Doers and Dreamers -G. Riley Johndonnell(a.k.a. Uncle Riley)

Hopefully, the realization that art can drive economic development is becoming apparent to those in this community that may have previously thought of art as one of those luxuries only certain people benefited from. However, the value of art as a method of healing and community development may not be quite as visible right now. Look closely though, and you’ll see that many endeavors involving the arts are trying to uplift our community and the individuals in it. Say ‘hello’ to this week’s Doer and Dreamer who is using his own unique way to leverage art to help people in need and ‘create a brighter reality’ for everyone.


Your name:  G. Riley Johndonnell  – Friends, artists and locals call me ‘Uncle Riley’

Business or organization:
The (P)optimism Shoppe (a pop-up studio/gallery project in collaboration with O+ Festival) at 622 Broadway Kingston, NY and ŪMEWE (a public benefit corporation that supports positive civic art and design )

Artist, activist, creative director

What is your approach to your business or occupation that makes you unique?
I’m all about collaboration, about evolving into thinking as ‘WE’ not just ‘ME’.
ŪMEWE is a public benefit corporation, we focus on creating positive social impact through supporting and disseminating optimistic civic art and design.
We believe in the power of collaboration, so we create platforms and tools for people to put optimism into action. Products such as Happy Spots and International Optimism Yellow (INT-O) Yellow. Both are platforms for participation, in which creatives, communities and companies come together to create a brighter reality. 50% of proceeds support the artists, 50% support our programming and other social causes relating to mental health and depression research.

Where are you from originally?
I’m a Nor-Cal native: I was born in Santa Cruz California, spent 20 years in San Francisco, then Bolinas, most recently I was living the Lower East Side, NYC for 3 years.

What brought you to the Kingston area and keeps you in this area?
I visited friends in the area a few years ago and immediately felt at sense of home, and met like minded people. There’s a pioneering spirit that matches the rugged beauty; it’s pretty, it’s gritty and serendipity seems to flow in the streets and rivers. I was selected as one of the O+ artists this year, the same week I started looking to move my studio upstate from NYC. So here I am, loving it, living it and eating way too much freakin’ ice cream.

What is your favorite hangout in this area and why?
Boice’s, duh!! Great local creamery and soft serve! I arrived about 5 weeks ago, so I’ve been in a ‘midtown-bubble’ setting up the studio project and meeting local residents and activists. Just down the block from the (P)otimism Shoppe is Boices’s as well as the brand-spankin’-new Peace Nation Cafe, which has been a godsend and quickly became my second home. They’re beautiful souls serving tasty locally grown food. When I’ve been able to venture out from the midtown corridor, I’m at BSP for awesome events and music, or I’m sniffing around P&T Surplus in the Roundout, grabbing cookies at Deising’s, a sandwich uptown at Kovo’s, breakfast at The Little Eatery (on Hasbrouck Ave.) , a French onion soup burger at the Anchor, and ginger beer at the new Beverly.

When you’re not in Kingston, what’s your idea of a wonderful city to visit, and why?
I love road tripping and hiking, I spent a good part of last year driving around the US in a vintage ’78 GMC RV. I love any small town surrounded by woods, hot springs or rivers and steeped in history. I had a pretty magical time in the the upper Ogden Valley and the canyons of Utah earlier this year.

Tell us something that we never would have guessed about you.
Becoming an official “Commissioner of Happy” is on my life bucket list. No, It’s not a position that currently exists but I think every local government should be prioritizing the mental well being of its citizens and communities.