Matthew Hoffman's message has always been a simple one.
Upon arriving in Chicago more than ten years ago, the Midwest native said he was processing the staggering number of ads plastering the city—not all of them positive—and wanted to put a simpler, more uplifting reminder out into the world: "You are beautiful."
What started out as a pack of 100 stickers ten years back has since exploded into a worldwide community with a grassroots spirit. In Chicago, stickers and the occasional installation have been peppered around the city on bike racks, dumpsters, windowsills and bus benches to convey Hoffman's message of positivity.
In mid-January, Hoffman decided to launch a Kickstarter to help the "You Are Beautiful" project live on in book form. The plan is to stuff the pages with a decade's worth of photos and stories from the people and places who have helped the message spread. The campaign is thanking backers with "You Are Beautiful" stickers, copies of the book, written acknowledgement in the finished piece and other goods.
With a little less than two weeks left in the Kickstarter, the project has roughly 60 percent of pledges needed to hit the $25,000 funding goal. Buoyed by the good news that a "generous backer" had offered to match pledges up to $1,500 until Saturday, HuffPost Chicago spoke to Hoffman about how three simple words—and a few different sticker designs—have spread around the world.
The Huffington Post: The message you've put out since starting this project ten years ago is that "You are beautiful." How did you pick "beautiful" out from other affirmations like "You are great" or "You are perfect"?
Matthew Hoffman: I wanted a really simple, positive message. I didn't want something like "You are perfect" because I don't think anyone is perfect—but "You are beautiful" can mean so many things: inner beauty, a certain aspect of a person... I definitely considered all the different options and tried to poke a hole in each one.
HP: What was the project like starting out?
MH: I moved here after college [Hoffman studied graphic design at Ball State] and it was when street art was getting to be a really big thing. It was a really exciting time for that kind of art.
Originally, it was just 100 stickers. They weren't always the brushed silver, which has been the design for a while, they were actually a different design than what they were supposed to be—they were supposed to be green. It was a printing error and they came out this really strange shade of brown. [The printer] offereed to re-do them, and the [resulting] ones were even worse! It's funny that after such a rough start you keep going.
HP: You've describe yourself as the "custodian" of the project; who are the other players that have helped make "You Are Beautiful" happen?
MH: There have been people all over taking part. [A few years back], several artists were invited to Italy where we painted various murals in Comacchio. Some were in English, and the other were in the local dialect, "Tie Une Merevie." The town [of Comacchio] raised money to get us there, and it was an incredible experience.
There have also been people who helped with big installations on a building in Indianapolis, Ind., in Philadelphia... In Chicago there's one currently up on Washington near the highway—on a second story building outside the windows that went up in 2005. There's a partial installation outside a small grocery store near Western and Foster.
Camp Firebelly has been a huge force behind this.
HP: Not everyone has a favorable view of street art; some folks see it as vandalism. Have you had any backlash?
MH: Everything we've done has been with permission--whether it's securing a verbal agreement or done on a handshake. We want to do this respectfully, and there really hasn't been any backlash. We even say when we send out the stickers to be respectful with them. [The project] is something beautiful and we don't want to undermine that message.
HP: The book isn't the end of the project, so what's the long-term plan for "You Are Beautiful?"
We want to do so much more work with the project and continue the message. We have an installation coming up in February at the Green Exchange and we want to go to some more countries.
HP: Is there another plan if the Kickstarter doesn't hit the goal?
MH: The book will happen, no matter what. We'll just make it work. I mean, this started ten years with a hundred stickers and now we've printed 500,400. It's been amazing that it's always worked out.
Help the "You Are Beautiful" Kickstarter get the rest of the way and watch the video below to learn more.
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