Overview/Introduction: The city of Lafayette is known for its friendly people, its strong community bond, and for being the happiest city in America as of 2016. According to a Harvard study, Lafayette won the “Happiest City in America” award, and even though people around the nation are aware of Lafayette’s happiness title, Kate Durio wanted to create something that physically represented the great community, and involvement of Lafayette (Digital 2016). Durio is the former Director of Marketing and Events of Lafayette, and is the woman who headed the YLafayette project.
Background/Research: Lafayette is an iconic place; it has great food, festivals, and is uniquely fun, but one thing it lacked was a true postcard-worthy destination. Durio said that the inspiration behind the sign came from her wanting an “iconic photo backdrop that when you took a picture of it, you knew you were in Lafayette” (00:15). Durio said that once her idea started to take form, she learned that other cities like Amsterdam and Dallas have the same type of community installations (00:30).
Amsterdam rebranded its city in early 2000, making its moto “I amsterdam” (What is I amsterdam). Along with creating a new moto, I amesterdam turned the phrase into huge letters that act as a tourist attraction, photo backdrop, and are free to climb on. Likewise, YLafayette letters are intended to evoke local pride, act as a “personal endorsement” for its natives, and to attract visitors (What is I amsterdam). Different from YLafayette, I amsterdam is located in two permanent locations around the city, with “a third set of letters playfully chang[ing] location around the city” (I amsterdam letter). Another distinguishing factor between YLafayette and I amsterdam is that I amsterdam is not available to be repainted, while YLafayette encourages multiple paintjobs from the community.
Dallas, Texas also has an art installation in the city of the letters B&G. The idea is that a person stands in the middle of the B and G and becomes the I. B&G represents that BIG things happen in Dallas (MEET B&G). Comparable to I amsterdam, there is one permanent installation and others are available for rent through the Visit Dallas website. On the website there are various B&G signs available for rent; including piggy bank letters for fundraising, custom painted ones for special events, or their traditional blue sets. Dallas’ installations differ most from I amsterdam and YLafayette because it is more of a money making tactic than a community building one. Looking from a distance, each of these installations do the same thing and have the same purpose, but by looking closer there are distinguishable differences that help each of them fit naturally into each community.
Objectives: The main objective of YLafayette was to create an “iconic photo backdrop,” something that people recognized as Lafayette (Durio 00:15). Durio said she wanted to “see people using it, as either a Y or kids climbing on it’ (22:39). The second main objective was to create a landmark that would attract tourists and reinforce the idea that Lafayette is a happy, friendly place,
Target Audience: The primary audience for YLafayette was the people of Lafayette. The people of Lafayette would be the ones funding it, and hopefully using it on a regular basis. Kids also served as a main target audience because there was hope that they would get to “climb on [it], and it would be a play structure at the parc [Parc San Souci]” (Durio 01:38). Besides being letters, YLafayette is supposed to “act as an ever-changing canvas” (Durio 01:45). Durio said that “the letters were always designed to be painted and re-painted and painted” (01:49). And as Lafayette has seen, being a canvas has encouraged about 15-20 organizations to go out to the sign and paint the letters in order to promote their community events or to raise awareness of their organization. Once an organization gets in touch with Downtown Lafayette, they are put on a schedule that helps to organize who is painting and for how long their paintjob will stay on for (Durio 18:42). Downtown Lafayette even has an online guideline as to how to paint the sign and whom to contact (l-a-f-a-y-e-t-t-e sign). All they ask is that painters bring their own paint and tools, and that no logos or commercial marks be painted on the sign (l-a-f-a-y-e-t-t-e sign). Durio included that the sign needs to “maintain a certain level of openness” (18:30).
The secondary target audience is tourists. YLafayette was created for its community and in the hope that tourists would flee to sign and want to take pictures with it, becoming a tourist attraction. YLafayette is a marketing project because it does stand as a tourist attraction. Now when people take pictures at the sign, it’s recognizable that they are in Lafayette, Louisiana. Durio said that she has considered it a success when she “hears someone speaking French, or some other language, and you know they’re not from here, and yet they figure out what they’re supposed to do in the sign… you don’t have to explain it” (3:40).
Planning: After Durio sketched the first draft of the YLafayette sign, she sought people who could logistically and financially make it happen, or people who could offer artistic advice (Durio 21:04). Carlee Alm-LaBar, the former mayor’s assistant, was one of the very first to hear about the project and to support it. Alm-LaBar’s excitement of the sign strongly resonated with the reasoning that Lafayette does not have many places that are distinguishable enough for people to automatically know it is Lafayette (You are the Y, Lafayette 00:18). Alm-LaBar believed that with the sign, there would be a lot less left to the imagination because it would say Lafayette and ultimately brand the community (You are the Y, Lafayette 00:25).
After gaining support Durio took the project idea to Butch Roussel, the founder of CivicSide. CivicSide is a crowd-funding website that encourages community fundraising for projects and also connects financial backers to project leaders. Durio credits Roussel for finding people to financially back the project (21:45). In the meantime, Durio created four videos showcasing Lafayette business people and local business owners supporting the YLafayette sign (Durio 21:57). Throughout the videos “L-A-F-A-Y-E-T-T-E” by Northside Eric and the Southside Playboys sounds, easily becoming somewhat of a theme song for the YLafayette sign (LAFAYETTE 2013). Toward the end of the first video, “You are the Y, Lafayette,” one of the supporters encouraged citizens to “now be the Y, to fund this project fully, so we can implement it fully, and draw more attention to our great city” (You are the Y, Lafayette 01:00).
The second video honed in on Ben Berthelot, the President and CEO of Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. Berthelot said he was excited to be a part of the project because the YLafayette sign would be a great photo opportunity recognizable for people all over the country (YLafayette-Berthelot 00:11). Berthelot also said he wanted it “to be a place that people come any day of the week and have a great time and a great experience in Lafayette parish- a vibrant place” (YLafayette-Ben 00:46).
The third video focused on Katherine McCormick, a Chase Tower representative. She explained that her support rose from the idea that she could tell her kids “you can be the Y today!” (YLafayette-McCormick 00:12). She hopes that people who come to Lafayette see that “they care about their spaces and they’re putting effort and energy into making things pretty and interactive. I want people to leave here and say ‘when are we going back?’” (YLafayette-McCormick 00:37).
Last but not least, the fourth video starred Butch Roussel, founder of CivicSide and YLafayette supporter. Roussel said that he wanted “tourists to come take pictures of the letters and there to be kids climbing all over them; I want them to be decorated during UL’s homecoming week” (YLafayette-Roussel 00:11). Roussel continued by saying that YLafayette represents the people and its projects like these, that CivicSide can be successful (YLafayette-Roussel 00:32).
The first video was posted onto the CivicSide website on the “You are the Y, Lafayette!” page. On the website there is the summary of what the YLafayette sign is, and mention of similar works, including I amsterdam and the B&G sign. There is also credit to the L-A-F-A-Y-E-T-T-E song (You are the Y, Lafayette!). On the top of the site page there is also a donate button and a live total of how much money they were looking to raise and how far they had come. The site is currently still available and marked as “successful.” The three videos continued being shared throughout the project on social media and currently reside on Downtown Lafayette’s Vimeo.
Execution: After the first video, Durio and Roussel went seeking private investors to ask them about purchasing a letter (Durio 22:07). In the end, attorneys of Lafayette banned together to purchase a letter, as well as some of Downtown Lafayette’s board members.
Still, one of the most notable aspects of this project was the use of crowd-funding. Civicside, the website that hosted the crowd-funding, allowed for anyone to make contributions. On the donation page there are details about the dimensions, community value, works similar, and a little spiel about the Creative Everywhere initiative (You are the Y, Lafayette!). At the bottom of the page it reminds viewers that the “project will begin construction upon reaching the funding goal” (You are the Y, Lafayette!) The goal of $16,000 was raised by 32 private backers (Seth Dickerson 2016). The advantage of crowd-funding was that the target audience felt a stronger ownership over it.
Construction began shortly after all of the money was collected. A local concrete company was hired to create the letters; this helped to even further involve the community. The letters stand 6 feet tall and 12 inches deep. Each letter has “steel rod supports so the letters can be climbed on, sat on, etc.” (You are the Y, Lafayette!). And the sign sits in Parc Sans Souci because it is a well-loved and utilized public spot, and because it is on grass. Durio and the Civicside website mentioned that having the sign on grass was important because it would make climbing on the sign safer than it would have been on concrete.
Two additional pieces to YLafayette was a medal medallion and a chicken wire Y. The medallion, that was funded by Downtown Lafayette, is centered where the Y (or a person) stands, and it says something along the lines of “stand up and be the Y in Lafayette” (Durio 5:56). The chicken wire Y was inspired by the letters that were made for the Project Front Yard litter initiative / Big Event, and was made by the same local blacksmith, Sam Riehl (Durio 6:53). The Y only stands in the letters when there is a certain community fundraiser happening. For example, during Mardi Gras 2015, the Y was standing with the sign so that people could toss their unwanted Mardi Gras beads for LARC to recycle them. Over 2,000 pounds of beads were collected around Mardi Gras 2015 alone (Durio 7:29). Since 2015, each year the Y is brought out to collect Mardi Gras beads. Other causes that have brought out the Y are things like “Toys for Tots drives” and “Cajun gear for University of Louisiana at Lafayette home games” (Seth Dickerson 2016). Other than collections, the sign was once wrapped in Christmas lights as a festive spin for the holidays (Durio 7:57).
Since YLafayette’s creation, about 15-20 organizations have painted over the sign (Durio 9:05). Durio said that each organization primes and paints over the previous paintjob, and that there has not been any rounding of the corners yet (8:41). But eventually, the letters will probably have to be peeled due to the buildup of paint throughout the years, but so far so good!
Media: There was an organized champagne toast celebrating the success of the sign. The toast took place at the sign and people like the mayor, funders, and backers were able to take photos with the sign and post them on social media (Durio 07:16). In addition to the controlled media event, media coverage came from news stations, radio stations, and local papers that documented the progression of the sign. After the sign was completed and up-to-date, media and radio still fled to the Lafayette sign to talk about various events like current events, collections for beads, and Toys for Tots.
A wedding was one of the most exciting events that took place at YLafayette. The wedding was during Festival International back in 2016, which united a now Mr. and Mrs. Theriot. With about 400,000 Festival goers and their friends and family, “the couple exchanged vows in the Y and shared their first kiss as husband and wife,” coming together to create the Y in Lafayette (Durio 2016). Durio had no idea about the wedding prior, but when she got the news, she called Roussel and they shared their excitement (23:19). Durio described it as “so moving” that someone wanted to get married at the sign she had created (23:30). In an interview Mr. and Mrs. Theriot explained to Durio that they “couldn’t have asked for a better day, or a better way to celebrate our [their] love for each other and the love for our [their] community” (Durio 2016).
A high point for YLafayette was Jason Mraz visiting the sign and taking a photo with him acting as the Y in June of 2016 (Durio 12:25). Jason Mraz is an American singer-songwriter with a current Facebook following of 13,572,410. The photo was liked over 31,000 times, shared 2,340 times, and is still live on his social media. Mraz’s caption reads “LOVE in all caps. Lafayette, Louisiana” (Jason Mraz FB 2016). Mraz also posted the same picture with the same caption on his Instagram, reaching a current total of 19,813 likes (Jason Mraz Insta 2016). And on Twitter with a current total of 2,503 likes and 1,130 retweets (Jason Mraz Twitter 2016). This publicity this photo received was incredible in terms of the YLafayette sign for two reasons. First, it reached his fans all around the globe and showed them how cool it is to come to Lafayette, but second, it created goodwill for Lafayette in terms of the city supporting gay pride. For context, the sign was “painted with the Gay Pride colors for the candlelight vigil held for the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando” (JayCee 2016).
Ted Richard, a member of Acadiana Pride and former President of the organization, painted the Gay Pride colors on the sign. It is notable to mention because he was also the one to prime and paint over the colors to paint red, white, and blue in preparation for the 4th of July. During the transition, someone approached him and questioned what he was doing. The individual and Richard had very little communication, to which the individual (and two others) called the police because they were worried that he was defacing the sign (JayCee 2016). Durio and Richard both agree that they feel good about people feeling enough ownership over the sign to contact the police when they feel like it may be being vandalized (Durio 17:53; JayCee 2016).
#YLafayette: YLafayette was created to be a star; its purpose was to brand the city and be a fun place to visit, all of which elicits the need for a single hashtag, #YLafayette. While #YLafayette is supposed to be its branded hashtag, social media users tend to go hashtag happy and label photos of the sign with tags like #lafayette #dtlafayette, and #dtlft, instead of #ylafayette. There are users who opt to have their photos and pages private, which blocks permission for people to view that they have used the hashtag. Because of this there are only a current total of 185 #ylafayette posts on Instagram and minimal hashtags on Twitter. However, Facebook seems to be the most-used outlet for interaction with the hashtag. Although there is not a feature through Facebook that counts how many times the hashtag is used, scrolling through the huge thread, it is obvious to see that that hashtag is being used by individuals, business, and organizations. Facebook pages like Parc San Souci, Downtown Alive, and Downtown Lafayette also get a fair amount of YLafayette sign pictures tagged to their locations and hashtags; creating more opportunity for online interaction, and overall more publicity for the sign.
Evaluation: YLafayette is a huge success. The success began when Durio sketched out her idea in a simple notepad and gave credit for Dallas and Amsterdam implementing structures similar to her idea. Crowd-funding the project worked seamlessly in the community because it gave its citizens a stronger sense of ownership, and it alleviated costs that the city would have absorbed. Lafayette residents flee to the sign in response to events that happen around the world, serving as a place for community expression. There have even been senior pictures (high school and college students) being taken at the letters, as well as engagement photos. The sign is a happy and bright staple of the community, and it resonates well with residents of all ages.
Along with responses and photo ops, YLafayette has experienced reoccurring paintjobs for things like UL’s homecoming, Mardi Gras, and Festival International. As a resident and frequent Parc San Souci goer, I’ve noticed that when any event takes place around the parc, the sign is painted in reference to it. For instance, the sign was painted with Po-Boys for the 2016 Po-Boy Festival. And even if the sign is not painted in reference to an event, each time there is an event in Parc San Souci, there will be interaction and recognition of the sign.
Discussion: Principles throughout this project include communication with publics, knowing who you are dealing with, news/media relations, visibility, and openness. Durio, Roussel, and everyone behind YLafayette did an incredible job of communicating with their publics through the use of the videos created and through utilizing the crow-funding website. Throughout the preliminary planning there were no secrets about how much money was needed, or who was working on the sign. There were also no hidden agendas- the purpose of the sign was clearly stated on the crow-funding website. The website even gave credit to projects similar to YLafayette that had the same look and feel as YLafayette was aiming to have. It was clear throughout the project that citizens were becoming invested, so news media was regularly on the scene of the construction in Parc San Souci. The news media involvement was welcomed and helped to further excite residents and draw attention to the sign.
As far as the knowing who you are dealing with principle, Durio and Roussel worked to include all Downtown Lafayette businesses, investors, people of power, and people who could ultimately help the project become a success. The principles of consistency, authority, and consensus continually plays part in the success of YLafayette. In the beginning stages of the project, Durio and Roussel made it a point to reach out to local businesses and investors for both authority support and financial backing. After receiving support, the videos created in part with local businesses and investors helped to announce to the public that there was community authority support for the project. And as citizens of Lafayette viewed the videos, they made the decision to share and comment on the videos, which in turn resulted in the publics’ consistency. As they began sharing and talking about it, then it can be assumed that they may have helped to fund, and even sign up to paint after the construction was completed; once people agree to doing small things in support of something, it makes it easier for them to want to do larger things, like donate or paint. Citizens and tourists continue to act consistently by posting their own YLafayette photos, signing up to repaint the sign, and inviting their friends and family to visit the sign. Collectively, authoritative support from local businesses and investors, as well as community consistency establish the community consensus that YLafayette is a successful implementation.
YLafayette embodied the principles of transparency, liking, and trust. From Durio’s first sketch, YLafayette was meant to be a community staple and a fun-for-all attraction for downtown Lafayette. Because Durio and supporters made sure the message, meaning, and intention of the sign existed fully transparent, I think it encouraged citizens to truly appreciate and like the sign. Citizens liking the sign also fostered a trust between themselves and the people implementing the sign. Once citizens liked and trusted the concept of the sign, I think it was even easier for them to get more involved by possibly helping to fund it, sharing the videos created for the sign’s behalf, or signing up to participate in painting the sign.
Finally, the YLafayette sign is the epitome of the warm and fuzzy feeling principle. The YLafayette sign is ultimately a physical symbol for the city of Lafayette that draws people into realizing that they are the “y” in Lafayette. The sign has done an incredible job of telling everyone, residents and tourists alike, “you’re why Lafayette’s so special, you make Lafayette what it is, and so you’re the Y in Lafayette” (Durio 03:05).