Editor’s Note: What’s Up Newp and What’s Up Rhode Island are asking readers to nominate unsung heroes from the community during this COVID-19 crisis. Rebecca Killian was among those nominated.

Rebecca Killian, a local artist and owner of the award-winning paint party business Mermaid Masterpieces, usually maintains a busy schedule of events like children’s birthday parties, fundraisers, ladies’ nights, church socials and more. But when the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled everything, Killian decided to bring the party to the whole community with the help of technology. Killian’s been offering free paint party livestreams on her Facebook page multiple times per week for children and parents alike, with the goal of bringing joy and providing an engaging creative outlet – especially for kids. Unexpectedly, the livestreams have not only gained instant popularity on Aquidneck Island, but they’ve also attracted young painter participants from around the country and the world. We had a chance to ask Killian a few questions about her shift to livestreaming – here’s what she said.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and history of your business?
I got really sick in college with Lyme Disease and couldn’t hold a job for about ten years because of it. I’d always end up getting too sick and having to quit. About six years ago my grandpa who was an artist passed away and I inherited his art supplies. I got into art again after not doing much since high school, and remembered how much I love it. After getting back into it, I decided to apply to a job at one of the big paint party companies. They hired me and I worked for them for a short time before I decided I would start my own company serving only Aquidneck Island. My vision was to be in bars and restaurants doing public parties for adults, but two months in I was asked to paint a window for the kids department at Newport Public Library. While I was there, the sweet children’s librarian, Cathy, asked me if I’d be interested in throwing kids paint parties for their after school programs. I agreed to it and it changed everything! Now, I mainly do kids’ parties, birthdays and after school programs. In the summer, I travel to most of the libraries in the state for their summer reading programs (yes! I do travel off island now!) I also do many fundraisers, church socials, college events and ladies’ nights.

What changes to your business have happened because of COVID-19?
Every single scheduled party for March and April was canceled by March 13th. Honestly, I was glad because I don’t have the best immune system due to chronic Lyme Disease, plus I had swine flu in ’09 and was in the ICU almost two weeks because of it. Unfortunately, I understand how real these viruses can be. So, it was a sense of relief for me that my clients canceled. 

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Why did you start doing livestreams and what do you hope to achieve?
I started the livestreams because I was thinking about how bored my friends’ kids were going to be not being able to play with their friends during school break. By doing free Paint Parties every day at 6pm for them, it keeps them occupied. I know they’re scared and confused right now, so I hope the parties pump them up with confidence and surround them in positivity.

My first livestreams had such a wildly positive response that I immediately added another daily Paint Party at 1pm and a 930pm Friday night party for adults only. I think it’s important for kids to see adults with big smiles on their faces and having a good time while being positive, laughing, singing, dancing, and painting. I’ve gotten so many photos with kids that have paint brushes stuck in their hair like I do, and I hear of so many kids teaching their own paint parties to siblings and parents. These are all such positive and awesome actions that show me that I’m keeping these kids distracted, happy, and proud – exactly what I hoped for!  Another thing is seeing where people are from! I’ve had viewers from pretty much every state! Even other countries are tuning in – Ukraine, Austria, Germany, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Puerto Rico, England… just to make a few off the top of my head. How cool is that?? I’ve been so busy with this that I haven’t had the time to be too anxious about what’s going on, and that’s been really helpful! My favorite part has been getting photos of kids showing off their beautiful masterpieces – they look so proud and happy I know I got to help them feel that way. That to me, is literally the best feeling in the world!

Anything you want to share with the community or think it’s important for people to know during this time?
This isn’t normal and we’re all just wingin’ it. None of us are used to having to live this way. If you’re a parent and need some time to freak out about this a little bit – because let’s face it, this is scary! – then set your kids up with paints, something to paint on, a big and little brush with some water in a cup, and let them paint with me while you go decompress for a while. You need it and I’ll keep them busy! Or, you can paint too, I’ll make you laugh, I promise! Either way, please don’t forget that you’re doing your best, and you’re awesome. 

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