I’ve called Austin, Texas home for the past 4 years. One of the major things I’ve noticed during that time is our gentrification problem. It’s no secret–everyone talks about how much Austin has changed over the years–but it’s an invisible force that has become more and more pervasive.

I wanted to give visibility to this issue and share the stories of the businesses and cultural centers that have been lost to gentrification, so I started What Once Was–a project that uses AR to give new life to BIPOC-owned businesses that no longer exist. I partnered with local nonprofits Six Square and E4 Youth to bring the project to life, and we launched at SXSW this year. 

Select press: AdWeek, Little Black BookAustin American Statesman, Fox 7

Our AR experiences are available on Instagram and Facebook–they open directly to your in-app camera as a filter. For SXSW, we put posters on site where the lost businesses used to be, so that people could scan a QR code and see the BIPOC-owned business that was there before they were. 

Our launch was on official SXSW programming as a community event. We had a Black vendor market, a panel of academics, and AR experiences ready to try. Roughly 300 people came out.

Our Instagram page serves as a hub for the project. There, people can try our AR filters, learn more about Austin’s gentrification problem, and find exisiting BIPOC-owned businesses to support.

Creative Direction + Branding: meself
AR Production: Froliq and Darnell Wilson
Event Production: Regine Malibiran