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New Yorkers’ Post-Election Post-its Will Be Preserved

Subway Therapy captured a city’s outpouring of emotion. Now, the notes New Yorkers left behind will be archived

Tens of thousands of sticky notes were used to create the communal artwork/therapy session. (Phil Roeder - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

In the days that followed the U.S. general election, something extraordinary happened in a New York subway tunnel. Tens, then hundreds, then thousands of Post-it notes began to blanket the walls, expressing outrage, heartbreak and hope. The cathartic sticky notes were part of a community art project called Subway Therapy—and now, writes Sarah Cascone for artnet News, they’re being preserved for future generations.

“The people in New York put their voices out there in an explosion of color and thought that has become a symbol of unity and expression,” Matthew “Levee” Chavez, the installation’s creator, writes on the project’s website. His idea was to use the subway station as a safe place for people to share their secrets and stress. At first, Chavez set up an ad-hoc “subway therapy” table in a subway tunnel this June. Then, as the results of the election began to sink in, he set up the table again with a pile of sticky notes and pens and invited people to express themselves. 

They did—in an overwhelming way. Subway Therapy started in the Sixth Avenue station​ at the 14th Street tunnel and spread to Union Square. It captured the imagination of the public, who flocked to the station to share their perspectives and made the walls of Post-its a social media sensation. Overall, an estimated 20,000 notes were written.

A bunch of ad-hoc sticky notes might seem like an ephemeral phenomenon, but now a group of cultural organizations has teamed up to preserve the Post-its. The New York Historical Society, Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Governor’s Office recently announced that they’ll archive the notes to preserve the penned sentiments.

The effort will be part of the New York Historical Society’s History Responds program, which focuses on objects created or left behind during historical moments like 9/11 and the city’s celebrations of marriage equality. It’s part of a broader national movement to preserve spontaneous outpourings that might otherwise be lost, much like the shrine mourners left behind after the Dallas police shootings. 

Didn’t get a chance to write your own Post-it? If you’re in New York, there’s still time to express yourself—a Post-it wall inside the New York Historical Society is open through Inauguration Day.

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