In January, I wrote a piece on UNCG art professor Sheryl Oring highlighting her many works which examine critical social issues through innovative ways of storytelling. Oring’s project, “I Wish to Say,” has been one of her most notable projects to date. In previous years, she has dressed up in 1960s secretary attire, set up a public office — complete with a manual typewriter — and invited people to dictate postcards to the U.S. president. However, this year she is taking a different approach with her “I Wish to Say” initiative. Later this month, Oring and her fellow students will take the project to Bryant Park in New York City to invite people to write letters to U.S. presidential candidates of the upcoming November election.
According to Oring, the project has evolved and changed tremendously over the years. Working with a team of 58 students, the project serves as a framework for engaging young people in a discussion about politics.
“This aspect really intrigues me and it’s been amazing to watch my students dive in and take this project on,” said Oring. There will be 20 typing stations set up in Bryant Park located behind the main branch of the New York Public Library and around the corner from Times Square.
“There will be typing going on for six hours straight. So the scale is way beyond prior iteration of the project,” she continued.
Oring is most excited about this year’s project and how it involves UNCG students. She proposed the idea of student involvement when she approached Dr. Lawrence Jenkins, head of the Art Department, who was afraid that no one would be interested in going. Reluctantly, he agreed to support the trip and the response was remarkable. The spots on the bus filled up almost instantly.
“It will be great to see so many students actively engaged and being true partners in creating this new show,” she said. Oring believes the project provides beneficial opportunities on several levels — students are learning about project management and public interventions, about documentation, teamwork and risk-taking.
“Beyond that I am so excited about hearing the sound of so many typewriters in the park. I think it might just be intriguing enough to get people to put their cell phones down for a minute or two,” Oring added.
Moreover, the project has sparked an interest in students wanting a typewriter of their own. “A number of students have asked me where they can get a typewriter of their own,” said Oring. “Wouldn’t it be great if students started getting into typewriters?”
When asked which presidential candidate she would write to, Oring stated that her card is already written. “I have written one card of my own in the course of this project, on February 10, 2004, during a showing in Oakland, California — the second show ever. I said:
‘Dear Madam President,
When I was growing up, Geraldine Ferraro was a candidate for vice president. I was certain that before long we would have a woman president. It has taken many years for this to happen. And I wish to say I am very proud of you, Good luck with the tough decisions.
Sheryl Oring Brooklyn’”
With Hillary Clinton being the only female candidate in the current U.S. presidential race — and a strong possibility of becoming the next president, according to many pundits — it is safe to say that this card is still valid today!
Madelynn Poulson, a former student of Oring, is excited about the many different roles she plays in this project. “I am in charge of writing the literature for the students so they will know how to talk to the participants in the park,” said Poulson. “Being the sassy character I am, I get to add little scenarios and different phrases to make the booklets more fun and interactive.”
Poulson’s mission for attending this trip is for one person to leave the park and feel as if their voice matters. “Too often people don’t vote because they feel like it doesn’t matter or they don’t matter. But if one person can see we took the time to drive 12 hours on a bus with 20 typewriters because they matter, then our work is done and mission complete,” she said.
“I Wish to Say: 2016” is being made possible, in part, by the Franklin Furnace Fund supported by the SHS Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, general operating support from the New York State Council on the Arts, as well as the Art department and the Lloyd International Honors College at UNCG. The project will take place during the Pen World Voices festival on April 26 at Bryant Park in New York City from 1:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.