As the editor of design mind, quite a few interesting stories come across my desk, but rarely do I get the chance to get out from behind my computer and dig into them as deeply as I want to. That was not the case with a story in this issue about JR and his Inside Out Project.
I had seen the French street artist on stage in Edinburgh at TED Global reminding the audience about Inside Out and showing us how various communities around the world were creating the project (Inside Out is a global community art effort that allows anyone, anywhere in the world to express and empower themselves by pasting up giant posters of local people). People from Kathmandu to New York to Tokyo to Tunisia were gathering large crowds with their own Inside Out actions. Some were political statements. Others were displays of togetherness. Still others were experiments on the power of visual art. The graphic images of one action in particular from the South Bronx in New York were so stunning that we decided to put one on the cover of the magazine.
I also started wondering how this whole Inside Out action gets done, so I decided to do one myself. Thus Inside Out Bastrop was born.
Bastrop is a small Texas town about 30 miles east of Austin. In September, it was at the epicenter of the some of the most destructive wildfires in the nation this year. Downtown Bastrop was untouched but the fires burned over 30,000 acres outside of town, leveling over 1,700 homes and leaving more than 5,000 people homeless. It ended up being the worst fire in Texas history. When I decided to do an Inside Out Project, I immediately thought of doing it in Bastrop. I never thought the city needed beautification. That’s not why I chose Bastrop. I chose it because it seemed like the town needed help and I wanted to see if art could help — specifically, I wanted to see if I could show the local community that the faces of the Bastrop people, and the firefighters, and the volunteers who are still coming to help clean up were not faces of defeat, but that they were faces of strength. I wanted to show that Bastrop wasn’t going anywhere, fires be damned.
And so, I put a team together and in three weeks we managed to convince more than 40 people to stand in front of our camera, lobby the City of Bastrop (specifically the Bastrop Art in Public Places Commission) that our idea was a good one, and find and secure a wall upon which to paste our images. On the third weekend, about 24 people from frog’s Austin studio and the community of Bastrop were elbow deep in wheat paste glue slapping up posters on the side of an old corrugated steel warehouse.
In so many ways, Inside Out Bastrop speaks perfectly to the Stuff of Life, which is the theme we sought to get to the bottom of in this issue of design mind. It’s perfect because it really gets at what that “stuff” is. It’s not things. Not houses. Not cars. It’s taking in strangers and neighbors who have no things left. It’s the courage to rebuild. It’s the strength to persevere in the face of hardship. It’s coming together. It’s community.