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lieber lächeln (give a little smile - take a little smile)
idea, concept, text und artwork ©anja roth | photography ©sabine mader | actionbound ©sandra tillmann

Lieber lächeln! (give a little smile - take a little smile) is a connecting project full of talks, pictures and stories, even for those, who do not share common matters or even a common language - except of their radiant smiles. developed by anja roth. implemented by anja roth, sabine mader, sandra tillmann, the COMMUNITYartCENTER mannheim and team QuiSt IKUBIZ in mannheims neckarstadt-west, a difficult district full of different colours, foreign languages, precarious work and arduous everyday life. in many places, germany is not nearly as bright as it seems.

LD TXT schmal Leadmotiv Lieberlaecheln.j

difficult times, difficult places.

times are difficult. covid19 tightens the rules of the game. life in a district like mannheim's neckarstadt-west has become even more difficult. here it is poor, cramped, loud and colourful. artworkers, hardworkers and non-workers, large families, precarious livelihoods, people from all over the world. some people who live here consider it as a lovable and liveable district. but those who look from the outside find conditions almost unbearable. there is an urgent need for cohesion, understanding, tolerance and cooperation in the neighbourhoods. in pandemic times - with face mask and mistrust - more than ever. so we took action with a participatory and intervening artistic approach.


Lieber lächeln! gives a little help. a friendly, connecting, low-threshold offer for people in difficult neighbourhoods and diverse communities. for open-minded visibility, understanding and togetherness! it began with the idea of going outside into the streets - and smile together.

roth+mader+tillmann+team Portrait.jpg

two artists, an app designer and a team of great helpers from local ngos.

making art – taking part

the social significance of culture in terms of a totality of innumerable cultural expressions must work with images and stories. only in this way art and culture can succeed in bringing people into a constructive confrontation with their situation, their environment and with each other via a trustworthy and low-threshold approach. if each and everyone succeeds in expressing their own ideas and values, and daring to show them, then it is also possible to determine his or her own place in this world.


"for us, real artworks are not those beautiful but aloof pictures on the walls of the rich men’s world," anja roth, artist, initiator and developer of the project, explains their artistic approach. "we want to create pictures that nudge something, make a difference, that are part of our society and have something to do with people's everyday lives". good stories can arise from this as shown by our project "Lieber lächeln!", which we realised together, merging photography, artwork, participation and documentation.


handshakes? better not. hugs? not right now. kisses? also way too close.

getting out, picking up people, evaluating security measures as an opportunity, not an obstacle. that was our first approach.

Alle malen.jpg

Each one unique: 100 smiles, 100 artists, 100 posters in the neighbourhood

mission no 1: physical distance yes, social distance no!

collecting smiles for 3 days: from cheerful people and laughing cats, but also from people looking away and passionate non-smiles. they all took part after all.
 equipped with masks, disinfection, a battery of thick black felt pens and 100 weatherproof "naked" posters with a face covered up by a mouth-nose-protection, the artists anja roth and sabine mader went into action. together with the support of the staff of the COMMUNITYartCENTER and the QuiSt/IKUBIZ team, they invited the people of neckarstadt-west to embellish their district with their many different smiles. for this they simply approached them, painted with them, took photos, listened to them and thanked them.

Danke sagen gehört dazu – findet auch Quartiermanagerin Jenny Yeboah

Take a little smile in return - thank you so much for your radiant smiles!

heartwarming for all of us

different groups of people were involved. the visible presence and participation of supporters from the art institution and the youth centre have boosted in terms of acceptance, trust and relevance of the action. they praised the positive approach to the district and the appreciative output.
 the friendliness of the teams and the low-threshold nature of the exchange meant that almost all the residents of the district were willing to get involved. they were visibly proud of their works, pleased to be photographed with them and happy to receive a warm smile in return. the teams were often enthusiastically welcomed again on the following days of action. the measure of taking photographs was clearly perceived by the participants as visibility, appreciation and recognition of their person.
 the city of Mannheim was pleased to allow the 100 exhibits to be hung up free of charge. the local social media accounts showed a consistently positive response. the artists and team responsible for the project have achieved more than they had even hoped for.

everywhere outside is artists' studio. let a smile make your day.

mission no. 2: open-air, 24/7, free of charge!

100 individually smiling posters were created in this way in the streets and squares of the neckarstadt-west during 3 intensive days. as an extensive exhibition they are now distributed throughout the district. compliant with all current covid-rules. completely rectified in time and space, the exhibits can be viewed by anyone interested. who will find all 100? some may just be looking for their own painting. others have probably already got used to the friendly posters on their daily way through their district. 
and what a great compliment: some of the exhibits were already taken after the first days. carefully dismounted and carried home. where do you think they hang smiling now?

showing the neighbourhood’s smiles with mindfulness, appreciation and willingness to engage in dialogue.

mission no. 3: smiles reloaded – interactive, digital, smart.

what a personal, affectionate and analogue this action was! but it also comes digitally. starting two weaks later, a digital exhibition tour was offered as an interactive scavenger hunt, making eight of 50 designated "double smile stations" discoverable with a smartphone. 
the free app actionbound ( can be scanned from each of the posters and flyers using a qr code. it is a playful introduction to the story of the neckarstadt-smiles-exhibition. especially young people will learn a lot of interesting facts about the phenomenon of smile, about the streets of neckarstadt-west and about themselves. originally started as a media education project, actionbound is now used by many people around the world to convey learning content in a playful way. for "Lieber lächeln!", sandra tillmann, actionbound specialist at the pfälzerwaldverein, juggles with tips, pictures, quiz questions or info clips and accompanies the smiling scavenger hunt in a mobile-compatible way. each visitor at her own time, everybody at his own pace. fun, interaction and safety distance included.

Karte des AB.jpg

eight of 50 designated "double smile stations" discoverable with a smartphone

a smile - the lowest common denominator. or the highest?

living, everyday and working environments have had to change in the wake of the pandemic. distance suddenly became important. digital habits are changing communication and living together significantly. we are now called for understanding change as an opportunity and rethinking things in a positive way. innovations do a lot of good, but some things must never get lost. smiles, for example.


you’re worth it!

a smile is better. rather smile.
 a smile is a friendly hello. a good morning.
 a goodbye. see you soon. 
a smile means "thank you". and also means "please". it is a "sorry". it's ok. says i like you! i like you, too!
 may i? of course you do.
 a greeting, a consent, a benevolence. an affection. 
a smile is closeness. a smile is a gift. a clear message. pure positivity, mostly.


strangers or friends - portraits of people.

„Lieber lächeln!“ is a connecting offer for neighbourhoods, communities and companies. here people come together over the most beautiful and at the same time most non-committing gift they can give each other, the smile. it connects, arouses curiosity and creates trust. this in turn creates the courage to get involved in something new, to really see the other person and to be a little more open to each other next time.
 everyone took part. and all of then agreed willingly to give their smile away for everyone else. "we were really flashed: armed with two dozen model release contracts, we hoped that at least some of our artists would agree by signature to have their portrait photo exhibited in the spirit of the Lieber lächeln! campaign," explained sabine mader, photographer and part of the artists' tandem roth+mader, which developed and implemented the entire campaign. "everyone wanted to be there, we still had to make proper copies," she added with a laugh. 98 out of 100 participants found the action so lovable and good that they were very eager to make a contribution. smiling is contagious - a good kind of contagion.

Happy to be part of the art

"i can't do this. i am in a hurry. i don't feel like smiling today." of course there were also sceptical answers. but we listened, asked questions, showed understanding and we could almost always overcome refusal together. people want to be seen and heard. they want to make a difference. people want to smile and be happy. in the end everyone was proud of being brave and making his or her own contribution.


what art can do for you and you and you and you....

participatory and intervening artistic strategies that take place in public space always have something exploratory about them, bringing aha-moments on all sides. the insights are not always all new, but because they are often so fundamental, simple and everyday, we often simply overlook them. if we consider making-art as an easy tool, it is more natural for everyone to overcome uncertainty, rejection or at least disinterest. by showing understanding, making offers, sharing enthusiasm we create images that tell the story over and over again.

Portaits in Leiste.jpg

98 touching hd-portraits of the charming, colourful and smiling people in the Neckarstadt-West.

with a big final bow we say goodbye

to all of you artists of the art campaign "Lieber lächeln!" last act: we took down all the posters from outside hangings and put them in scene again. in the shop windows of the COMMUNITYartCENTER in mittelstraße 17, mannheim neckarstadt-west, you can see all the posters in the form of ceiling-high installations for 14 days. the posters were bent, dirty, partly torn or even cut out. we appreciate the life they carry and express. and we feel the energy and resonance that has flowed from the district and its people into our project. you have not only all participated, you have changed something. thank you for that!

come home with us now

face to face with all of those radiant smiles

Gemeinsam Kunstmachen in der Neckarstadt-West – für ein Lächeln.

carpets full of smiles

"being so very welcome was a particularly stirring and touching aspect of the "Lieber lächeln!" campaign, says anja roth. "when I developed the concept, I could only guess what the implementation could do to us all. not only were we creative and happy together, we really grew to love the district and its people. and they loved us, too. actually, we have all become friends for that period.


by the way: "Lieber lächeln!" was so winningly designed that it was selected for funding by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts as part of the "Kultursommer 2020" programme.

Mit Jenny.jpg

​credits and thanks:

anja roth ideas, concept, network, artwork, heartwork.

sabine mader for photography, passion and support

sandra tillmann for developing the scavenger hunt, passion and support

COMMUNITYartCENTERmannheim for project support and assistance

QuiSt IKUBIZ for district guide, support and hands-on activities


want some smiles too? project lead and contact:
 anja roth,,, +49 176 31723516

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