Brandon Doman is the founder of the Strangers Project. For 12 years he's celebrated, collected and curated the New York stories that we are surrounded by every day — both from the strangers we share our space with, and the stories we carry. He creates spaces where people can discover stories, and if they choose, share their own.
You might have seen his work inside Fountain House Gallery over the years. In 2020, in the time of pandemic, he's had to change his approach.
Brandon explains: "I used to collect stories. I still do. Over 60,000 at the last count. It’s just a little different all of the sudden. The Strangers Project has always been tied to a physical experience. I create installations of handwritten stories from the collection. Sometimes it’s outside, sometimes it’s inside — a single wall of stories or an entire building. It’s an invitation to explore and to leave a piece of your own story behind for those that come after you.
"Every story has been written spontaneously on the spot somewhere in the world (mostly New York!). No online submissions. Nothing mailed in — but then the pandemic hit. I've temporarily opened up online submission for the project go get stories of what life is like right now during this pandemic. I plan to continue collecting and sharing these quarantine stories for as long as I need to, until the world heals enough for the project to return outside."
Brandon set up a pandemic outpost on 9th Avenue this week. The experience is the same: Visit, read, get drawn in, and maybe write your own story.
He's loved getting back to the gallery (even though he's mostly inside with limited social interaction). He related a story of his first day: "I finished installing the Socially Distanced Story Wall. This space is a special one for the project — I’ve shared stories here many times.
"I’m grateful to be able to put these walls up and to see people interacting with the project in the real world again. The few conversations I had while installing reminded me why I will do anything I have to to keep this project going — even if that means going a little slower for now.
"When I was locking up at the gallery the first day, there was a guy reading and he let out a laugh. He pointed and told me 'I just found my story!' We started talking — it wasn’t a story he wrote, he said, but that he could have written. And that’s the one he just happened to walk up and read. I’ve always loved seeing that — people seem to find the story they needed to find in that moment. He told me he was from Nigeria and was living in New York, and explained how his life connected exactly with the story he found. These moments are why I’m here."
Amanda Suárez, Fountain House Gallery manager said: "We are thrilled to have Brandon and his Strangers Project back once again to liven up our Hell's Kitchen neighborhood! It’s so nice to see our space be used for something so heartwarming and personal, especially after being closed for so long."
Even if you cannot get over to Fountain House Gallery to view the stories, you can still join in. Here’s how to participate:
What to write:
Share anything about “what it’s like being you right now.”
Keep it anonymous (no names!)
Include the date, and if you choose, where in the world you are
You can submit more than once over the coming weeks
How to write it:
Hand-write your story on a blank piece of paper (you can doodle, get creative, cross things out — this is your canvas)
Keep it to one page
Try to use a nice pen if possible (.7mm if you want to match the original Strangers Project “look” — but that’s not required)
OPENING TIMES: Brandon told us: "The stories are outside the shutters, so they are open to view 24/7. There was an incident yesterday where someone tore them all down, but I installed them again — just part of working in public art!" He added that there are no definitive dates because it depends on the pandemic, but thought likely through July and possibly longer.