A Rainbow Connection in the Time of the Virus

In 1979, Kermit the Frog sang:

“Someday we’ll find it

The Rainbow Connection 

The lovers, the dreamers, and me”

In 2020 during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Brooklynites finally found it.

All across Brooklyn, families are placing rainbow drawings and paintings in their windows, creating a makeshift I-Spy game for children in the neighborhood as social distancing becomes the new norm.

As cases of COVID-19 spread across the city, social distancing upended the normal playdate routines for many children in the borough, leaving families no choice but to find creative ways to engage their children and connect with other kids from a distance.  Marisa Migdal, a Brooklyn mom, thought the rainbow was the perfect symbol to bridge the gap.  

After several strolls around Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens in mid-March, Migdal’s daughters, five-year-old Genevieve and two-year-old Cecelia, were bored. They passed the same old brownstones, the same empty playgrounds, the same barren schoolyards. They wanted to see something different, something brighter.

That’s when Migdal heard about a group in New Paltz, N.Y. that had been putting drawings of rainbows in windows. As a mother, Migdal wanted to bring her daughters and other children “a little positivity during such a hard time and a reminder that things won’t always be so stormy.” A rainbow was  the perfect way to do it. 

So she posted the idea on her Facebook group page, BoCoCa Moms, a discussion board for Brooklyn moms residing in the adjacent neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. 

“The neighborhood kiddos are going on walks but no longer can see their friends or go to playgrounds. Some of us are putting rainbows up in our windows for them to spot as many as they can on a walk. Like a giant neighborhood-wide, I-Spy game,” one post reads. “If you’re wondering what you can do in this time—put a rainbow in your window to spread some joy!”

The idea worked, but she wondered if someone could figure out a way to track all of the rainbows in Brooklyn to really bring the I-Spy game to life.  Anna Grotzky, a Carroll Gardens resident, volunteered to help immediately. As a life coach and yoga instructor, she is no stranger to providing support to people. And this was no different; she quickly created a Google Map to locate each and every rainbow.

From there, the Quarantine Rainbow Connection project took off. 

“It gives the kids something to do and the bigger it grows it’s quite obvious that it’s not only for the kids,” Grotzky said. “I thought it was a great way to bring people together and I wanted to be a part of it.”

While many of today’s graphics trace the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Quarantine Rainbow Connection Map traces the spreading of joy. Rainbow Connection participants are invited to add their rainbow to the map through a public Google Sheet where they are asked to enter location information. New York walk-ups and high-rises often make it difficult to spot a 8 x 11in paper with a rainbow on the 5th or 14th floor, so a notes section allows participants to provide clues about where to find the art, such as “first floor—under all the scaffolding” or “19th floor (bring binoculars).”

The Google Map is adorned with rainbow icons, indicating each rainbow window that has been submitted. What began as a few sparsely spread rainbows across Brooklyn exploded into a multi-color cluster of rainbows quickly proliferating across the city at large. 

In Brooklyn alone, there were 602 mapped rainbows in the borough as of March 26th. The map is updated daily. 

Janine Golub and her three-year-old daughter Ella mapped their rainbow as soon as they saw Migdal’s post. 

“It makes me feel good because other kids will see it,” Ella said of her rainbow. She wants to make rainbows for all of the windows. 

And Ella’s mom is pleased too. “As she’s been talking to her friends over FaceTime and Zoom, they talk about their rainbows in the window. It’s really cute,” she said.

However, windows like Ella’s can be found beyond New York City limits— and even across seas.  

It is believed the idea for window rainbows originated in Italy shortly after Naples’ prime minister Giuseppe Conte placed 60 million people into quarantine. Shortly after, Catholic schools across Italy began making and hanging rainbow banners that read “Andrà tutto bene,” which translates to “everything will be alright.”

The universal message transcends all languages. Back in Brooklyn, Genevieve and Cecelia Migdal anxiously await the day they can hug their friends again once COVID-19 becomes a distant memory. For the time being, communicating through rainbows, FaceTime, and Zoom will suffice. 

“We’re all in this together,” map creator Grotzky said. “And that’s kind of the beauty of this.  We’re all sharing a lot of the same emotions, a lot of the same stresses, ups and downs, highs and lows. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world. That doesn’t happen very often.”