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Historical Society to Preserve Subway Therapy Post-It Notes as NYC History

By Noah Hurowitz | December 16, 2016 3:03pm
 Gov. Andrew Cuomo places a Post-It Note message on a wall at Union Square on Nov. 14.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo places a Post-It Note message on a wall at Union Square on Nov. 14.
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Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

UNION SQUARE — A portion of the Post-it notes that have blanketed the walls of the Union Square subway station in the weeks after the election will be preserved as historical record.

The New-York Historical Society on Friday collected about 4,000 Post-It Notes from the walls of the station with the goal of archiving them as a crowdsourced portrait of an emotional moment in the city’s history, according to Margaret Hofer, the group’s museum director.

“People decades from now might look at Post-it Notes as incredibly quaint, but whatever the verdict, this method of communication really captures the spirit of 2016 and the needs of New Yorkers at this particular moment,” she said.


Today I am partnering with the New-York Historical Society (@nyhistory) to archive the sticky notes at Union Square. The MTA has been very understanding of the need for people to express how they feel, but as we move forward, we want to make sure that the voices of the people are preserved. The New-York Historical Society will be providing a space for people to continue to express themselves. Check out www.subwaytherapy.com and www.nyhistory.org for more details. If you want to help with the preservation of the Wall today, please come to Union Square and find me or one of the employees of the New-York Historical Society. If you contributed to this amazing project, thank you very much for helping make this an international symbol of unity and peaceful expression. I will be continuing to do Subway Therapy -- keep following for updates of my whereabouts! #subwaytherapy #love #newyork

A photo posted by Levee (@subwaytherapy) on

The notes are not the first time the Historical Society has collected objects from public memorials or similar collective expressions of emotion, having previously gathered objects from the memorial outside Stonewall Inn for the victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting, messages left in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and marriage equality celebrations.

Speaking with DNAinfo New York, Hofer compared the displays to the days after 9/11, when public memorials and tributes to victims and first responders cropped up at Ground Zero and throughout the city.

“It’s been a similarly public and spontaneous outpouring of emotion,” she said.

Archivists at the Historical Society will preserve the notes between sheets of mylar, with each sheet holding about 12 notes, Hofer said. There are no plans yet to put them on display, but the group will be facilitating an extension of the project on a wall in the vestibule of its headquarters at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street.

Hofer said the goal of that project is to collect notes about people’s hopes and expectations for the coming years.

The original “Subway Therapy” notes are the brainchild of Matthew Levee Chavez, who, months before the election, began giving commuters the opportunity to participate in “subway therapy” by chatting with him. After the election, he had the idea to let people post their own messages on the wall.

The project quickly took off, and in the weeks since, most of the walls of the Union Square station have been thickly blanketed with the notes expressing frustration, solidarity, sympathy and other emotional messages, alongside the occasional social media handle or other self-promotion.

At first Chavez would remove the notes each night, but it became a difficult task as the messages spread out across much of the station. He began removing them on Friday, and it was not immediately clear whether the project would continue in its current form in Union Square.

An MTA spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the agency would begin removing notes that cropped up following the removal on Friday.