Skip to content

Squamish artist's pandemic-inspired piece seen by millions

Sarah Symes’ rainbow artwork shared by the United Nations.

A Squamish artist has gone global.

The United Nations has shared Sarah Symes’ rainbow art to its more than six million followers on Facebook.

If you know Squamish, you know Symes’ popular and award-winning work.

A series of her landscapes have been Squamish’s street banners since 2016.

The UN piece comes out of COVID-19 and her simple wish to use her work to encourage compassion and kindness during these challenging times.

Last April, the Squamish Arts Council shared the “United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives — help stop the spread of COVID-19,” campaign.

Symes entered her graphic art piece in response.

“I created the design nearly a year ago at the start of the pandemic, inspired by the many rainbows drawn by kids, displayed in windows all over Squamish,” Symes said in a news release about the piece.

“I used a primary colour palette, wanting the design to be simple both in message and style. The red, yellow and blue is also the colour of world flags, signalling the need for a global response to the pandemic. The hand-drawn shape of the rainbow reflects our imperfect human nature in an imperfect world, during a time when it’s so important to be kind to each other.”

Symes said, reflecting now, a year into the pandemic, she sees the image as being as relevant as it ever was, perhaps more so.

“I feel like we are being so bombarded by information about the virus, about everything. I wanted something really simple to cut through — especially cut through the garbage on Facebook and the nonsense online. This graphic really resonated with me,” she told The Chief in an interview. “And I feel, sadly, almost a year later, we still need to be reminded to be kind. In some ways, now more than ever because we have got COVID fatigue going on.”

After she entered her rainbow piece, there was radio silence about it from the UN for almost a year, though she would hear from friends, family and clients that it was being shared by many websites and seen by millions of people.

“Without any real tangible sense that at the UN had seen it,” she said. “I just knew that it was out there in the world doing good.”

On Friday, the UN tagged her in a post showcasing her entry.

All artists who submitted their artwork did it so for free, she noted.

“In the hope it would help stop the spread of COVID-19 through our work. That is the payment,” she said.

And even on the heady day the UN showcased her artwork to millions of followers, parental duty quickly brought Symes back to reality.

When The Chief spoke with her, she was rushing to get her child to the dentist.

“I know my priorities,” she said with a laugh, noting more seriously that it has been a struggle to be a parent and create art in a pandemic. Some days, finding the passion and space — figurative and literal — to create can be challenging as the virus rages on, she said.

Symes is passionate about graphic design's power to change the world, even in a pandemic.

“With imagery, colour, shape, line, we can actually communicate a lot and in this time when we are being bombarded with information — fake news and real news — a simple graphic can cut through the noise to communicate something, even if you don’t mentally grasp it. It comes to you subconsciously,” she said. “You can change the way people behave, if they see something enough."

(Notice that after “Be Kind” her image has a period, which means “full stop,” she said. Just be kind.)

The exposure of Symes’ piece is not just a boon for her.  It is a recognition for Squamish artists as a whole, she said.

The pandemic has been hard on many artists, given people are not buying as much art and things like shipping pieces has gotten more complicated and slower, but this recognition is a reminder that what they do matters, Symes said.

“It is a reminder that doing something small can have a big effect,” she said. "That is our job as artists, we must find a way, even during a pandemic."

Learn more about Symes here.