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Charlotte artists’ project documents giving free hugs to strangers

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Everybody needs a hug.

OK, almost everybody.

Artist Christina Welsh and photographer Paul Kepp are working on “The Hugging Documentary,” and they pop up all over Charlotte every week, giving away absolutely free hugs.

It started in July after Welsh saw a film about a hugging guru in India who hugged 45,000 people in 21 hours. People came from all over the country to get a hug.

She thought: “I can do this. It’s totally free, and I know it impacts lives in a real positive way.”

So the two set up a Facebook page, The Hugging Documentary Group, as a diary – and to let followers know where the hugging will occur.

In September, they set up across from Presbyterian Hospital and hugged a lot of caregivers. They have given out hugs on the greenways, on Central Avenue, in parks, and at Trade and Tryon streets. The hugs they give and get are big and tight.

But not everyone wants a hug. On North Davidson last Sunday, some folks smiled and said, “No, thanks.”

Some driving by, though, circled around the block and came back for a much-needed squeeze. One woman couldn’t get out of her car, so Welsh climbed in.

“A hug makes a big day for a lot of people,” the woman told her.

“They are determined to get a hug. They absolutely needed it,” Welsh said.

Paul Kepp is documenting every embrace. The two plan to make the project a documentary film that will premiere this spring in Charlotte’s NoDa arts district, where Welsh and Kepp live.

But the project is unscripted and open-ended. In a Facebook post, Welsh wrote, “The Hugging Documentary … a creative journey allowing the human experience to help define the outcome.”

The project has been very personal for Welsh.

“It has been the most moving to me, and it’s kind of changed my life,” she said. “Just a little stupid hug that everybody can give.”

Willhelm: 704-358-5272
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