The Happiness Project: #ThinkBigger


Madeline (Maddie) Green was selected to participate in the 2018-19 Innovation Fellowship Program, a collaboration between Sheboygan North High School and Jake’s Cafe. After several weeks of brainstorming, Maddie decided to embark on The Happiness Project, a project designed to address the serious stressors that affect our community’s youth.

Maddie spent time speaking with students in the Sheboygan Area School District as well as representatives from Mental Health America in Sheboygan County. As a certified yoga instructor herself, she understands the power of meditation, play, and beauty as therapy. Through continued brainstorming with Tryg Jacobson, president of Jake’s Cafe, they agreed that they wanted to bring beauty, and happiness, to downtown Sheboygan.

Maddie began looking for partners. She met a local artist, Jessica Rassel, and a conversation started about the project. And she found a space: the north wall of the Above & Beyond Children’s Museum (ABCM), a blank canvas waiting for an opportunity just like this.

Initially, Maddie and Jessica envisioned a small mural, but under Tryg’s direction, agreed to #ThinkBigger, and utilize the entire east section of the wall and incorporate the existing boat protruding from the north wall.

“Happiness is a lifestyle. It is a community. It is the inner foundation of all human kind. The contagious effect of a simple smile is the drive of The Happiness Project. I want people to experience this blissful state and uncover their inner light which can sometimes be hidden by clouds. Together as a community, we can make this happen and help individuals find the beauty and light within themselves and our city.” – Maddie Green.

What's Wrong?

  • According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, including:
    • 11% of youth have a mood disorder
    • 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder
    • 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder
  • In the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. In Wisconsin and Sheboygan County, it’s the second leading cause of death.

How Can Public Art Help?

"This mural could not be a more timely project! Certainly it will arouse and capture the attention of Sheboygan County residents and thousands of visitors. More importantly, it will challenge them to think bigger, deeper, and wider in their pursuit of making the world a better, happier place.

“This mural promotes the joy of love and companionship such as that found in the world's largest and most beloved mammals. Could there be love bigger than that? And what could be a more appropriate venue than the Sheboygan Children's Museum to make manifest this larger than life presentation on the scape of our most popular downtown children's venue?

“Maddie's project may even inspire and ignite a downtown renaissance equal to all of wonderful things already happening around the downtown's perimeter. Kudos to Maddie for her grand vision for happiness. She's not only helping us revitalize the landscape of our downtown entrance, she's also inspiring a renaissance of happier hearts."

–Tryg Jacobson, The Jake's Cafe Creative Community

There are several reasons why a project like this is beneficial to Sheboygan and its residents:

  • Public Art as Public Health: Positive emotions, such as the overwhelming awe felt when experiencing this mural, have been linked with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder. “Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” says Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of a study conducted by UC Berkeley. “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study.
  • Public Art as a Community Anchor: The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community initiative surveyed 43,000 people in 43 cities and found that “social offerings, openness and welcome-ness,” and the “aesthetics of a place – its art, parks, and green spaces,” ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a “driver of attachment.” In Philadelphia, a survey of residents found that viewing public art was the 2nd most popular activity in the city. A larger-than-life mural in Sheboygan has the potential to become a cornerstone of our expanding downtown overall.

Why Whales?

Art speaks to everyone in different ways, but some examples of how this painting was interpreted by those on our planning team include:

ABCM is a safe space for children and their caregivers to interact. The existing boat serves as a symbol of safety floating on the water, while the adult and child whale swimming below the surface together are a powerful image that depicts the importance of early childhood attachment. The time that a child and caregiver engage in play and exploration establishes a solid foundation for a child’s further development, growth, and positive sense of self. #ThinkBigger begins with safety, attachment, and play.

These whales are life-size. To stand on the ground and experience the sheer size of earth’s largest mammals can evoke a sense of wonder and reminder of the importance of perspective. #ThinkBigger than the limitations of human form.

Only the whale tale is visible above the water line, but we can see much more below the surface. #ThinkBigger than initial impressions and appearances.

Many of Sheboygan’s residents don’t have the means to travel outside of the state, much less to the east or west coasts of the United States to see whales live. Having whales in Sheboygan exposes children to a world outside of their immediate surroundings. #ThinkBigger than Sheboygan.