When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down schools and confined families to their homes, well-known children’s author and Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems wanted to help provide some much-needed relief from anxiety and isolation with a productive, calm and fun activity to do together — doodling!
Our objective was to reach these folks and engage them in an interactive educational activity that left them more positive and hopeful than when they started. This project was directly targeted at fulfilling Kennedy Center mission goals of encouraging artistic exploration and experiencing the emotional power of art.
As Mo stated in a letter to the audience, You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some together!
We knew time was of the essence with this project. It went from an idea to a show in one week because families needed immediate relief as the lockdown effects of Covid-19 began to take hold. From March 16 to April 3, children and families in the U.S. and around the world joined Mo Willems virtually in his home studio every weekday at 1 p.m. to draw together. Most episodes also included downloadable activities. Kids were invited to ask their parents to share their artworks on social media tagged with #MoLunchDoodles, and many of those works were celebrated in the program and website. The show was fun and funny, with a pacing and nurturing inclusion reminiscent of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and the unique humor and talent of Mo Willems.
We wanted each episode to feel like an event — hence the daily timing — and as it became so successful, we extended it a week longer than planned. The episodes had themes with specific activities such as drawing specific characters and even creating a board game. Mo would also answer questions from the audience. The series ended with a “graduation” and printable certificate for viewers who participated in the activities.
The show was a huge hit with well over 17 million views on YouTube, helping us to gain over 120,000 new subscribers in one month. Nearly 3 million unique users went to see the program on the Kennedy Center website during the series run.
The program was featured on the Today Show, on news outlets across the country, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe, as well as numerous local TV outlets and on the Tonight show as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jimmy Fallon, whose own kids participated at home, extolled its virtues. Mr. Miranda later appeared on a Lunch Doodles episode (virtually) as a game piece character.
The success of Lunch Doodles has led to subsequent series with Mo Willems, including Thank You Thursdays, where essential and medical workers were celebrated, The Yo-Yo Mo Show where cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed while Mo doodled and the Small Works Project where kids and adults are invited to share their stories of small things they have done to help (that add up to something much larger!)