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The Periscope

Curing Ignorance Through the Lens

It’s a Sign


An art project collecting signs from homeless people raises awareness.

Willie Baronet has been collecting signs made by homeless people for over two decades and the purpose has evolved over the years. Baronet said, “When I first started doing this, it came out of my discomfort out of seeing people who are homeless …  It shed a light on the fact that I made up stories about the homeless in my head, without knowing one thing about them.” In making conversation with homeless people and negotiating the exchange of the signs (for an average of $10.50 per sign) he became more comfortable and learned many people’s stories. Eventually he used the signs for flashmobs in which volunteers held up the signs at intersections in order to raise awareness of homelessness and the many factors which cause it. As an MFA student he also organized a show called ‘Home?’ that featured the signs and an examination of the meaning of home

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Now Baronet is on the road, spending a month buying the signs of homeless people from Seattle to New York City. He wants to see what variations exist in the signs and experiences of the homeless across the country. In Dallas, where Baronet lives, he’s already noticed that the signs are smaller than those in Austin, where panhandling ordinances are more lenient. As an artist, it’s also interesting to Baronet to consider the various designs of the signs. He often wondersabout the choices made by each person in the way they wrote, the size and legibility of the letters, the words they decided mattered enough to be on the signs. And occasionally the drawings, the humor, the typos.” The month-long journey will eventually be made into a book and a documentary.

Photo by Curtis Cronn, licensed under Creative Commons.