairs or attached to IVs.

“We wanted to include everyone because these kids would never have access to transforming something so iconic,” says Ed.

The giving doesn’t stop there. Their signature look consisting of vibrant colors and bold prints would not be possible without the donations from their sponsors, Vista Paint and Image Options—two California-based companies. Portraits of Hope is consistent with their theme of giving and kindness; everything they have is donated to them by other companies, and their community painting sessions are completely free.

“We’re always looking for new partners. When we announce a project, we hope that partners step forward. We never charge any participant, whether it is a school or a hospital. No one ever pays a penny to participate because we want it to be affordable to everyone,” says Bernie Massey.

Portraits of Hope has made its mark on the lives of people all around the world. Their most large-scale projects consist of revamping Southern California’s lifeguard towers, New York’s taxis, airplanes, blimps, NASCAR race cars and tugboats.

They are currently working on beautifying the Los Angeles Convention Center. POH plans to transform the face of Downtown Los Angeles with their bold look. They are estimating about 12,000 volunteers of all ages will paint the panels that will envelop the convention center in as much lively artwork as possible.

POH has also been working on rehabilitating animal shelters and senior centers. Their goal is to cover all of the white, grey and beige walls and turn them into something beautiful and compelling. They are hoping that the colorful interior artwork will lure people to the buildings.

“We asked ourselves if there was some way to make these shelters more revisited. The idea was, if we revitalize these shelters, more people will come to them and increase the adoption rate,” says Bernie.

With the animal shelter initiative, they realized that there are more animals than adopters and that there was only a certain amount of time for them to get adopted. The goal was to save as many animals as possible, but first they wanted to figure out how to get people to the shelters.

The Massey brothers have their own approach to choosing projects. They identify where there is need, and then they try to find where the artwork could go that would ultimately result in a positive impact.

One of the most charming aspects of POH is the way it has impacted the brothers behind the operation. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner,” says Ed. “We work together on a lot behind the scenes that no one ever needs to know about. It takes two to tango. It starts with my brother and I, and if something doesn’t work, we both have to feel really good about what we’re going to set off on.”

Ed and Bernie say they are most grateful for the community’s involvement and have based their current community painting sessions at the South Bay Galleria, thanks to the South Bay’s outpouring of support. “I’m just as proud of the artwork as I am about the thousands of people,” shares Ed. “It’s about the journey. Kids in hospitals have the opportunities to be children. Once you see the whole thing, it’s a beautiful story.”

Thanks in part to the South Bay, Portraits of Hope is changing the world one colorful panel at a time.

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