With Erika Anderson’s Army of Lovers, love makes the world go ’round, one handmade, hand-delivered valentine at a time. Erika has recruited a growing army (anyone can enlist!) of people who make valentines and give them to strangers because, well, just because. The kindness of strangers has power. We wanted to know how this movement got started and how it has developed its own energy to grow and spread more love. So we went to the source and asked Erika!
Can you describe the Army of Lovers for us? What inspired its creation?
The Army of Lovers is a random group of people across the US (and some internationally) that believe in love. We believe humans deserve love no matter who they are, what they’ve done or what they believe in. And so we remind them of that on Valentine’s day by approaching them and giving them a card.
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In some ways, I think my grandmother inspired its creation, because she’s known across my hometown for mailing birthday cards to everyone she knows. So many people tell my dad that the only person they get birthday cards from is my grandmother. She is a special lady.
What takeaway do you want participants to gain – both givers and receivers?
I want givers to remind themselves that giving doesn’t have to be so hard, and that we don’t necessarily have to “get” something for what we’re giving. I really like that this takes place outside of expectations. That frees us up in a lot of ways.
For receivers, I want them to know that they’re cared for. It’s easy to forget that. And it’s also easy to go through life pretending we don’t need anything, love most of all. So I’m putting that front and center and saying love is something we all need, and that’s okay!
How do you recruit your “soldiers”? Is there an Army of Lovers boot camp? Can anyone be part of the movement?
I always let friends know about my crafting, which is a public event. Honestly, social media and press is how most people have found out about it. Everyone is welcome to take part. All you have to do is make one valentine and give it to one stranger. Use the hashtag #armyoflovers on the card so people know what it’s about.
Do you participate in Galentine’s Day on February 13 as well as the traditional holiday? Any special considerations for that day?
I have not, but I love the idea. I welcome all Galentiners to make a valentine for themselves and for a stranger. Sometimes women ask me if I feel safe approaching men with cards, and after having given out thousands of valentines, I have to say yes. I mean, always use your judgment. If it’s someone you would approach to ask for directions, give that person a card. Also, happier people are more likely to take one that someone who is having a hard day, unfortunately.
You encourage handmade valentines. Why is this important?
Before this became a movement, I just used Hello Kitty valentines, which was definitely cute and funny, but it just felt less meaningful. For people to see that someone came up with a cute design or funny phrase–it just makes it personal. Like, wow, someone made this for me! Plus it turns out that crafting can make adults ridiculously happy. Not everyone is super skilled, and I am no master crafter, but just getting out scissors and paper opens up this joy of being a kid again.
When you make cards or host a crafting party, what supplies do you gather?
I always have card stock (construction paper is too flimsy), markers, stamps, stickers, scissors and glue sticks. I used to bring piping, but that requires a hot glue gun, and often they fall off anyway. But I have a ban on glitter because it gets everywhere and is maddening to clean up.
When you are making valentines, are you a planner or improviser?
Both. When I’m on my own, I’m like an army general, stamping out 500 cards at a time. They’re already heart shaped, I know what stickers I’m going to use and what I’ll write, so I just start the process and get going. At my crafting party, I let myself be creative and just see what comes to mind. I’m often inspired by others’ creations.
How do you respond to people who say they can’t make cards because they are “not crafty” or “not creative”?
I’m honestly not amazing at crafts, so I really don’t see this as a requirement. Basically, you need to let yourself mess up, take the pressure off, and have fun.
To what extent do you think creative ability is innate? Or is creativity a learned skill?
I think we all have it as children, and then lots of things can get in the way as we grow up. Finding our creativity again can be such a joy. It’s not a competition! It’s just play.
How did you decide who would be the lucky recipient of your first Erika-to-stranger valentine? How did you approach the person, and what was the reaction?
Honestly, it was whoever was on the street. I just told myself, Erika, here you go! And I gave them a card. They were surprised but then they smiled. It was sweet.
What organizations help get the valentines out into the world? How do you decide which groups are good candidates for working with you?
I tend to think about where we have breakdowns in society, who is really hurting and could use a reminder that they’re loved. That’s why I’ve partnered with homeless shelters, a domestic violence shelter, NYC Together and the NYPD. I know it’s just for a moment, but it’s nice to see positive interactions between the police and community.
Can anyone organize a “platoon” anywhere? What advice do you have for people who want to bring the Army of Lovers to their own communities?
Many people do! They host their own crafting parties and sometimes head out en masse to hand them out. I recommend not bombarding strangers in huge groups, but fanning out across the street (or wherever you are), because it’s less intimidating to be approached by one person. If someone doesn’t want one, just let it go, and see who else might like a valentine.
Now, this is really important, don’t say “would you like a valentine?” (they’ll say no), but a joyous “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and give them the card.
How do you balance your personal life, work and creative endeavors?
Ha. It’s tough! I’m a writer, so I write every morning Monday through Friday, and then I switch over to the writing I do for work. Luckily, because I can work from home, this can be pretty seamless. Fitting in time for crafting is still a challenge for me because it’s easy to see it as frivolous even though it makes me feel so good.
What is the biggest challenge that you encounter on this creative journey? What do you learn from it?
I wish capitalism better supported the arts – creative expression connects us to deeper parts of ourselves, and it’s hard to feel like you’re toiling in the dark sometimes, waiting for something to be birthed. It can feel lonely, but I have a lot of writer friends to commune with.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope visitors will gain by visiting?
I hope they feel inspired to take part! Check out the Army of Lovers website.
What do you hope the next year will bring for you and the Army of Lovers?
Lots of fun and play. I LOVE to play. Crazy for play. It brings so much joy to our lives, I think. And I think this movement is not only meaningful but incredibly playful. We’re told love has to be one thing, and we’re saying what if we all love each other?? What about that? I adore it.
Interview posted February, 2019.
Check out all of the Valentine’s projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.