Matt Lamb, an internationally acclaimed artist and peace activist, sat down with us to discuss his Umbrellas for Peace program. Lamb takes his widely celebrated program and travels the country and abroad, spreading his message of peace and hope. At community centers, schools and other venues, Lamb has participants paint their fears on the underside of umbrellas and their hopes and dreams on the outside of the umbrellas, often concluding in a public parade of thousands of people marching and carrying their umbrellas for peace.
Here is his extended interview with Treacy Marketing Group.
Q: How did you get started as an artist?
A: “When I was 50 years old, I was told I had an incurable disease and that I had only a few months left to live.
At this point, I was one of the most successful businessmen in my area. I owned many funeral homes and the company was only expanding.
When I was given this news it was a surreal feeling. I told myself that if I lived through this disease, I would change my profession from funeral directing to become an artist and spread the message of the Holy Spirit. Everyone thought I was crazy.
When the doctors discovered it was just a severe case of mono, I went through with my ultimatum. I sold all of my businesses and began painting. I had realized that life is too short. I had my life again.”
Q: What one thing do you always carry with you?
A: “I bring a special umbrella with me everywhere I go. I did a project in Argentina at a school where the group paints umbrellas. Two sisters were painting together. They painted a cloud, some designs and a smiley face. They brought their umbrella home and were going to continue their project the next day.
The following day, the younger sister came back to school alone. Her sister had been murdered the night before on their front porch. She painted a big black hole on the umbrella to show her sorrow and her fear, but next to this, she painted a sun. She told me that this sun was to show her hope for the future, and her determination to help change the world.
She asked me to bring this umbrella with me to show everyone that this project does work. She feels strong, hopeful and more courageous than ever. Although she will never forget her sister, she said she will use the umbrella project to remind her that peace, hope, love, unity and tolerance can change the world as the Umbrellas for Peace project has changed hers.”
Q: How did your career as an international artist prepare you to become a peace activist?
A: “Becoming a peace activist has everything to do with my experiences, even from my career as a funeral director. In these businesses you meet people of all cultures, experiencing many situations – from the poorest, to the richest. These people all have their stories of fear, hope, love, and many other emotions.
The Pentagon later commissioned me, as an artist, to begin a project to help children who lost loved ones on 9/11. I created all of these different ideas of what to focus on. Love? Unity? Tolerance? Hope? They all seemed important to the circumstances – not just in the U.S. but world wide.
This has become a passion of mine, because I know art can change the world. I have traveled all throughout the world and have seen horrifying images of how terrible this world can be to individuals. From murder, to robbery, to fraud; I have learned a lot in my lifetime.
Being an international artist has inspired me to express these emotions, and to help others express and learn how to deal with them. Thus, the Umbrellas for Peace were born and I have been thrilled with its message and success ever since.”
Q: You travel extensively for your art and to spread the message of peace. Have you visited a place your recent travels that gives you hope for our world?
A: “The Netherlands was a place my group and I visited recently, bringing along our friends and family. The people involved with our program in the Netherlands have opened their arms to us with hope, love and excitement for our projects. We have worked with several groups in The Netherlands and have all come together to create something bigger than I ever expected from the beginning. Art is changing the world.
These groups have been making such an amazing impact in our world, setting an incredible example to other countries which are experiencing crimes of any sort. There are people now working so the whole country can participate in the Umbrellas for Peace. Spreading the messages of hope, love, unity, tolerance and peace can make an everlasting change in our world.”
Q: Paint a picture of peace. What does it look like to you?
A: “Peace to me looks like a lot of things. In a painting, you might not be able to tell if something is a flower, a bus, a person, a tree or a house. But peace would be all different colors working together to create a final masterpiece. Each color I put into the mix would be separate aspects of our world, giving the painting itself different textures, looks and images – all contributing to a final, complete and whole piece of artwork. This is what I believe peace would be if it was painted.”
Visit Matt Lamb’s Chicago museum at 35 E. Illinois Street.