Over the last year, Sarasotans have found creative ways to stay in touch with the community. One of those ways has been painting rocks with kind messages and leaving them in discreet places around town for people to find—like hidden treasure.
Take a walk through St. Armands Circle, Bay Island Park and various other Sarasota trails and you are bound to find a brightly-painted rock courtesy of the Sarasota Rocks Project, a soon-to-be nonprofit that describes itself as a "global kindness project." Founder Jules Farnsworth says the group meets to paint rocks, swap them and drop them around our area to spread messages of kindness and hope.
"Rock painting is therapeutic. I've used it connect with many people around me," says Farnsworth.
She began painting rocks years before starting the group, and years before she moved to Sarasota from Fort Myers. As an artist and graphic designer, Farnsworth taught classes at The Artful Giraffe until 2020 and now has her own business selling art called Love My Life in SRQ. Eventually, she found that people enjoy painting rocks as much as she does. She began hosting meet-ups to paint at public parks. Then in 2016, a friend encouraged her to start the Sarasota Rocks Project Facebook group, which now has more than 8,000 members.
The group gathers up to 500 rocks for Farnsworth to hide at The Children's Garden for events she calls "rock hunts." Like Easter egg hunts, kids and kids-at-heart are welcome to explore and find their favorite rock gems.
"We have so much finding them," says Farnsworth. "They bring smiles to all our faces, but not without some healthy competition over who can find the most."
Since Covid, it has been difficult for Farnsworth's crew to gather in person. But that hasn't stopped the group's virtual community from growing. Members post almost daily with pictures of their latest finds around town, or their newest creations.
"The art of giving and sharing rocks has been a huge lesson in kindness and generosity for not only me and my members, but for my family and kids, too," Farnsworth says. "They're better kids from this group, more tolerant and kind to those around them. The art of spreading kindness is universal."
And it is. It's global, in fact. The Ringling's Ca D' Zan was the group's first rock hiding spot, but people returning home after visiting Sarasota have brought rocks back with them. Some have made it to Alaska's wilderness, London's rainy streets and the steps of Macchu Picchu, Peru. One rock even found its home on a private island mansion in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Because Sarasota Rocks is ultimately a kindness project, charitable acts abound. The group has donated hundreds of rocks to All Children's Hospital's garden, and some members, who are also hospital workers, have hidden rocks for patients to find. Every Christmas, the group paints rocks with local foster children, and they've raised $200 for Out of The Darkness, a suicide prevention organization that hosts annual walks at Nathan Benderson Park.
"We rocked their walk," says Farnsworth. "We placed 400 of them along the trail with uplifting messages to keep them going."
And with all the uncertainty in the world around us, uplifting is just what we need. No matter the design—be it an intricate mandala painted with a disposable eyeliner brush, or a shellacked, stripe-y brushstroke—Farnsworth, and her fellow finders enjoy them all. She is hoping to host more classes when she feels it's safe, but may turn to virtual classes, via Facebook, in the meantime.
If you find a rock in Sarasota, post it on Facebook with the hashtag #SarasotaRocks to join the conversation. Or join the Sarasota Rocks Facebook group. Happy painting!