The art of raising awareness about homelessness in Boston

Jim is 58 years old. He has been homeless since he was 16 years old. He is from Boston.

Local artist Kenji Nakayama is trying to raise awareness about the homeless problem in Boston by using the stroke of his brush.

The traditional sign-painter and font aficionado has slowly been replacing homeless peoples’ cardboard “help” signs with fancy, well-drawn ones and then blogging about it.

“I see the homeless everyday, and one day I thought maybe I will just make signs for them,” said Nakayama, a Butera School of Arts alum.

Nakayama’s Tumblr, “Signs for the Homeless,” features photos of down-on-their-luck locals holding  bright, eye-popping replacements instead of dilapidated cardboard scribbled with Sharpie (

As part of the project, Nakayama said he interacts with the individuals, interviews them and pays them $10 for their old sign. Then he gives them the handcrafted version in exchange.

Nakayama started the project in 2010, but said he’s just getting it off the ground now and doesn’t know where it will go. “I would like to see if it’s really helping and if more people are paying attention,” he said.

He has only done three signs to date, but is contemplating getting other artists involved.

For those who balk at Nakayama’s project, he said the idea isn’t to exploit the people for the sake of art, but rather start a conversation.

“Maybe people will drive by and walk past and see the sign and start talking [more],” he said.


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