Photo by Erin Benner

Land of (almost) 10,000 signs

Jaime Chismar of All Are Welcome Here wants to start a conversation

By Hannah Wagener

It’s a spring night in Minneapolis and Lakes & Legends Brewery has a line halfway down the block. Minnesotans are gathered for All Are Welcome Beer, a collaboration between All Are Welcome Here and the brewery to celebrate the release of a saison brewed exclusively for the event to benefit the America Civil Liberties Union.

Inside, the brewery is filled with friends, families and even the occasional pug with a seat at the table. The event’s mission has been accomplished: bringing people together and starting conversations.

Behind the gathering is All Are Welcome Here, a collective of sorts promoting acceptance and kindness through the medium of design – and yard signs.

It’s easy to spot All Are Welcome Here signs on a drive through Minneapolis, the bright, warm colors sprouting up from local lawns. It’s a simple message, “All Are Welcome Here” with the state’s silhouette in a heart.

What started as a way for Jaime Chismar to show support to neighbors and friends quickly grew into something recognized across the metro. “I made the yard sign and someone said ‘you should post this on Facebook, I’m sure you would get a few more people interested,’” Chismar says. “It went from 50 to 500 and we sold out of our first 500 in the first week. They were gone.” So quickly, in fact, that the next batch sold out from pre-orders alone. “I kept joking that we needed to make an infographic — Land of 10,000 Signs — but we haven’t quite sold 10,000,” Jaime says. “We’ve sold 6,000 or 7,000 and have shipped to 33 different states.”

But Chismar emphasizes that she’s not working alone. As a collective of designers, All Are Welcome Here is a virtual creative agency. The all-female team draws from backgrounds in advertising and design, including members who've worked for community staples, including the Star Tribune and the University of Minnesota.

For Chismar, the business has been a passion project born from a desire to bring the community together. “What’s woven into all of this are a couple of different reasons. The first being that I’m an incredibly proud Minnesotan,” Chismar says, a St. Louis Park resident herself. “What makes Minnesota so amazing is our diversity. Our diversity of natural resources but also, more importantly, the diversity of people who live here.”

Chismar hopes to make a positive statement in a polarizing time. “I think if we can encourage people to be a little more extroverted, to show a little more kindness and compassion, that could be a positive thing,” Chismar says. “In this political climate, these political values [many of us] took for granted and accepted as understood, you find yourself having to be very overt about them.”

 “[Our message] is a start and it may lead to community action, whether it’s volunteering to help schools be more inclusive and diverse or nonprofits and their vision.”

While All Are Welcome Here is currently a for-profit business with a pledge to donate 25% of proceeds to the ACLU, Chismar and company aren’t ruling out the possibility of becoming a nonprofit. For now, Chismar feels lucky to be an “artist at work.”

Bringing us back to the organization’s event: All Are Welcome Beer. A partnership with local brewery Lakes & Legends to create a beer with a local and international flair. The base of the beer was sourced, per Lakes & Legends commitment to sustainability, but included ingredients like lemon from Northeast India and grains of paradise from West Africa as a tribute to the vibrant diversity of Minnesota. “We were trying to include a little bit of something from every continent,” Chismar says.

With the intention to raise money for the ACLU and promote a message of acceptance, Lakes & Legends and All Are Welcome Here aimed to use all five kegs tapped for the event, but expectations were quickly exceeded. “We’d actually upped the kegs to seven a couple of days before, thinking they’d last a week,” says Lakes & Legends CEO Ethan Applen, “but they didn’t last the night.”

Partnerships like this are only the beginning for All Are Welcome Here. Looking into the near future, Chismar says they’re considering throwing the same event during the Twin Cities Pride festival in June. In addition, Chismar is hoping to partner with a wider breadth of groups. “One of the nonprofits that helped us get our Arabic translation to the printer was the Iraqi-American Reconciliation Project, and at All Are Welcome Beer, we included a table where attendees could write letters of support to Iraqi Refugees in our community,” Chismar notes. Other collaborations in the works include a partnership exhibiting art to celebrate the diversity of the state.

As for the future of All Are Welcome Here, the organization seems to have already met success. They’ve already been able to make sizable donations to the ACLU and continue to feel the love from the community. One thing that always surprises Chismar? You never know where you may see one of their signs. “Today, someone just posted something on our Facebook page and said they were driving in rural Virginia and saw our sign,” Chismar says. “It was just like, really?”

For now, the Minnesotan women behind All Are Welcome Here just feel lucky to have a seat at the table. “All definitely means all,” Chismar says. “I think everyone deserves a seat at the table and I think a lot of us wish that table was a lot bigger and had a lot more seats.”