Dear World showcased various Cal Poly portraits in Chumash Auditorium on Oct. 24. Zach Donnenfield | Mustang News

The Dear World team took the stage in Chumash Auditorium Oct. 4, leading the audience through a gut-wrenching journey of laughter, tears and a multitude of portraits that shared the true essence of Cal
Poly students.

Dear World presents portraits of people with words written on their bodies to explain their stories.

The Inspiration

Established in 2010 by CEO Robert Fogarty and executive producer Jonah Evans, Dear World is a travelling storytelling project that tells the human story through the medium of portraits. The organization shares messages through their portraits to create ties between individuals around the world.

“This project started in our hometown New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. We started the project with no master plan that this was going to be some global storytelling phenomenon,” Evans said. “We started with a sharpie, a camera and went to the streets — we just ran around and asked people to share a love note to the city of New Orleans.”

Many of these people shared favorite quotes and shoutouts to a beloved football team, but there was one story in particular that shaped the path of this now globally-renowned organization. A man approached them, asking to take their idea and do something a little different. He came back with his wife to show Evans the words ‘cancer free’ written across her chest.

“His picture was captured with tears in his eyes,” Evans said. “It was in that moment that we realized these pictures, and the stories behind them, were much bigger than the city of New Orleans — that we all have these stories of hope or fear or losses or joy and through these specific stories we can tell, you can connect in ways we couldn’t before when we just show one version of ourselves, one version of our mask.”

Dear World has captured close to 70,000 portraits to date, and has traveled internationally sharing these profound messages. At the end of each year, the company donates a portion of its net income to, an organization that financially covers the process of sharing these stories.

Bringing the Community to Cal Poly

The Dear World event was organized with help from Cross Cultural Center Assistant Dean of Students and Director Bryan Hubain.

“When thinking of bringing Dear World to Cal Poly, the intention was to be curious about each other and to connect with each other on a deep level. We don’t really get the opportunity often to learn more because we’re always on the go,” Hubain said. “There’s so much we’re involved in and so much that we’re doing here. Sometimes we need to just take a break and say ‘Okay, tell me more about yourself,’ and this has been our chance.”

Throughout the night, students shared their stories of losses and triumphs, filling the room with a sense of camaraderie through honest conversations.

“Whenever I show these portraits I’m left with two feelings. The first is, ‘I wonder where these people are today and what they’re doing.’ The second thing, I always just feel is a profound sense of gratitude to have the kind of life we have and to have the kind of day that we had today— to be able to celebrate the stories that we’re living and to be in this room together,”
Evans said.

An Unexpected Impact

The event brought together many people from different walks of life, including both faculty and students.

“I hadn’t heard of Dear World before this event,” city regional planning junior Erick Gomez said. “I think everyone has a story. It’s like a two-way street where it takes a person that you’re trying to get to be vulnerable to be vulnerable, but it also takes an investment from you to dig into people.”

The event incorporated various slideshows of Dear World participants. The last portion was dedicated to portraits of people in the Cal Poly community.

“I was not expecting the sheer emotional response I got from [Dear World]. I figured I could guess the stories behind the messages, right? When I finally heard some stories I was absolutely floored. I hadn’t even been close,” liberal studies senior David Gutierrez said. “That was the point of only having a few words written… to open up a dialogue, only a snippet of the story meant to pique your interest. Being able to participate was a blessed moment of catharsis.”

An idea sparked in New Orleans has now brought the Dear World team all over the world and published in over 30 countries.

“Throughout the past seven years, what we’ve found is that desire to share your story shows no boundary of race, religion or geography.” Evans said.

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