Communities

This Artist Wants You to Talk to Strangers

by Katie Wudel

April 8, 2015

We’re teaming up with our friends at Sambazon for 100 days of little ways to change our world. Follow along for the next 100 days of action (and giveaways!) on Instagram @Sambazon and at www.sambazon.com/100. And don’t forget to tell us @GOOD about how you’re changing your world with the hashtag #100Startswith1.

#100StartsWith1

Champion: Hunter Franks

Action: Write and send a postcard about your neighborhood to someone you don’t know.

Hunter Franks

In 2011, artist Hunter Franks decided to take a walk. A long one—from Los Angeles to New Mexico. Because he was on foot, he interacted with a lot of strangers he might normally have passed by. One gave him caramel corn on Christmas Day. Others offered up their homes for a night or two. “What I really learned from that walk is that 99.9 percent of people in the world are good at heart and can break you out of your comfort zone... I think it was Bill Nye the Science Guy who said, ‘Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.’”

That walk really stuck with Franks; years later, his artwork encourages people from different backgrounds, cultures, income levels, and races to converse and connect with one another. The Neighborhood Postcard Project, for example, collects personal positive stories from underrepresented communities and mails them to random people in different neighborhoods within the same city.

A postcard from San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood

“My focus isn’t about creating massive change overnight—I’m not trying to develop a 50-year master plan with city officials to revitalize underrepresented neighborhoods, as great as that would be. My focus is on getting that first step accomplished. The truth is, you can’t go up to somebody and expect to change their minds about somebody or someplace overnight. But you can plant a positive seed about your so-called ‘blighted’ neighborhood in someone else’s mind.”

The reverse of the Western Addition postcard

But why postcards? Why not have strangers reach out over social media or email so they can stay in touch there? “Our personal social networks are becoming much more expansive—but we’re really only talking to people who share our same worldviews. And, you know, how many Facebook events did you say you were going to go to that you didn’t actually show up to? Versus how many letters in the mail have you received that you cherish and still take out sometimes and appreciate. The analog nature of the postcard—of seeing a stranger’s actual handwriting—makes it such a powerful way to deliver a message.”

Toolkit

1. Download this toolkit (.zip)

2. Print out the included postcard template (the thicker the paper, the better).

3. Write in your name, a way to reach you (optional), and why you love your neighborhood.

4. On the front of the card, fill in your “Greetings from” your specific neighborhood. Add drawings, collages, or however you want to express yourself.

5. Use whitepages.com or zillow.com to find a random address. Zillow includes house prices, which might help you choose a neighborhood facing a different socieconomic reality than your own.

6. Affix a 34 cent stamp.

7. Snap a picture of your card and upload to social media with the hashtags #100StartsWith1 and #NeighborhoodPostcardProject.

8. Send out your positive message to an unsuspecting stranger.

Images courtesy Hunter Franks

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This Artist Wants You to Talk to Strangers