It’s been 20 years since Chicago-based artist Matthew Hoffman created a three-word sticker with hopes of spreading self-acceptance through public art. “You Are Beautiful” started a sort of passion project, with 100 silver stickers printed in 2002.
The project has expanded since then, and has now evolved into a full-fledged, traveling exhibition that’s currently on display outside the Crate & Barrel store at Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah.
“I grew up in the Midwest,” Hoffman, who was present at the grand opening event on June 4, explains, “I moved to Chicago in 2002 and it was my first time on my own in a big, urban environment. It was super exciting, but also overwhelming.”
To help with the feeling of being lost in the visual and audio chaos of a city, he decided to make his stickers and do small installations in street art fashion.
“Now it’s a full-time endeavor, where I have a staff and we have a building in Chicago,” Hoffman says. “We’ve printed 8.5 million stickers in hundreds of different languages that have gone all around the world.”
His goal with the original project rings true today too with the next exhibition: to make people feel a little less lost and alone. “My favorite thing to do in life is make public art, it’s out there, accessible for anyone.”
Partnering with Brookfield Properties, which coins itself as “one of the world’s largest real estate managers” the exhibition will travel to eight different cities across the country. Murray is the second.
The exhibit includes positive affirmation stickers posted along the walkway from the mall entrance to the exhibit area, with phrases like “you are brilliant,” “you are hopeful” and “you are amazing.” On each side of the boxed area, there are walls with similar name tag-like stickers.
“It’s sort of that whole interpersonal group dynamics,” Hoffman says of the set-up, “all the different ways that we look at ourselves and each other.”
Inside, on one side there is a wall full of tags that people visiting can fill out for themselves, declaring whatever they want. On the opposite side, a mirror wall with the words “we are beautiful.”
On the day of the grand opening, it’s busy, children are adults alike are trying to put their own tags up, as well as make free fresh flower bouquets through Los Angeles based partner Brand Like That. There’s a station where people can paint their own succulent plants as well, along with cookies that have words of affirmation stickers and lemonade.
String FX, an SLC-based electric string quartet, performed covers of pop songs on violins, giving the entire event a Bridgerton-esque feeling.
Hoffman says each location will have a local partner they collaborate with. Though the bright colors and positive affirmations are fitting with Pride month for the LGBTQ community, he says it’s a “wonderful coincidence” that the dates lined up that way.
He hopes that even if people are just passing by and decide not to stop, his exhibit reminds them to celebrate the little moments.
“I think it’s amazing that you can see this message and the idea is that it’s for you in that moment and you can take it on whatever journey you want,” Hoffman says.
His original public art idea has grown beyond his imagination in 20 years. There are more than three words of positive affirmation, but, he says the best part is seeing the connections his idea have formed across the world.
So far, Utahns say they are: strong, unforgettable, fearless, love, beautiful and enough.
The “You Are Beautiful” Exhibit will be on display at Fashion Place Mall until June 21.
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