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An Artist’s Sticky-Note Project Spreads Post-Election Solidarity

Thousands of sticky-note messages have accumulated in the New York City subway, a moment of post-election solidarity evolved from artist Matthew Chavez’s Subway Therapy project.

Subway Therapy, Union Square
The growing wall of sticky notes in Manhattan’s Union Square subway station on Saturday (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Any shrine, any act of accumulation, has the overriding message: You are not alone. Following Donald Trump’s presidential election last week, the potential implementation of promises like restricting women’s reproductive rights and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, along with the vindictive tone of his campaign, cast a dark pall for much of the country. In New York City, thousands have expressed their anger, sadness, hope, and calls for tolerance through walls of sticky notes. As one stated, which captured the prevailing tone: “I am here for you. I love you and support you.”

Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station

While the sticky notes have spread to stations in Torontowomen’s bathrooms in high schools, and in the NYC subway cars, the movement began with artist Matthew Chavez’s Subway Therapy. His project, which offers a space for therapeutic listening and discussion in the New York City subway, existed before the election, and took on a new energy when he set up last Wednesday in the tunnel between Sixth and Seventh Avenues at 14th Street. By Saturday, a strong outpost had appeared in the Union Square station, and I even spotted a small installation in the elevator of Hunter College, with one note photographed and enlarged from the subway that read: “Love each other. Fight back. Make art. Just make art.”

Hyperallergic reached out to Chavez, who also goes by Levee, for his response to the Subway Therapy project’s expansion. He responded:

It’s been so wonderful to see other people getting behind messages of love and inclusion. In the last week people all over the world have felt fearful and uncertain about the future. I’m happy that people have responded to that by making visible representations of our love for each other. These kinds of projects are showing up in cities in the US, but there are ripples affecting the international community. I’ve heard of walls popping up in Canada, and I’ve heard about interest in London. Sometimes when our trust in each other is destabilized we need to be reminded that we are all on the same team and we need to support each other. We need to prevent people from isolating themselves because they are afraid. We grow and connect through dynamic conversation, and I am elated to see the world doing that through this project.

Subway Therapy, Union Square
People adding to the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
People adding to the sticky notes in the Union Square station

Chavez’s “office hours” are shared on the Subway Therapy Facebook page, where he stated today that the project has reached 10,000 notes. In Union Square, not all messages were anti-Trump — one read: “We have to try and give the man a chance.” However, most were voices against the racism already represented in his administration, or echoed, in various iterations: “You don’t belong in White House, Mr. T!” Words like “unity” and “courage” made up a big pink heart, and many commuters paused to walk the whole length of the wall, some crying, some smiling, some adding their own messages to the crowd.

The Union Square sticky notes are not far from the enduring labels that were placed on the station walls after the September 11 attacks, where rather than some grand memorial, there are just the names of the lost typed on address stickers, some rewritten in pen as the ink has faded. Like the sticky notes, they’re unmonumental, unfiltered, but each is a personal action, and in their number is a powerful solidarity.

Subway Therapy, Union Square
Crowd around the messages in the Union Square subway station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Corner of the wall of sticky notes in the Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
A wall just outside the Union Square subway station entrance that also gathered notes
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes in Union Square station
Subway Therapy, Union Square
Detail of the sticky notes wall in Union Square station
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