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Local artists look to beautify Austin with photos of its residents

Alt Space Chicago’s “Project Stamp” offers to take free portraits of Austin residents with plans of using the photos to beautify the community.

Jordan Campbell, photographer and co-founder of Alt Space Chicago, canvasses Hubbard Park in the Austin neighborhood to inform residents of a plan to beautify the community with photos.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

A new nonprofit based in the Austin neighborhood fueled by two local artists is launching a campaign to beautify the public space with images of its residents.

The campaign dubbed “Project Stamp” is an effort to document the Austin community by photographing families for free and displaying their portraits throughout the neighborhood.

Free copies of the photos also will be printed out on the spot and given to those who participate.

“We want to take pictures of the business owner in the neighborhood, the auntie that’s been on the block preaching for years, everyday families, children, firefighters and police officers,” Jon Veal, artist and co-founder of Alt Space Chicago, said.

High-resolution versions of the photos will take two to three weeks to be “stamped” along specific corridors in Austin. The group hopes to have more than 50 photos displayed ranging in size.

“This is important because when you walk down the street you just see random pieces of advertising,” Veal said. “With this, when you walk near a dilapidated place you’ll see your neighbor with an uplifting message.”

Jordan Campbell, photographer and co-founder of Alt Space Chicago, said those photographed will be asked what kind of community-led “innovation” they want to see in Austin. Every photo displayed will have their response.

Veal and Campbell hope their work can draw awareness to issues facing Austin — like job and housing insecurities — through different artistic mediums while also presenting solutions to those issues from its residents.

“This is how we reframe the narrative about what it means to live in Austin,” Campbell said.

The photos will appear on the facade of Austin businesses, fences and even on abandoned buildings. Specific locations have not been released.

Alt Space Chicago co-founder Jordan Campbell (right) signs up Austin resident Richard Stewart to take his free portrait. “Project Stamp” will take the photographs and plaster them around the neighborhood.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

“This is going to uplift the community and show that although there may be a severely damaged building, your presence alone is uplifting the neighborhood,” Campbell said.

Chris Banks, Austin Coming Together’s micro-market recovery program coordinator, said Alt Space also fits into Austin Coming Together’s Quality of Life plan, which was released late last year.

Banks has been crucial in identifying the areas in Austin that Alt Space should target, Veal said.

“Austin is too often eclipsed by the bad things, such as violence and poverty, that people don’t take the time to look at the people who actually live in this neighborhood,” Banks said. “So for people who just drive through these neighborhoods and look at it as a nuisance, it’ll be great for them to visualize the actual families that live here.”

This is Alt Space’s inaugural project. Similar projects in Austin with a focus on the arts are still in the works, Campbell said.

Austin residents wanting to participate have three opportunities:

  • Sept. 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Hubbard Park, 4942 W. Hubbard St.
  • Sept. 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., GlennArt Farm, 443 N. Waller Ave.
  • Sept. 15, 1 to 5 p.m., Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chris Banks (from left), Tyler Campbell and Jordan Campbell plan community outreach efforts at Austin Coming Together’s headquarters.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.