The beat-up 1989 Dodge van carries a sign with a question: "How has the recession affected you?" Along the side, a request: "Tell me your story."
Scrawled in marker across the orange paint are hard-luck tales: "My grandma lost her house and my dad is working less hours," signed Peoria, AZ. "I lost my job, my home, my car & was homeless for 6 months. This was the first time in 27 yrs I was out of work," signed Sue W.
The man behind the wheel is Aaron Heideman, 29, an artist from Grants Pass, Ore., who in the past year began sleeping in the van on a mattress he bought for a six-pack of beer and lost his job at a paint store. He hit the road July 1 with what he calls "The Man in a Van Project," angling for a $250,000 prize at an art fair.
"I just want to give people a voice," he said during a stop in Rhode Island, the 20th state he stopped in during what he calls a nationwide conceptual art piece. His media, as he describes it: a 50-yard roll of Tyvek, a Dodge van, and a homeless man (himself). His final destination is Grand Rapids, Mich., home of ArtPrize, where he plans to display his project in September and October.
During Heideman’s stops, he unscrolls several feet of the roll, lays it in front of the van with a couple of Sharpie markers, and encourages passers-by to pause for a minute and add their thoughts.