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Piece It Together A Hands-On Art Project Helps Families Create Meaningful Expressions

Imagine an art collaboration that defies ageism. With pieces from New York to the Czech Republic, peppered with brushstrokes and collages, the installation stands at a whopping 9-by-1,250 feet.

‘Tis the brainchild of artist Tim Kelly, who coordinates and maintains the Puzzle Installation & Collaborative Project. The task is simple. With a ten dollar donation, participants receive art supplies and a 24-by-24 inch blank canvas to decorate and emote as they please. The result? Inspirational. The rules? Zero! “All we ask is that you make your puzzle piece meaningful to you,” instructs Kelly.

How It All Started
Along with artists Sandy Taylor and Marie Maber, Kelly’s passion project was born at the Monmouth County Arts Festival in 2009. Taking inspiration from the Deepak Chopra quote—“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle (of life),”—the creative team settled on a jigsaw creation.

“We continue to grow every day,” expresses Kelly who has since worked with schools, art groups, individual artists, and organizations across the country (and the world). This juggernaut of a jigsaw now houses 4,000 pieces. With hopes to reach 5,000, Kelly is scouting venues for a NYC installation that will be able to accommodate that volume of art. “It will be a historic exhibition that will help prove that art is an essential form of expression that cannot be denied,” states Kelly.

In a culture where economic woes are taking their toll on schools and art programs have taken the hit, the Puzzle Project comes to the rescue at a much-needed moment. Kelly sums it up perfectly: “Kids should never be deprived of their creative outlet.  It’s too important at this stage of their lives to be creative thinkers.”

How To Get Involved
What better season than the summer to exercise that imaginative muscle? From a little girl creating a piece with the self-loving theme of “be yourself” to a teenager focusing on “I’m different, get use to it,” the Puzzle Project boasts a simple message that can be fun for the whole family.
At the “Art is Good” workshops, come sit on a comfy blanket and surround yourself with hundreds of puzzle pieces while you create your own masterpiece.

•  A do-it-yourself puzzle workshop at Art Connects New York (491 Broadway, 5th floor) on Tuesday, July 19 from 6-9pm.
• Groups or schools interested in setting up a workshop or purchasing puzzle pieces should check Kelly’s website to get in contact with him.
• 700 pieces are on display until July 27 at Art Connects New York. You can also purchase a puzzle piece there.
• Over 2,000 pieces are also on display at the Middletown Township Arts Center in New Jersey. Those interested can purchase pieces.
• To see some of the powerful puzzle pieces, click here.

Posted By: Melanie Dostis, July 12, 2011

Middleton Patch: Puzzled About Art, Life and Passion at Middletown Arts Center Arts Center hosts collaborative puzzle project; people invited to craft, observe

Artist Tim Kelly believes that art is what makes life good for him and for others — so good that it even makes his heart palpitate.

“In fact, all things related to art do; old art, new art, the appreciation of art, questions about art, answers about art, events related to art, clouds that form art and just about anything else with any connection to art,” he said. “Art is good. That is something I know.”

And through July at the Middletown Arts Center, next to the train station on Church Street, you can get glimpse of that very large-scale, unifying artsy feeling that has been transformed into a giant puzzle.

It’s Kelly’s way of spreading the “art is good” word across the land through the collaborative effort between Puzzle Installation and Collaborative Project and his Art is Good workshops.

The traveling, participatory project materializes through the crafting and interlocking of thousands of 24 by 24-foot dry mount foam pieces. At its stop in Middletown, Kelly hopes the puzzle will slowly expand to cover most, if not all, of the walls of the center, conveying his universal message.

That message was borne out of his lifetime love of art and what he sees as its transformative, healing powers.

Kelly has taught his Art is Good workshops in New York and New Jersey. According to him, there have been over 100 of those workshops since the sister to the Puzzle Project was founded in 2008.

His particular passion for it is derived from his belief that art is essential to life. “The impact of the installation is testament to the fact that art is a powerful form of expression that cannot be denied,” he said.

The idea for the collaborative project was simple yet far-reaching and unifying – to create thousands of the large blank foam-core puzzle pieces from people all over the nation (even world) supporting varying causes or just plain expressing themselves or paying homage to a particular type of art or artist.

The individual identities of pieces that end up interlocked symbolize putting the pieces of life, reason, challenges and passion together. The pieces are individually decorated and limited only by the artistic skill of each puzzle piece creator. Some are painted. Some are drawn. Others are collaged. Each has its own story.

The one thing that is repetitive is the shape, simple and precise so that they all fit together, but the goal of the project is for each piece to say something personally meaningful, Kelly said.

Giant puzzle pieces have already been made in over 15 states, four countries, and on three continents. They have been created by several schools, community arts groups, organizations like the YMCA, Americorp, hospitals and support groups like the Ocean County Brain Tumor Support Group.

Kelly’s project cohort, Marie Maber, associate professor in the Art Department at Brookdale Community College, said the genesis of the Puzzle Project came from a brainstorming session between Sandy Taylor, director of Arts Education at the Monmouth County Arts Council, Kelly and herself. Maber was coordinator of Brookdale’s Center for the Visual Arts (CVA) Gallery in the fall of 2008, when the three art advocates met and came up with their plan.

They discussed what could be done to install works of art made by teens from 18 area high schools so that they would all come together as a unified piece.

“They were both looking at me and gesturing with their hands to illustrate all of those works coming together in the Gallery, so I suggested that the students each make their artworks on supports that were shaped like standard puzzle pieces, only larger.

“Lightbulbs went off … It was one of those classic ‘aha’ moments. The Puzzle Project was born,” she said, adding that “it was the result of a true, three-way collaboration between Tim, Sandy, and myself.”

Maber explained that idea worked so well that the three-way collaboration led to a successful Teen Arts Festival in the spring of 2009.

“The fact that the project continues above and beyond the 2009 Teen Arts Festival is a testament to the energy and drive of Tim Kelly and the support of all of the agencies like the county Arts Council and businesses like Surf Taco (in Belmar) that have supported his efforts to date,” she said.

According to Kelly, who is a resident artist at SurfTaco, it didn’t take long for Rob Nagel, SurfTaco’s founder, to see the value in the project.

“Rob offered to pay for the materials and generously offered SurfTaco’s space for any preparation or project needs,” Kelly said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Several artists and volunteers from the Belmar Arts Council showed up at SurfTaco one sunny weekend to help prep the puzzle materials. “They turned each eight-by-four-foot sheet of foam core (paid for by SurfTaco) into eight individual puzzle pieces then created approximately 800 copies for the Arts Festival installation.

After Brookdale, it was installed at SurfTaco on Main Street in Belmar.
Several sub-installations are currently being developed across the country and around the world.

“The School of Creative and Performing Arts in San Diego found us and made the project bi-coastal,” Kelly said. “In addition, the YMCA in Brooklyn started making puzzle pieces at several locations. Then Monmouth County Library System hosted Art is Good puzzle making workshops at all of their branches. Soon we were making puzzle pieces with organizations, supports groups and with random artists.”

Puzzle sub-installations are even being developed internationally at The Secondary School of Applied Arts in Kosice in Slovakia, The Shanghai Community International School in China and the Escola Xin Hua at Macau in Hong Kong. “They will all be reunited in NYC for an awesome group exhibition,” Kelly said. “We will then go then intergalactic.”

Kelly coordinates the puzzle installation and has accepted the responsibility for growing, maintaining, sustaining and promoting the project in the future.

“Puzzle project participants immediately become contributing artists in a traveling group exhibition. So if you make your own piece, you would have that going for you on your artistic resume,” Kelly said, adding, “We hope to show the Puzzle installation in NYC in 2011-2012 and to exhibit the installation internationally by 2012-2013.

“”The best is yet to come,” he said. “Oprah is going to love this project.”


Have you made your puzzle piece? If not, make the time to get over to the Middletown Arts Center through April. The collaboration will continue to grow every time someone makes a puzzle piece. Puzzle making workshops will be held on Feb. 26, March 19 and April 19 at the Arts Center.

The cost to craft a puzzle piece on your own is $10 and attendance at a workshop to craft pieces costs $20 and includes materials and Kelly’s instruction and support. The donations go to support art initiatives at Middletown Arts Center and will also provide funding for Camp Jinka, which is a free camp at MAC provided to kids and teens from the brain tumor support community.

Giant puzzle with pieces from around the world coming together with help from Staten Island


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. –When it’s completed, it will be taller than a giant and wider than a tugboat, and will include tidbits of thousands of people’s lives.

It will be a colossal puzzle with thousands of segments, each of which will be designed by people from across the world, and it will be on display this time next year somewhere in New York City.

The latest additions to the giant jigsaw were 50 pieces designed Wednesday by students from South Richmond High School, Pleasant Plains, and Bernstein Intermediate School, Huguenot.

The project is the brainchild of Tim Kelly, an artist who wanted to create something massive to show why art shouldn’t be minimalized.

“The goal is just to really blow people’s minds,” Kelly said. “I just want people to be able to get to it and see that art’s as important as anything in your life. It will leave no dispute that art is valuable and a form of expression that can be utilized by many people.”

So far, Kelly has collected 4,000 puzzle pieces, each a 24 inch-by-24 inch foam board. They have come from people in 14 states and four countries.

Not all of the project participants are schools; some are individuals who have reached out to him through, while others are groups like Compassionate Friends, which comprises parents dealing with the loss of a child.

The project was received with resounding enthusiasm at South Richmond High School and Bernstein Intermediate, where students — some from an art class, but most with special needs — thought about what means the most to them in life and how to express it on paper. The get-together, at Bernstein Intermediate, was organized by South Richmond High School teacher Rhonda Tasca.

“They had a great time laughing and coming up with ideas,” Kelly said. “The project is so great because it runs the gamut from age to subject, from love to peace to Pokemon. You can literally cover everything.”

In one case, he said a student with special needs had his head in his hands and looked extremely frustrated trying to get started on his project. One of the artists grabbed a blank puzzle piece, plopped down across from him and began drawing.

Before they knew it, the student was engaged, asking questions and designing his own piece.

Published by SI LIve: Friday, November 05, 2010

photo: Staten Island Advance/Irving Silverstein

Click to link to the article online

Puzzle Project in Time Out New York

Date: October 18, 2010 2:20 PM
Subject: just a question

Can you recommend some places that people often go to alone? I hate the pack mentality of going to bars in droves, or needing a partner to dine with, so I’m looking for some ideas of places to go solo.



Paint alone
Let your inner Jackson Pollock run free by contributing to a massive art installation by Greenpoint- based artist Tim Kelly, titled Puzzle Project. It’s made of interlocking, individually designed pieces; pick up your own blank one from the Reaves Gallery (526 W 26th St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves; 646-734-9072,; Thur–Sat, noon–6pm; $10), go wild with Crayolas, then return it. “There are no rules, just make it meaningful to you,” says Kelly. The entire thing—5,000 pieces—will be displayed next year.

Figment NYC & The Puzzle Project This Weekend!

I already told you about a great project called PaperJam at Figment NYC, which is happening this weekend on Governors Island. I want to introduce to you another amazing project called The Puzzle Project by an amazing Greenpointer named Tim Kelly.

The Puzzle Installation & Collaborative Project is a huge   traveling group art exhibition that continues to grow. It originated at the Monmouth County Arts Council, but the project gained such popularity and momentum among art and community organizations, like our ownGreenpoint YMCA, and schools throughout the US and abroad that it’s become Tim’s full-time gig, which is completely self-funded. When you see the scale of this project you will wonder what fuels him.

When you meet Tim you will quickly understand it is his genuine love for art and his passion for sharing that love that gives him the energy to manage this huge endeavor.

After greeting me on his stoop with his two adorable kitties, Tim invited me inside and took me up to his attic where he showed me some of the 1000s of puzzle pieces he has amassed, all made by individuals from all corners of the country. Each unique piece he took out got him very excited. “Look at this one!” he would say as he pulled out one after another, “Oh this one is awesome!”

Tim gets great joy from encouraging people to make artwork. He even gets more excited when he talks about the entire project installed with over 5000 puzzles pieces connected along a giant wall, which is what he hopes for in a NYC exhibition this fall. Standing on top of one another, all those puzzle pieces are as tall as the Empire State Building.

He got choked up when he read a letter from the Navy Wives Club, who organized a puzzle workshop for patients at the Balboa Naval hospital who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress after returning from combat. Their faces and demeanors immediately brightened up when they began making artwork.

“When your kids everyone is an artist,” Tim said, “By the time they are soldiers they just don’t think they should be doing art. Then they do it, then they love it.”

The puzzle is a metaphor for the creative connection we share. “You can’t do it wrong,” Tim explains and, “the kids just go for it.” And when someone complains they aren’t an artists, Tim says it’s a collaboration in expression with “no rules, just make it meaningful.”

Tim even gave me a puzzle piece to complete. I don’t describe myself as an artist, but I have been working very hard. My art form is the To Do List. Holding the puzzle piece feels like holding an artists palate, and the beauty of this To Do list is it’s gigantic, so I can’t lose it. I’ve realized that Greenpointers is a place for continued creative expression and my art is that of discovery. My recent Walk of Inspiration is one take on this.

Tim Kelly’s tireless dedication to making art inviting and accessible to everyone is truly a great gift and we should be proud to have such a talented and giving Greenpointer in our community.

If you are on Governors Island this weekend for Figment NYC, make sure to stop by and make a puzzle piece. The Puzzle Project will also be part of the upcomingWilliamsburg Walks on the weekend of June 16-17th.

If you are interested in Tim’s artwork, check out his studio called Creative Seven. Tim also gives art workshops via his program called Art is Good.

Posted by Jen G.

 About Jen G

After living in NYC my entire life, I found the strongest sense of community in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Running this blog is truly an honor and the best part is meeting its readers in real life. Everyday I am energized by smiles and inspiring conversations with fellow Greenpointers who tirelessly do and create incredible things that are good for our community and share the same love I have for life here. If you see me walking with my little dog “D” – please say hi!

‘Tis a Puzzlement Bob Jordon, Asbury Park Press

MANALAPAN — There’s something puzzling about the mural hanging in the front lobby of the Monmouth County Library Headquarters on Symmes Road. The colorful spectacle actually is a joint creation by participants at Puzzle Project workshops at county library branches in Shrewsbury, Hazlet, Howell, Marlboro, Wall, Allentown and Manalapan.

Hundreds of separate art and expressive works on 2-by-2-foot foam core puzzle pieces — including drawings, paintings, and poetry — were snapped together on March 10 by coordinator Tim Kelly. There’s no common theme, except the artists collaboratively “prove that art is essential to life,” Kelly said. “I tell participants as a guideline that each piece shouldn’t just say something, it should say something meaningful to you,” said Kelly, an artist and instructor. Kelly is a former Shore resident now living in New York City with an art studio in Brooklyn.

Visions and statements about peace and love are the most common themes, said Kelly, adding, “It’s funny how those themes have stayed prominent for practically forever. They never go away.”

One contribution consists of a gray canvas, a drawing of a flower, and the hand-printed lyrics of the song “Forgotten Children” by Tokio Hotel. “They can tell any story they want on the puzzle pieces,” Kelly said.
County library officials said Puzzle Project is part of expanded teen/young-adult programming being offered.

Monmouth County Public Relations Librarian Judi Tolchin said many library systems are making efforts to reconnect with young readers. The Monmouth system has a Teen Advisory Board that holds monthly meetings. Students serving as board members earn community service hours as they share ideas for teen programs.

“Teenagers are in transition. If we can keep them involved in their libraries, they will have an important resource to use as they are starting their careers and starting to go on with their futures,” Tolchin said.

click to link to article

Pieces of the Puzzle: Tim Kelly’s Art Collaborative

“First and foremost, art has no rules. If you want to paint with your big toe, paint with your big toe,” said Tim Kelly with a smile. He is tall and broad-shouldered, but you wouldn’t know it—he’s sitting cross-legged in the corner of the P.S. 16 cafeteria in Williamsburg as a flurry of his tiny students chase each other around the room. “Sometimes—especially in schools—I get in trouble for saying that!” Apparently that’s how he got the multi-colored paint hand prints that now decorate his apron. “Art is expression.”

This is Tim Kelly’s mantra and his guiding principal, and nothing embodies it more perfectly than his brainchild and masterpiece, the Puzzle Installation and Collaborative Project, a large-scale interactive traveling art project involving more than 5,000 foam core puzzle pieces, to eventually be assembled together. Each piece is given to an individual, who is in turn expected to transform it into a piece of art.

“I always say, don’t just make something, make something that’s meaningful to you,” Kelly said, lifting his arm to wave to a group of students being scooted out of the school by their respective parents. He teaches workshops five days a week at various locations—including PS 16, where he hosts students participating in the Greenpoint YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign—and often works on the weekends.

“I created this project to advocate for art as a form of expression,” Kelly said. “We are at a time in America when the endowments for the arts are being cut and being deemed unnecessary. Art is a form of expression everybody understands, and I don’t think it should be denied to anybody.”

One year ago this week, Kelly, who lives and works in Greenpoint, began the Puzzle Project almost by accident. He was hired by Brookdale Community College, in collaboration with the Monmouth County Arts Council, to create an interactive art project for its students. In response, Kelly brought 800 foam-core puzzle pieces and spent three days working with the young artists, helping them create a large-scale “jigsaw puzzle.” After the exhibition, Kelly realized—he was on to something.

“At the end of the festival, we had 800 puzzle pieces, which was awesome,” Kelly said. “But every time I do a workshop I’m convinced I should keep going.” In the course of one full year, Kelly has acquired more than 2,000 pieces, and hopes to make it to 5,000 by the end of 2010.

Kelly’s primary motivation for the project, however, isn’t the end result. More important is the process of working closely with others to help them to realize their artistic potential, find their individual voice and create something personal and meaningful. Each puzzle piece is meant as an expression in and of itself, and when put together the stories will become inextricably woven together.

“People liken this project to the AIDS quilt,” Kelly said. “Each piece is someone’s story, and the sheer power of thousands of pieces together is a testament to the sheer power of each individual. Art can be a very ‘me’ thing sometimes, and collaboration is beautiful. Of the thousand plus pieces some are made in pairs, in groups and by individuals. You can just see the sense of pride in each artist. And I tell each and every one of them, you are part of something bigger.”

Kelly not only works with educational institutions. He also does workshops with brain cancer patients and survivors, Americorp participants and other groups that want to be involved. So far, seven states are represented in the Puzzle Project, and Kelly expects to soon see art from all across the country. Though, a project this size certainly isn’t easy.

“My office, my house, my car—they are all full of puzzle pieces!” Kelly said. “I even cut the first 1,500 by hand. Let me tell you, my hands were really shaking. But what do they say? If you care about something and stand for something it’s a passion project? I even dream about this at night.”

While promoting art and expression is Kelly’s primary focus, Kelly is also concerned with empowering Puzzle Project participants by helping them believe in themselves.

“Encouragement is free, and I tell all my students, whether they’re children or adults or cancer patients or homeless people, that their work is awesome,” Kelly said. “Picasso said that everyone is born an artist, the hard part is staying one when you get older. Well, I tell everyone that they are all artists, and the most important tool is the ideas in their heads.”

After he reaches his goal of 5,000 puzzle pieces, Kelly hopes to land a guest spot on the Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres talk show, and have a final exhibition featuring each and every puzzle piece.

click to link to article

Juliet Linderman, Mar 18, 2010

Why We Think That Art Is Good


Judy Zocchi, Cheryl Farrington Questore & Tim Kelly


Art is Good was born in the Spring of 2008. Judy Zocchi hired Tim Kelly to provide healing arts workshops to the brain tumor support community throughout the Summer of 2008. This photo was taken at MoMA  during first planning  meeting in ‘08. 

Afterward they wrote:


Art is Better Than I Thought…
Judy Zocchi, Founder of The David S. Zocchi Brain Tumor Center

When I first met Tim, I was impressed by his generosity of spirit and his enthusiasm for art. More importantly, I saw how he connected with the kids and teens whose lives had been affected by a family member’s diagnoses of a brain tumor. Immediately I knew he was the person to teach the art classes sponsored by the David S. Zocchi Brain Tumor Center. Then it happened – art happened, fun happened and somehow in the midst of all that, healing happened. I watched as the kids stayed after their class and the teens and the young adults came early to their class. Age wasn’t a factor for this new community of people who were brought together by a similar life experience. I watched as parents started to paint, initially because they were waiting for their children, but that turned into honest participation. It was contagious. Employees from Surf Taco were so inspired that they started to paint. Volunteers from the community would drop by and join in. I just couldn’t resist anymore and I picked up a brush! And then magically it happened, with each stroke, I was able to release some of the grief that I had been carrying around since I lost David. All I can say is “Art is Good”, no let me rephrase that, art is better than I thought!

Certain Things in Life Are Undisputedly Good, Tim Kelly

I met Judy Zocchi during a promotion that The David S. Zocchi Brain Tumor Center was doing with SurfTaco. It immediately impressed me when I learned afterward how much she had accomplished for the Center in such a short period of time (raising funds and building facility). It was hard not to want to help. As we worked together and became friends we began to realize how much we both loved art…we both agreed that art is good. 

Most things that Ms. Zocchi does for the Brain Tumor Center revolve around trying to make life easier on the families of people affected. Judy suggested that we create art classes for kids & teens involved with the Center. I remember her eyes lighting up as she recommended it to me. So I began to develop a lesson plan, create materials and call my artist friends to volunteer. SurfTaco generously provides the fun space for our workshops. Together we’ve gotten the ball rolling and have been gaining momentum ever since. Everyone involved has been so amazing. The families motivation and courage despite all they have been through, is truly inspirational. 

Throughout our many workshops and exhibitions, I have learned much more about life than I have taught about art. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I feel blessed to know everyone involved. Art really is good.