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These 10 beautiful murals show how a once violent town found redemption through art.

Street artists have transformed this notoriously dangerous city into a tourist attraction for art lovers.

Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellín, Colombia, is not where most people would have gone for a walking tour 10 years ago.

In fact, travelers were actually told to avoid the area because of high murder rates and the lingering influence of powerful drug lords in the 1980s and '90s.

But today, Comuna 13 has a totally different story: Local artists have created a vivid street-art scene, and murals cover almost every wall. Now Comuna 13 is one of the most visited neighborhoods in Medellín, and it's showing the world how art can change things in a big way.


"Ojoi Realizada Por Eyes." Artist unknown. Image via Joel Morales, used with permission.

During the 1980s and '90s, powerful drug lords like Pablo Escobar controlled multiple comunas. They made Medellín one of the deadliest cities in the world.

A staggering homicide rate of 381 per 100,000 people during the worst of the drug cartel cast a shadow over the community. Youth were susceptible to a seemingly unbearable cycle of violence and guerrilla warfare, and things seemed incredibly hopeless.

The walk for most from home to downtown is the same as walking up 28 steps. Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

But recently, the community tried a new tactic for reducing crime: art.

First, local government leaders sent free paint to the homes of at-risk youth to give them a creative outlet. Then local businesses and schools followed suit. They wanted to add a renewed sense of identity — and a bit of color — to the daily lives of the community by commissioning local artists, and their idea worked.

Integrating resources for art in the community was just the beginning, though. The local government also worked diligently to implement urban renewal efforts meant to help Comuna 13 distance itself from its violent past. Infrastructure efforts, the implementation of escalators around the comuna to help residents avoid the steep climb to work, and lowering the tolerance for drug-related crimes have also contributed to making the community a safer place to live.

A young boy walks home in Comuna 13. Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

Medellín now sits at the lower end of the world’s most dangerous cities — 49th out of 50 — and the murder rate has dropped to 26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

"Taking people off of the streets and reducing violence is a large task, but giving people the resources to do art is a tool that helps to make the process a little easier," Colombian native street artist Perro Graff told me.

"With art, you’re given a way to become a part of the movement for peace with no judgment by using your talent to express what’s happened in the community."

Check out 10 of the many beautiful murals in Comuna 13.

They show just how much talent exists in the community, and how much has changed in the past 20 years.

1. This visual masterpiece was painted by Perro Graff.

Image via Joel Morales, used with permission.

2. This wall features a piece titled "Opip" by Poe13.

Image via Joel Morales, used with permission.

3. Jamie Solomon snapped a photo of this unnamed but gorgeous mural by Chotas.

Image via Jamie Solomon, used with permission.

4. There's also commissioned art around the staircase at the popular Charlee Hotel.

Image via James Evans, used with permission.

5. And mind-twisting pieces like this, also seen at the Charlee Hotel.

The walls of each floor are covered with the work of local artists. Image via James Evans, used with permission.

6. The hotel also features underwater scenes.

Artists use inspiration from the comuna's transformation to complete their artwork. Photo via James Evans, used with permission.

7. And even the hotel's hallways are covered in incredible work.

Developer James Evans hosts a quarterly showcase for local artists to showcase and sell their work. Photo via James Evans, used with permission.

8. Children walk to and from school surrounded by artwork by their neighbors.

Children walk on a street in Comuna 13. Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

9. They can now look toward a brighter future.

Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

10. Best of all, this piece welcomes guests in the entrance of Comuna 13.

Unnamed artwork by Seta Fuerte that reflects the statements of peace by residents during the deadliest years in the comuna. Photo via Joel Morales, used with permission.

It is meant to remind everyone of the comuna's strength and resilience and of their desire for peace. The art overlooks a neighborhood that has overcome so much and continues to push forward.

Comuna 13 has become a popular destination for street art fanatics. Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

The art movement has picked up so much traction that real estate developers are even moving to Medellín to promote tourism.

"The Charlee Hotel was founded on the basis of community and art," said developer James Evans. "Each floor is painted by different local street artists, and we have rotating art shows that are on display as well."

Evans' property in nearby El Poblado is one of many helping to make Comuna 13 a popular destination for travelers, bringing more money into the area and creating a chance for the local street art to become profitable for those behind it.

"It’s like a little mini renaissance going on — complete with fashion, art, and a growing sense of pride from the people that have lived through it all," recent Comuna 13 visitor Jamie Solomon told me.

Comuna 13 is an incredible example of what happens when the government values creative outlets: Everyone wins.

Unnamed street art by Jomag. Image via Jinna Yang, used with permission.

During the darker days of Medellín’s history, residents took a stand by hanging white banners and towels outside their homes as statements of peace. Now, large murals welcome visitors to the neighborhood in the same way, reminding both residents and visitors of how far the neighborhood has come and how far they still have to go.

At its best, Medellín has shown the world that supporting the arts and humanities can help to build a community that thrives. When people are allowed to express the depths of their past and the possibilities of their future through art, amazing things can happen.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

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What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

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James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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