Commuters express themselves on subway walls
It was the day after Election Day. In the wake of the shock felt by many Americans at the victory of Donald Trump, sticky notes began appearing on the wall of a tunnel between the Fourteenth Street subway stations on Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York City. On them were written messages of love, grief, surprise, fear, support, and encouragement, such as “Love will always trump hate,” “As my heart cries, help me understand,” “Never give up,” “Listen to each other,” “MAKE ART,” “Grieve Organize Resist,” “We will fight against the rising tide of Fascism,” and “this is helping.”
Artist Matthew Chavez was the instigator; he put up the first notes in what became the Subway Therapyproject. As interest grew, similar note walls appeared on the East and West Coasts of the United States, and in Toronto. Chavez, who goes by the name Levee, also received requests for assistance from interested European groups.
The New York notes were allowed to stay up for several weeks with the support of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose own note quoted the Statue of Liberty’s “Give us your tired, your poor” poem by Emma Lazarus. The notes were eventually taken down but not discarded; the New-York Historical Society is preserving a selection to document community members’ election response.
Hoping to address concerns about excessive partisanship and give voice to all, Chavez also aims to bring the project to areas with political views that differ from those of the liberal coastal enclaves. “It is especially crucial to provide relief to people living in areas where such expression may not be as accessible,” says the artist, who plans to digitize the notes for wider dissemination—there’s a growing digital archive on subwaytherapy.comand on an Instagram account of the same name—and turn them into a book.
After the inauguration, Chavez set up an installation at Cornell University that featured a wall of New York notes and a participatory wall inviting visitors to express themselves. In the words of one anonymous writer, “It gives me hope that such beauty and solidarity is coming out of such chaos.”