MADISON, NJ – Depression has touched many of our lives in some way. Persistent feelings of sadness can make day-to-day activities a struggle, and it may be hard—or seemingly impossible—to feel “normal” again.

This disorder is quite common among Americans: At least 16 million adults in the U.S.—about 7 percent of the population—experienced one or more major depressive episodes in the past year, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness. 

Madisonians are fighting against depression this spring through Paint the Town Yellow, a series of optimism-themed events and collaboration projects beginning Sunday with an opening ceremony and art exhibition from 3 to 5 p.m. at Short Stories Bookshop & Community Hub, 23 Main St. 

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Paint the Town Yellow will conclude on May 31; the end of Mental Health Awareness Month.

All artwork on display throughout this 10-week event is available for purchase. Each piece will incorporate the event’s official color: International Optimism yellow—also known as INT-O yellow—the brainchild of event co-founder and local artist “Uncle Riley” Johndonnell, who created the color with help from Pantone.

Designed as a public celebration of the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness on Tuesday, March 20, Paint the Town Yellow, now in its second year, was developed “as a platform for collaboration; a tool for creatives to share optimism with others and to shine a light on depression,” according to Johndonnell and his cohort Whitny Sobala.

Area residents can check out a host of events at local businesses on March 20. Those who wear yellow that day can take advantage of exclusive discounts at Home Sweet Home, Tons of Toys and at Waxing the City. 

INT-O yellow merchandise will be available at participating shops in downtown Madison. Several businesses will also sell yellow “splat” decals. Find them in April and May at Tons of Toys; Waxing the City, a TAPinto Madison sponsor; the Madison Area YMCA; the Madison Public Library; and Drew University. 

Those who wish to use INT-O yellow for their own at-home projects can purchase paint at Short Stories for $15 per can throughout the event. 

Short Stories will also host an optimism-based speaker series from late March to early May. The first talk is on Wednesday, March 28 at 7 p.m. and will focus on how social media impacts happiness. 

Several community-based organizations are taking part in Paint the Town Yellow’s collaboration effort with the creation of a “community garden” mural. Participants can contribute to the “garden” by drawing a flower on the circulating canvas—a yellow one, of course—that will be passed between community groups throughout the event. 

Another “community garden” canvas will be shared in April between local religious organizations. 

The Paint the Town Yellow initiative was spearheaded by UMEWE, a social cause think tank that supports, promotes and shares optimism and creativity through collaboration with companies, creatives and communities to create products, experiences and public art installations that “turn optimism into action.” Its co-founders, Johndonnell and Sobala, are two of the event’s lead organizers. 

Among other local organizations that helped put together this year’s project is the Madison Downtown Development Commission, which donated $1,800 to the event. 

A portion of these proceeds, as well as those collected from merchandise and artwork sold, will benefit the Madison Area YMCA’s Community Mental Health Initiative, a program designed to reduce stigma associated with mental illness and expand access to mental health services. 

To learn more about Paint the Town Yellow, click here. For additional information, visit the official event website or Facebook page.