For what it's worth, Andrea Russett has more Instagram followers than you. Her mastery of filters and her millions of followers on just about every social network make her one of the biggest names in the stable of L.A.-based Internet superstars. Just a handful of years after making a single Justin Bieber fan video on YouTube, Russett has become one of those social media–famous people your parents (or, well, you) can't begin to comprehend but who they're sure are what's wrong with the next generation.
But Russett wants to change that perception, and she's opting to do it outside the digital realm.
After partnering up with the Thirst Project and taking a trip to Swaziland to help build wells for its potable-water initiative, Russett was tapped to use her Internet fame to lend some visibility to the organization. Russett and a fellow social media star known as the Most Famous Artist teamed up to create a bright mural at 6 Rose Ave. in Venice Beach. But rather than just raising awareness, Russett will be taking time away from snapping selfies to donate $1 of her own money to the Thirst Project for every time a photo of the mural — which reads "Be the change that you wish to see in the world," a quote that's been attributed to Gandhi, whether or not he actually said it — is shared on social media with the hashtag #ThirstNoMore.
"This is super different than anything I've done before," Russett says. "When I post something on Instagram, the people who see it have chosen to follow me. When I'm painting on a wall, the people who walk by are seeing it whether they want to or not. There's kind of a lot of pressure there, but I'm excited."
Speaking of Instagram, Russett and the Most Famous Artist actually met through the photo-based social network. As most 21st-century love stories go, each was a fan of what the other posted in the intangible space of the interwebs and eventually the Most Famous Artist reached out to Russett to work on a project together. When they began to discuss what that project could be, the two quickly realized how much of a difference they could potentially make by combining forces.
"Art is the most powerful communication medium known to mankind," says Matty Mo, founder of the Most Famous Artist. "And when done right, art can break barriers and really spread a message. The opportunity to couple street art with Thirst's meaningful message and amplify it with Andrea's reach on YouTube and Instagram is a dream project for the Most Famous Artist. We could not be more thrilled to make a positive impact with Andrea through art.”
Russett hopes to team up with the Most Famous Artist for more projects in the future, but for now her sights are set on a different goal. Over the next year, Russett and 19 other young stars (known as the Thirst G20) will be looking to raise $1 million for the Thirst Project. It's not the first time social media personalities have used their fame to help charities; Tyler Oakley and Shawn Mendes are just two of the names who've teamed up with charities over the past few years. For a generation of kids who stare at their phones during every waking hour, it's a guaranteed way for nonprofits to get their message to youth. Obviously, the folks at the Thirst Project are thrilled to have so many young celebrities (even if they're only really famous on YouTube or Instagram) helping their cause, and the organization's CEO believes there's no better way to start the rest of the year than by bringing attention to the campaign with the Venice mural.
"The combined creative powers of these two forces to raise the profile of the global water crisis and use their platforms to bring real solutions to it will be incredible," says Seth Maxwell, Thirst Project's founder. "We are honored and grateful to have them stand with us and use their talents in this fight.”
For someone who's primarily viewed through a phone or computer screen, having her art physically out in the world is a whole new venture for Russett.
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"A lot of stuff I've done in the past has just been painting or drawing in my room, which is fun, but this is totally different," Russett says. "Painting on a big wall for everyone to see is crazy because I won't have to post a picture of it on Instagram for my fans to be able to see it. They can physically go there and stand next to it to take a photo."
It seems unlikely that too many people will take to bashing the colorful mural, as most decent human beings can support the spread of clean drinking water even if they don't care about Russett, the Most Famous Artist or generic quotes that can be found on everything from tank tops to coasters on Etsy and Pinterest. For Russett, she's just thrilled to be helping a good cause while partaking in one of her favorite art forms (other than the perfect use of filters and selfies, presumably).
"It's an honor because I've always loved street art and all that kind of stuff forever," Russett says. "Now to be able to have my own piece of artwork in Venice of all places, it feels crazy."