By Maria Rocha-Buschel
New Yorkers looking for an outlet to express their feelings need look no further than a local subway station.
Brooklyn-based artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez has been stationed in the underground tunnel along 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues almost every day since the election, armed with Post-its and pens for commuters passing through.
Union Square station has also become home to a wall covered in the sticky notes, but Chavez said that he wasn’t directly involved in starting that.
“I feel responsible for the project and all the other ones that have popped up but I think people thought the original one was at Union Square and just went with it, bringing their own Post-its and pens,” he said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo himself stopped by the Union Square outpost earlier this week and while Chavez said he kind of wished the governor had stopped by the original wall in the 14th Street tunnel, he was encouraged that so many different people were participating.
“Regardless of your political office or how powerful people think you are, there’s no reason not to enjoy it,” he said.
Cuomo’s addition to the wall read, in part, “New York State holds the torch high!—Andrew C.”
Chavez said that he felt the wall at Union Square looks more like a memorial to him, due to the volume of the overlapping notes, while the 14th Street tunnel where he is stationed is carefully laid out: there is one Post-it per tile and all of the notes are taken down at the end of the day.
Chavez has collected thousands of notes since the project started and has been keeping them all, but every day that he comes back, he puts up a small percentage of notes from the day before so by the end of that day, most of the messages are current.
“I’ve been sort of curating it to make sure it stays fresh and alive,” he said.
While a friend of Chavez speculated that the artist might gather all the notes and bury them as a sort of catharsis, Chavez said that he’s definitely keeping all of the messages and has already started scanning them for people to view online. He is planning to be in the tunnel on Friday and Saturday afternoon but will be going out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday and might start it up again in early December if people want it back.
“I want to let people reflect on this,” he said.
Chavez noted that he’s actually been offering subway therapy for the last six months, unrelated to the election.
“I wanted to give people someone to talk to if they have no one else,” he said of his idea for the project, which didn’t originally include Post-its but was just a table where he invited commuters to stop for a chat. “A lot of us have friends and family we can vent to but what about the people who don’t have that?”
After the election, he added the Post-its as a way for passersby to get their feelings out quickly.
“It’s all about relieving New Yorkers of stress,” he said.
Although the project has gained traction as an outlet for disappointed Clinton supporters to express their disbelief about Trump’s election, Chavez is decidedly nonpartisan, and he pointed out that many of the notes people have left are also nonpartisan, with the “vast majority” encouraging unity and moving forward.
“On the first day (after the election), people were hugging each other and crying, and it was beautiful to see it,” he said. “It’s great to see people supporting each other.”