Pretty much everyone knows Illinois is one of the most welcoming places for LGBTI people in the US.
From Boystown to a plethora of LGBTI-owned and friendly businesses across the state, it’s a place where people of all backgrounds live and thrive. To embrace the state’s diversity, the Illinois Office of Tourism created a new campaign to spread a message to the LGBTI community and the rest of the world: that Illinois is Amazing for All.
Last summer, Illinois Office of Tourism unveiled its #AmazingForAll sculpture at Northalsted Market Days, one of the largest street festivals in North America. The sculpture was created and designed by Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman.
The six-foot-by-23 wooden sculpture became an instant hit with the 200,000 visitors at the two-day festival. The sculpture is now sitting in the heart of Chicago’s LGBTI district, Boystown, at the corner of Halsted and Newport.
But why did Hoffman want to join Illinois in sending this message to the LGBTI community? Gay Star News sat down with him to reveal all about the now-iconic sculpture.
So why did you want to create this artwork to encourage LGBTI people to visit Illinois?
My main belief is the importance of public art and how it changes lives when you come across it.
A little bit of my background: I make stickers saying ‘you are beautiful’, as well as other outdoor installations. I started those in 2002. And we’ve now printed five and a half million stickers, and done these sort of installations around the world.
The message is that no matter who you are, you can see these stickers and know ‘you are beautiful’. And I think that that’s an incredible message. I think that came from struggling with self-esteem and different issues growing up and stuff.
So Illinois Office of Tourism reached out, because especially in Chicago, this project is very prolific. They wanted to partner and collaborate on this other great message – that Illinois is Amazing for All.
What inspired the design for the #AmazingForAll sculpture?
Basically, I make things in two very distinct ways. One is that things blend in like signage and then the other way is a handwritten style. When you do it that way, there’s a human connection there. Like someone is literally saying something to you. Then when you blow that up in scale, it’s just really incredible.
The sign in construction | Photo: Matthew Hoffman, Instagram
It must have been incredible when you debuted at Northalsted Market Days. How was that feeling? What was it like to have thousands of people see it?
It’s my favorite thing. I’m definitely someone who wants people to experience the work I make. I really stay in the background with a lot of the stuff I do. I try to keep a lower profile just because I don’t want it to be attached to my baggage. Like, who’s this person and what it’s about. This is a message for you in that moment. And so enjoy it.
So it was super cool to just see people enjoy it. It’s one of those things that when you watch people walk by, they smile, then they run up to it. And they ask their friend or a stranger to get their photo taken in front of it. That’s a really incredible experience.
It’s cool because not everybody is going to see that in person. They are sharing it around the world so all sorts of people are able to see it on their feed.
Have you lived in Illinois long?
I was born in Ohio and then we moved around. I went to school in Indiana. Eventually I moved to Chicago in 2002. So I’ve lived in the Midwest my whole life and I’ve been here about 17 years.
What’s life in Illinois like for LGBTI people?
I feel like it’s open and inviting. I’m not talking firsthand – I’m straight – but it seems open everywhere. There are some areas that need to get better, but it’s great for a really good portion of the state, especially in Chicago. I think it’s great.
Where’s your favorite place to eat?
So I’ve got an 11 year old. Me and him generally like the worst places, you know. But there’s this one called – Rosati’s [a Chicago pizza restaurant]. Yeah, we go like almost every day.
The completed sculpture when it debuted at Northalsted Market Days | Photo: Illinois Office of Tourism
What’s one thing everyone should do in Chicago?
There are these great architecture boat tours. That sounds like a tough sell to some people. But it’s a great way to explore the city and learn about things. We take the boat tours every year. It’s pretty cool because it goes down the river through the whole city, you learn a lot about the history, and then it actually takes you out on the lake, which is pretty fun.
So what plans do you have for the future?
We just put up a couple ‘you are beautiful’ pieces on fences, and one on a building. And we are going to do more of those. And then we also have a space where we have our studio, with a store and a gallery in the front. It’s in the Avondale neighborhood at 3368 N Elston Ave.
So we’re doing everything that we can to be a part of the community and bring people in. Our next big show is 20 July. It’s called Beautiful Together. And we’re inviting like 200 different artists to make a ‘You are beautiful piece’ and add their voice to the message. So that’s kind of the next big, big thing as far as our fun summer installations.
This article was sponsored by the Illinois Office of Tourism.