Zach Horvath dangles over a 15-foot ledge at the Hope Outdoor Gallery on Baylor Street, wrangling a circular piece of paper the size of a truck tire that’s slathered in wallpaper paste.
A few minutes and some tricky maneuvering later, he’s smoothing out his latest reminder to the people of Austin to “Live a Great Story.”
Similar reminders have popped up all over the city. They cling to bridge pilings, adorn dilapidated buildings and stick to walls in seemingly inaccessible spots. Horvath hopes they spur passersby to embrace life and connect with other people.
“It’s a slight course correction to people,” Horvath says. “It’s a medium to spark conversation, and it really brings people together. It’s kind of a ripple effect.”
Horvath, 26, grew up in Austin. After graduating from high school, during which he started a small T-shirt printing business, he attended Austin Community College for a year, then quit to travel the world. In 2012, he visited 17 European countries in seven months. Those travels, he says, inspired him to launch the Live a Great Story movement.
“I liked listening to other people’s stories. I liked to sit across the table and drink coffee and listen — that was contagious energy to me,” he says. “It was inspiring to understand that even though we’re all different, we’re all really just people at the same time. We need to remember we’re all in it together.”
Especially now, he says, at a time of such political divisiveness in our country.
A phrase Horvath read in Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” cemented the idea. “A line in that book in essence says, ‘Once you start living your life story, you can’t go back,’” Horvath says.
The movement began with a few messages strategically placed around town. “If your life was a book, would anybody read it?” and “Do you have campfire stories?” appeared first. But the “Live a Great Story” tag stuck. People started taking pictures next to the reminders. The hashtag #liveagreatstory burbled up organically, and a whole movement arrived.
Early on, Horvath cooked up his own mixture of sugar, flour and water to use as glue to post his messages. Now he uses commercial wallpaper paste and a paint roller to slop it on the back of the signs before posting them. Often, they go up under cover of darkness.
“It’s a pretty intense process,” Horvath says. “You’re constantly on edge.”
The installers sometimes scale buildings or sneak places they probably shouldn’t go. They check for prying eyes and video security cameras. The risk, Horvath believes, is worth it.
“You don’t really want to get caught putting one up,” Horvath says. “But they’re making a difference. We just want to inspire people to keep going on their journey.”
Here at the Hope Gallery, no one minds that Horvath has contributed to the community art wall. Besides today’s posting, a 5-foot version of the Live a Great Story reminder went up before Thanksgiving. As Horvath looks on, a pair of tourists from the Netherlands pause to take photos in front of it.
“It means you should invest in experience by trying to make your life a good life,” Jelle Hermus, 29, says as he looks over the sign. “Design a good life instead of letting life happen to you.”
His partner, Billy van der Gaag, agrees. “It’s about exploring the world instead of going to stores and buying all kinds of stuff.”
That’s part of the intrigue. Everyone has a slightly different interpretation of the message, but what really matters is that it encourages people to embrace life and talk about their own paths, Horvath says.
Reminders have surfaced across the country, from San Diego, where Horvath now lives, to Nashville, where Reese Witherspoon had her photo snapped in front of one. They’re in El Paso, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Hawaii, too. In all, nearly 50,000 reminders of all sizes — from a few inches to several feet — have been set free in the world. Some last a day or two; some linger several years.
Horvath has printed the message on shirts, hats, stickers, pins, flags, magnets and patches, too. Sales of those products bring in more than $3,000 a month, but Horvath says the message is growing into more than just a product slogan. He’s pushing to create a media brand that partners with organizations that want to tell impactful stories.
That’s why Horvath has been traveling and creating videos featuring people with important stories to share. So far, they’ve included a Venezuelan activist and residents of Haiti, where earthquakes and hurricanes have wreaked disaster in recent years.
“We really want to share stories that inspire people on their own journey,” Horvath says.
And that, he believes, will help make everyone’s story a little greater.