Two days after Election Day in 2016, Jaime Chismar designed a sign to welcome all to her St. Louis Park neighborhood. Four years later, the sign has been translated into nearly 40 languages and has traveled across the world.
“I really just wanted to put a sign in my front yard to let my family, my friends and my neighbors to know they were still welcome in our community,” said Chismar, a freelance designer and photographer.
Chismar planned to have a box of 50 signs printed declaring “ALL ARE WELCOME HERE” on one side and featuring a heart and the shape of Minnesota on the other side.
She recalled a Facebook comment that advised she’d better add zeros to her order. Indeed, she received requests for 500 signs in 48 hours after posting her design to social media.
“It was totally nuts,” said Chismar, recalling the dinging notifications on her phone as people responded. “People just kept sharing it.”
When she added the sign to Facebook groups, she said, “It just blew up. We were sending the signs everywhere.”
The signs appeared during the first Women’s March in 2016 in places like Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.
Since then, the message has traveled to most counties in Minnesota, every state and other countries.
“I have gotten pictures of our sign in German cottages and French villas, and it’s gone to Singapore and Australia,” she told members of the St. Louis Park Rotary Club during a virtual meeting last month, noting the sign had even appeared in a video game background.
“It’s been a crazy four years,” Chismar said.
She has learned much about world languages through the endeavor. The phrase “all are welcome here” has ranged from two words to 16 in other languages.
The project has raised more than $70,000 that has been donated to nonprofits, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness - Minnesota, the International Institute of Minnesota, Kids in Need of Defense, Transforming Families Minnesota and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Although All Are Welcome Here supports advocacy organizations, Chismar said the message is not intended to be “too bogged down into politics.”
She said, “I really do believe in the word ‘all.’ In theory, yes, I would love to see it be nonpartisan, but unfortunately the way our politics are in our country, being welcoming to all has become partisan. It wasn’t always that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She referenced a quote by astrophysicist Carl Sagan about a photograph from space depicting a far-off Earth.
“To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known,” Sagan said.
Chismar reflected, “All Are Welcome Here isn’t just about humans being better to each other. We have a lot to figure out. But it’s also how we can be better as a species. ... We have nowhere else to go. This is our home. We have to make it more welcoming or we’re not going to survive.”
The message is intended to provide a sense of inclusivity, she said.
“It doesn’t necessarily reflect everyone’s experience, but it’s an ideal we can all work toward to make our world more just and equitable,” Chismar said.
Chismar described building a social enterprise business as “building a plane in the air – it just sort of took off, and here we are.”
Beyond signs, the organization has created welcoming T-shirts, stickers, magnets, window clings, pins and other products.
Customers of specialized signs have included several schools, such as Hopkins West Junior High in Minnetonka.
“Hopkins has been one of our biggest supporters since the beginning,” Chismar said.
Custom signs for the Hopkins school switched out the standard rainbow colors for blue, the school color of the Royals.
Teachers in many districts have used the signs to help connect with families who speak English as a second language.
At the Festival of Nations, Chismar said kids who saw their language would pull friends over and say, “Oh my gosh, this is my language!”
At the Stomp Out Suicide 5K, All Are Welcome Here hosted an art booth in which participants could make their own signs.
“It’s actually probably one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as a human being,” Chismar said. “Art, I think, can really bring people together and give people a common form to express themselves.”
Sales increased this past summer amid protests about inequality after the death of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody.
“It feels really weird often when to see your sales go up when something really terrible happens,” Chismar said. “So, over the summer, we actually doubled our donation to the ACLU and didn’t really make a profit. We just broke even because that felt like the right thing to do.”
Chismar does not take a salary at All Are Welcome Here, which is based in St. Louis Park but has a Golden Valley address and a warehouse in Eagan.
“I kind of feel like I’m the docent of the sign,” said Chimar, using a term for a guide or educator. “The message is already here in the community. I put it on a sign. My job is just to make sure it does as much good as it possibly can. It’s about what the sign can do in our community.”
To St. Louis Park Rotary members, she said, “Our sign has sort of become ubiquitous – it’s everywhere. It’s kind of, in some ways, become part of our community in ways I never ever imagined.”
To learn more, visit allarewelcomehere.us.
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