During these unprecedented times, community matters more than ever. With major societal upheaval for the good and scary realities coming to light, there’s a desire to find beauty and “silver linings” wherever we can. Enter The Sunny Project, one woman’s quest to bring art to the community while giving back to organizations that need it the most as they try and care for the community. Meet Gesi Schilling, founder of the organization, that was born around the same time as her daughter….Sunny!
IG Handle / Website: @thesunnyprjct / https://www.thesunnyproject.org/
Founder: Gesi Schilling
TNT: How was The Sunny Project born?
GS: In the weeks leading up to the birth of my second daughter, I had come across several art and photography print sales benefiting organizations providing relief for those most affected by COVID-19. I was particularly struck by the success of Pictures for Elmhurst, a 10 day-long print sale that raised more than $1.3 million for the the New York Hospital. In the same spirit, a couple of weeks after my daughter (Sunny) was born, I built The Sunny Project, in between (and during) breast feedings.
TNT: What’s the mission in a sentence or two?
GS: The Sunny Project is a print sale of work by more than 45 Florida photographers with 100 percent of the proceeds split equally among the Lotus House, the Miami Diaper Bank, and The Magnolia Birth House—three Miami-based non-profits that support vulnerable women and children who are at especially high risk due to COVID-19.
TNT: Personally, what drove you to start this project?
GS: I was at home with my two-year old and two-week old, watching the pandemic unfold, and wondering what I could do to help other mothers with far fewer resources than I.
TNT: What’s the response been? Do you see this as a long term venture?
GS: The contributing photographers have given selflessly and enthusiastically, as have all of those who have purchased prints. We’ve raised more than $36,000 to date. We have a second round in the works. The central mission, to support the most vulnerable in our community, will remain the same. The format and beneficiaries will change. We’re also in talks with a host about an exhibition to correspond with round two.
TNT: How did you select / partner with the artists? What about the organizations?
GS: I sent an e-mail to local photographers I knew and admired, and to some I admired and didn’t know. Many of the photographers who contributed images recommended other Florida photographers, and it grew that way. I’m still discovering new Florida talent every day. Building a community of local photographers has been an awesome plus. I had volunteered at the Lotus House before. One of the contributing photographers, Rose Marie Cromwell, had recently given birth at the Magnolia Birth House and told me about their non-profit arm, Project Motherpath. I heard a radio story about the Miami Diaper Bank and was confounded to learn that there are no federal or state safety-net programs that allocate money for the purchase of diapers. To date, we’ve raised enough money for the Miami Diaper bank to purchase and distribute more than 52,000 diapers.
TNT: 2020 has been a year that community matters more than ever. What do you see as your role in the community?
GS: I was born in Miami, and have lived and worked in Florida for most of my life. I want to do my little part to support local organizations that are doing critical work.
TNT: What is your organization’s unique place in the fight for racial justice?
GS: The Sunny Project supports organizations that provide a crucial safety net and support structure for marginalized and vulnerable communities.
People of color are extraordinary overrepresented as a proportion of the homeless population when compared to the general population. While black people represent 18% of Miami-Dade’s general population, they comprise 57% of the homeless population. The Lotus House is Miami’s only homeless shelter that exclusively assists women and children, and is currently housing 250 children and their mothers. Black women are 3.3 times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy, compared to white women in the United States.
The Magnolia Birth House, which is one of nine black-owned birth centers in the US, is fiscally sponsoring birth centers across the US to build organizational capacity in response to COVID-19 and the civil unrest impacting black and brown birthing communities. Black women are 3.3 times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy, compared to white women in the United States due to the implicit bias within our healthcare system.
Round two will benefit a variety of local social and racial justice organizations. With the purchase of each print, 100% of the proceeds will be directed to the artist’s selected social and/or racial justice organization.
TNT: If you had to line item 3 things you believe the community needs most right now, what would they be?
GS: Organized grassroots efforts to propel legislative change aimed at achieving racial equity. More accountability and greater creativity among companies and institutions to reach underserved communities and accelerate social mobility. Affordable housing