Austin Says Hello to Hello Lamppost

Story by Teddy Barbour
Illustration by Charlotte Friend  

Art is becoming increasingly pervasive in the lives of Austin residents, and with the city on the cusp of South By Southwest, artists are looking to showcase skills in creative ways. Hello Lamppost is one project that stands out from the rest because the spectator is more than just an observer — he or she is the heartbeat to this work of art.

The project began in Bristol, England, where Sam Hill and Ben Barker, co-founders of PAN Studio, had the idea to create "Hello Lamppost." They were commissioned for Watershed’s Playable City Award and ran the project for eight summer weeks in the British city.

Now Barker and Hill’s project is taking up a 10-week residence in Austin, which overlaps with South by Southwest, and Austinites are interacting with common city objects like lampposts, bus stops, bridges and parking meters.

To engage in conversations with these objects, participants text the unique four or six digit code that is on an object in the city to the Hello Lamppost phone number. Then, that object "wakes up" and begins to converse with the individual. There is a database of approximately 300 questions that these objects can ask participants. After the object receives a response, it replies back with answers that it has received from other individuals.

Screen grab via hellolamppostaustin.com

Screen grab via hellolamppostaustin.com

More than a chance for residents to get to know their neighborhood mailboxes and fire hydrants, Hello Lamppost is a story-sharing experience for participants. The objects serve as a creative medium for individuals to share their stories with one another. "We believe that cities should be fun,” Barker says.

Residents of the city seem to agree that Austin gives Hello Lamppost a strong platform to showcase its features. Saige Hassan, a resident and student at the University of Texas at Austin explains why she thinks Hello Lamppost compliments the city. "Everyone here is very interactive and seems to enjoy these kinds of things," Saige says. "It's a very innovative idea which I think most people here in the city are drawn to."

Barker says he thinks Austin is a great location for the Hello Lamppost project. "We didn't reach out to the city of Austin,” Barker says. “We were approached by Art Alliance Austin about bringing this project to the city. It's a perfect fit."

Asa Hursh, the director of Art Alliance Austin, explains how Hello Lamppost arrived in Austin, Texas. "Austin Art in Public Places was looking to bring a project to Austin in celebration for their 30th anniversary, so Art Alliance Austin decided to contribute their resources to bring a project to Austin. We reached out to PAN Studio and they agreed to bring Hello Lamppost to Austin,” Hursh says.

Austin is only the second city in the world to experience Hello Lamppost. Barker hopes that exposure in a the weird city and a platform like SXSW will help Hello Lamppost gain traction."We have meetings in Singapore and Tokyo in the coming weeks about how we can bring Hello Lamppost to those cities,” Barker says. “It's very exciting.”

Emma Stephens, a UT student, shares her experience with Hello Lamppost. "I think I've texted every bus stop I've waited at since I got the phone number, and even some I've just been walking by,” Stephens says.

One vital feature of Hello Lamppost is that it only requires a cell phone to get involved. No need for a smartphone or any other piece of high tech equipment. All it takes is a single text message to give objects the voice to share their stories. And, no object within the city is off limits. As long as it has a  four or six digit code, it can be brought to life by a simple text message. In the weeks leading up to SXSW, participants are encouraged to wake up as many objects around the city that they can.  The more Austinites that converse with these objects, the more they can learn about the residents and visitors that inhabit this artistic and innovative city.

Join Hello Lamppost on March 17 at Brush Square to meet Barker and Hill and learn more about their project. To find out how you can begin interacting with the city, visit hellolamppostaustin.com