Street therapy, immersive art installations, and post-its in the subway station with Matt Chavez

Matt Chavez is co-founder of Listening Lab, a project aimed at encouraging community interactions and sharing of personal stories through mixed-media installations. He's perhaps best known for Subway Therapy, an immersive public art project initiated in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Public Participation: The project featured 2,000+ anonymous sticky notes posted by commuters on the walls of NYC's Union Square subway station.

After arriving in NYC, he started a project called New York Secret Keeper—where strangers could stop by and tell Matt a secret. When one person suggested that the experience felt like therapy, he ran with it—thus was born Subway Therapy. 

He played the role of a street therapist, using it as a way to go out in public and have meaningful conversations with passersby. 

Then, when the election of 2016 came, he knew there were a lot of strong feelings moving around—and sitting outside to just talk to a handful of people just didn't seem to cut it. 

Instead, he brought out sticky notes and other art materials and let people just write down their feelings. Before he knew it, he had a subway wall full of post-its.

"We have all this technology... all these practices to help people get along, and yet there are all these people who feel like they don't have anyone to talk to, who don't feel they are seen or heard."

In one case, a guy on his way to work stopped to ask for help finding a proper therapist to help him with his relationship issues. 

How did he end up in a place where he felt he had to resort to that? 

Giving yourself permission

Prompting people in public with a creative invitation interrupts the daily script. It invites curiosity and, ultimately, participation. 

"I love people giving themselves permission to participate in something that's meaningful to them."

When someone sees a collective art exhibit on a subway wall, and they realize they can add to it—and nobody has to tell them they can—it unlocks something in their minds that I think is valuable.

What else, one might wonder, could I give myself permission to do?

Watch the full video interview here:

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