Many people might walk past a tiny bouquet of vibrant yellow tulips perched on the steps of an apartment building thinking that someone must have misplaced it. What they might fail to notice is the small tag that reads “if you find this it’s for you.”
No one has forgotten the flowers. They left them behind to brighten someone else’s day.
Miniature bouquets have been making their way through Madison — and other parts of the country — for nearly two years thanks to Madisonian Danika Laine Brubaker, who created a random acts of kindness project called “For the One Who Finds Me.”
“The first one I did was a test,” she said. “I found a little vase at the thrift store, got a little bouquet at Trader Joe’s ... I set it out on the front step of my apartment building, left to run errands and when I got back it was gone.”
Later Brubaker checked social media for her “For the One Who Finds Me” hashtag and discovered that someone had posted an image of her bouquet online.
The person who found the flowers said it made their day — and that inspired Brubaker to continue the project.
According to Brubaker, the project was on her mind for more than 10 years before it began, and the motivation for it is three-fold.
First, Brubaker said her mother taught her about random acts of kindness when she was young, and that has always remained with her.
Second, she wanted to teach her daughter Lux — who was 4 when the project began — about kindness as well. She also wanted to incorporate Lux’s curiosity into everyday life.
Lastly, she stumbled upon her own piece of found art one day in 1999, which sparked her interest in found art pieces — she’s even kept the treasure after nearly 20 years.
“I went to undergrad here at the UW and in ‘99 I was in the Memorial Union and I found a piece of found art on the back door of a bathroom stall,” she said. “It was a decorated little tag that said, ‘the pain passes but the beauty remains.’ It’s a Renoir quote. And it said ‘you’ve found art made for you by Sharon.’ My day was made!”
In the spirit of her collegiate encounter with found art, Brubaker is continuing the tradition.
Now the flowers are sprouting up everywhere. From the flower beds outside the Capitol to nooks around a local library, Brubaker’s social media followers have taken the project and run with it.
She didn’t expect “For the One Who Finds Me” to take off, let alone grow into other communities.
“One day I checked the hashtag and I saw someone else who I didn’t know (had) caught on and made their own vase, used the hashtag — and did this in Minnesota,” Brubaker said. “There was so much happiness and inspiration that someone picked it up.”
To promote the continued growth of the project, as well as to encourage kindness and community building, Brubaker applied for the artist in residency position at the Bubbler at the Madison Public Library. She was accepted for the month of August and spent the month conducting workshops focused on kindness.
The workshops involved making prints, rocks with positive messages on them, letters, or pictures in order to promote random acts of kindness or found art, she said.
“Danika had an overwhelmingly positive response at the Central Library,” Rebecca Millerjohn, children’s librarian at the Sequoya Library said. “It was so much fun to see tiny flower bouquets all over the library and Downtown.”
The feedback was so positive that Brubaker is continuing her workshops at other Madison Public Library branches to spread the work around the community.
Millerjohn said even though the workshops are no longer focused at just the Downtown library, the Bubbler program is continuing to fund materials and supplies while Whole Foods has been donating flowers.
Brubaker also applied for a $1,000 grant from The Awesome Foundation Madison chapter — a small group of locals who individually invest into a fund that makes $1,000 grants to projects — to help fund a larger scale flower arranging workshop done during a nighttime library event.
Between 50 and 60 people attended the bouquet making party and created over 100 tiny bouquets to hide.
“Someone (during the event) coined the term ‘flower ninja,’” Brubaker said. “Many flower ninjas went out and hid their flowers in Madison.”
“For the One Who Finds Me” workshops provide families an opportunity to share a teaching moment that doesn’t happen too often. There isn’t a lot of opportunity to talk to children about making things for strangers, Millerjohn said.
“We had a lot of feedback from parents that (the workshops) were a novel conversation starter for them and their children,” she said.
In the two years since its foundation, Brubaker estimates that around 350 bouquets have been hidden in association with “For the One Who Finds Me.” Of that total, she estimates that between 100 and 150 bouquets were created by her while the rest were made during workshops or on a whim by others inspired by the project.
Brubaker said she knows of one Madisonian who has come across two bouquets on two separate occasions, and Millerjohn knows of a little girl who found a bouquet in the library after she and her mother left one in the park.
This project is especially fun because so many of the donated flowers are unusual and flower arranging isn’t something someone does in their daily life, Millerjohn said.
“It’s really nice,” she said. “It feels like it’s something so special. You have this huge array to choose from and you get to make something really unique and pretty. I take mine and put them in the grocery store. I’ve left them by the coffee corral at Trader Joe’s more than once.”
Because it’s such a simple idea that anyone can take part in, Brubaker hopes that it continues to catch on around Madison and beyond.
She knows that the project has made its way into Appleton and Wauwatosa as well as Minnesota and a college in Maryland — where a group of freshmen made it into a day-long project.
Perhaps one day it will be a national or international endeavor, she said.
Brubaker said “For the One Who Finds Me” is “a response to the world feeling cold and hard and selfish. It’s a desire to put (out) some warmth and happiness and color — in my case — with flowers.”