Words overheard from a classmate in my 9:30 am Logo Design class.
Her outfit: a pair of sweatpants and a loose-fitting t-shirt.
The word “homeless” carries such a heavy stigma, and that weight falls on the shoulders of those who have been there.
Creative Advertising professor, Willie Baronet, has been buying and collecting homeless signs for a project titled WE ARE ALL HOMELESS which he created in 1993. To me, this project acts as a gesture to humanize the people who have unwillingly been made invisible. While interacting with a homeless person on a street corner, I’m certain I’m not the only one who fiddles with my A/C, pretends to see something important on my phone, or just looks the other way. The people who find themselves in such adverse circumstances are completely ignored. Reduced to nothing but sharpies on cardboard.
On a chilly November morning, Willie Baronet brought Home is a Journey to SMU. The first annual walk to raise awareness about homelessness, compassion, gratitude and privilege. Students and supporters marched from Doak Walker Plaza to Dallas Hall Lawn, carrying authentic homeless signs, created and held by someone experiencing homelessness. A lineup of compelling speakers shared their stories about experiencing homelessness, an eye-opening and humbling experience for everyone in attendance.
Baronet recounts the event, “The most poignant moment of the whole march was when we turned right on the boulevard. I looked back and saw a line of 120 people, nobody smiling, nobody talking, all carrying signs…the gravity of that image was so powerful.”
This week, the majority of SMU’s student body will go home for the holidays.
Which prompts the question: What is home?
Is it a group of people? A familiar location? A feeling?
Whatever home means to you, this project intends to shift your perspective, remove the stigma around homelessness and create a sense of gratitude for what you do have.
Tuesday, February 28, the Temerlin Advertising Institute hosted a public screening and Q&A of documentary “Signs of Humanity” at the Angelika Film Center as part of its 2017 ExxonMobil Lecture Series.
“Signs of Humanity” is a documentary film created by TAI Professor Willie Baronet. The film explores themes of home, homelessness, compassion and humanity as Professor Baronet and his team travel the country collecting over 200 homeless signs and interviewing over 100 people on the streets.
“The event on Tuesday evening really opened my eyes to the important work that Willie is doing, and how many people are willing to help him,” SMU student Dalya Romaner said. “The documentary was beautiful, and I feel that everyone watching it could connect to some aspect of it, whether it was one person he interviewed, or a reason for his project, or even a city he visited. Let’s just say, I now look up to Willie not only as a professor, but as a human being, and a change maker in a world desperately needing change.”
Each year TAI hosts lectures and events as part of the ExxonMobil Lecture Series. The series is one of many ways that TAI advocates its motto “Better Advertising. Better World.” This lectures series helps to promote advertising, media and corporate ethics by hosting events to discuss varying ethical topics that can be related to advertising.
“We are so pleased to recognize the creative work of Professor Baronet,” Steven Edwards, Director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute, said. “Offering the public an opportunity to view ‘Signs of Humanity,’ recognize important supporters of the project, and create a space to spur on the conversation about homelessness is part of our larger mission to positively impact our community.”
Many TAI students, as well as faculty and local industry professionals, attended the event. The night started off with a reception and networking, followed by a brief recognition of documentary creator and producers, the screening of the film, and finally a Q&A with Professor Baronet and other producers of the documentary.
“Willie and his filmmakers did a great job of providing an open-minded glimpse into the world of homelessness nationwide,” Romaner said. “They didn’t come in with preconceived notions, they treated everyone as humans, not as homeless people, and it was beautiful to watch. I really feel that it gave everyone an idea of something small we can all do to help the homeless community around us, even as small as acknowledging that they are humans too. I think the most important takeaway from the film, the event, and Willie himself, is that we need to see everyone as people going through their own struggles, and it’s that commonality that gives us the chance to connect so the world is not made up of ‘us vs. them.’”
Professor Baronet is doing important work to shine a light on homelessness. The event was an opportunity for the entire faculty and Professor Baronet’s students to celebrate what has been his two-year journey to film, edit, and showcase his project. This work has provided learning opportunities for students to reflect on the intersection of art, advertising, film-making, and creative expression in a persuasive context.
“I loved when Willie said in the film that the sign exhibit isn’t about him, it’s about the people he’s doing this for,” TAI alum Mallory Ashcraft said. “As a writer and former advertising student of Willie’s, I related to that inner dialogue, and I was so inspired by the fact that he tells the story of the homeless very honestly. I think everyone needs to see this film, because it showed me that we can all do more to emotionally support the homeless individuals in our communities and cities.”
“Signs of Humanity” is the product of a larger, ongoing art project, WE ARE ALL HOMELESS, which began when Willie purchased his first homeless sign in 1993. The project’s mission is to create a more compassionate world by creating awareness and provoking conversations about people on the streets, and inspiring others to find and implement solutions to the many causes of homelessness.
Learn more about WE ARE ALL HOMELESS and their Impact Campaign here.
TAI Creative Advertising Professor Willie Baronet has been purchasing and collecting homeless signs from people across the country since 1993. Over the last twenty-three years he has collected over 1,000 signs. For years, Professor Baronet has displayed these homeless signs in exhibits all across the country in his art project “WE ARE ALL HOMELESS.” This past April, his project was turned into a documentary following Professor Baronet’s 31-day cross-country trip buying homeless signs in 24 cities.
Although Professor Baronet has been collecting signs for over twenty years, this was the first time he had done something so concentrated.
“[The documentary] was the first time I did such in depth interviews with folks on the street,” Professor Baronet said. “And the media attention from the trip helped to make it clear how many people struggle with what to do when they see someone with a sign, and often have mixed feelings about what to do. I began to realize this project helped some people voice those concerns and have conversations they might not otherwise have.”
“Signs of Humanity” has given Professor Baronet an amazing platform to voice the issue of homelessness and find a way to help. In making the film, Professor Baronet and the other filmmakers partnered with many organizations that help homeless people.
“Help USA sponsored the exhibit in New York at the end of the documentary,” Professor Baronet said. “They also sponsored exhibits at both political conventions this summer in Cleveland and Philly. Maria Cuomo Cole, the chairman of Help USA, is also an activist and filmmaker and has been a big supporter of this project. The Bridge has also been a big supporter, and I also spoke at their annual fundraiser in 2015. They helped sponsor events around our premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival as well. I’ve also partnered with Stewpot and the Housing Crisis Center on projects in the past. All of these organizations are doing great work for the homeless.”
Although Professor Baronet didn’t document many of his early encounters purchasing homeless signs, he remembers quite a few people that have stuck out to him over the years.
“There was a woman who sold me a sign that her late husband had made,” Professor Baronet said. “There was a man in Austin who wanted to talk about art and his relationship with his father. Michael in Omaha was a veteran missing one leg, who I had a powerful connection to. Cheryl in Detroit is the only person so happy that I was buying her sign that she reached in the car and hugged my neck. Elli in Baltimore was only 17; she was Romanian and spoke five languages, so full of promise and doing what she could to take care of her family.”
One person in particular Professor Baronet has kept in contact with is a man named Eddie who he met in Philadelphia.
“Eddie had a sign that said ‘What if God occasionally visits Earth disguised as a homeless person panhandling to see how charitable we are. Completely hypothetical of course.’” Professor Baronet said. “Eddie and I have become friends, and I’ve reconnected with him twice in Philly. He is a former heroin addict, and now is working and sponsoring others in AA. He and I spoke together on a panel at the opening of a ‘WE ARE ALL HOMELESS’ exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania in September of 2016.”
Over his years of collecting homeless signs, Professor Baronet has gained a new perspective on the meaning of “home.”
“I’ve gotten a deeper understanding about what ‘home’ means, to me and to others,” Professor Baronet said. “I’ve learned that we all share many of the pains and privileges of the human experience. Holding a sign on the street is simply asking for help, something I’ve had to do many times in the course of my life. And I’m lucky to have friends and family as a safety net when I need something.”
Professor Baronet hopes his documentary can take away some of the preconceived notions surrounding the homeless.
“It can be easy to put people in boxes based on judgments we may make,” Professor Baronet said. “Even waving and smiling and seeing the humanity in each other can change the dynamic between the housed and those on the streets.”
The Bridge’s purpose is to end adult long-term homelessness in Dallas and the surrounding region by developing, coordinating, and/or delivering: Outreach/intake services, Jail diversion/reentry services, Emergency shelter/transitional shelter services, Primary health care/behavioral health care services, Recreational/educational services, Employment income/supported employment income/disability income services, and Affordable housing/supportive housing services.
By doing so, The Bridge benefits the broader community by: Increasing public safety, Increasing public health, Increasing public quality of life.
SMU’s own Willie Baronet will provide the keynote on November 20, 2015 at Breakfast for the Bridge fundraiser.
Willie is a noted artist, author, TedXSMU talker and creative soul. He is the Stan Richards Professor in Creative Advertising at the Temerlin Advertising Institute at SMU. Since 1993, Willie has been buying and collecting signs from the homeless for the purpose of using them in art exhibits and documentaries. These signs and this practice have become a catalyst for conversations about the nature of home, homelessness, compassion and how we see and treat each other as humans.
If you are an adult experiencing homelessness in Dallas, please contact 214.670.1101 for help.
Temerlin Advertising Institute Professor Willie Baronet is seeking support via a crowd funding campaign for a coast to coast homeless sign buying trip from Seattle, through LA, to New York.
The goal is buy signs, create a documentary, book, and more!
These signs – and this practice – have become a catalyst for conversations about the nature of home, homelessness, compassion, and how we see and treat each other as humans. It has also heightened my awareness about my own upbringing and home life.
My goal is to buy as many signs and connect with as many homeless people as I can. In addition to the art installations/projects that will result from these new signs, there will be a book and a documentary film of the entire experience. Plus, I’m partnering with the Housing Crisis Center in Dallas to raise money and awareness for their program to help homeless veterans.
Your help is critical. The more people who get involved, the more meaningful the project (and the conversation about homelessness) becomes.