In an increasingly divided world, Rich Alapack was searching for a simple mantra that could remind people to be kind and look out for one another.

A simple phrase struck him while he was out walking his dog one day: “We all live here.”

“Income equality, gender equality, racial equality, sexual equality, even environmental issues,” he said. “That’s a lot that falls under those four little simple words.”

Now Chicagoans are about to see a lot more of those four little simple words.

Alapack is behind the “We All Live Here” project, which uses kids’ creativity (as a few lessons on logos, branding and graphic design), to create public art installations at schools and neighborhoods across the city. What started as one display at Pulaski International School in Bucktown will expand to 53 public-facing projects across Chicago later this school year. The idea is to get kids interested in art, design and technology, as well as promote conversation through street art.

(Credit: We All Live Here)

Alapack isn’t new to creating conversation through public-facing works. He’s worked in advertising and tech since attending college in Minnesota, where he created an online housing rental listing service during the first dot com boom. He later moved to Chicago, worked at CareerBuilder, Popular Pays and Tumblr (among other companies) in advertising, design and brand strategy.

(Credit: We All Live Here)

Back in 2015, when he first thought of the “We All Live Here” phrase, he decided to test the idea by taking photos of people hold the signs at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, then uploading the pictures to a Tumblr blog. It was picked as a featured blog by Tumblr that summer and grew to over 25,000 followers. It was then that Alapack realized that the phrase was resonating, and he wanted to take the project further.

To create We All Live Here installations, Alapack does an assembly with the school where he talks about the project themes and teaches students some basic graphic design techniques. Students then complete an art project based off the phrase. Alapack pulls from those projects to create a We All Live Here logo for the school, and the school gets an e-commerce shop where teachers, parents and community can purchase t-shirts and mugs with the school’s logo. Sales fund the installations, and he’s also encouraging schools to work with local businesses to stock the product or sponsor the project, which can also give students the opportunity to talk with their nearby business leaders.

(Credit: We All Live Here)

We All Live Here is a venture, not a nonprofit Alapack noted. Any extra money raised by the school goes toward future art projects. Eventually he would like to pair up schools from wealthy and poor neighborhoods to collaborate and co-fund projects, as a way to connect students throughout the city. He’s also hoping to recruit more people from the advertising and creative industry to lead workshops and work with schools on the projects (Alapack now works on We All Live Here full time).

Alapack is also looking to go beyond schools. Starting this fall, Alapack is working with street artist Case Maclaim to install an interactive mural in Chicago. The mural will feature Maclaim’s signature hands holding a globe, and for $1, people can spin the globe on an augmented reality smartphone app, and add their name and where they’re from. This will be the first in a series of interactive murals he’s looking to set up.

“It will be an interesting model for us to show how to create and fund street art in a totally different way,” he said.

Note: The story has been updated to correct the location of the upcoming interactive mural project.