Last week, nearly 60 UNCG students – led by art professor Sheryl Oring – ditched their smartphones for several dozen vintage manual typewriters and spent the afternoon in New York City transcribing messages to the 2016 presidential candidates.

The concept of the project, titled “I Wish to Say: 2016,” was simple: UNCG students and other volunteer typists set up shop in Bryant Park while passers-by dictated messages to the candidates in this year’s presidential race.

The impact? Powerful. The project didn’t just create a buzz around the park – it caused a stir across the country, with stories about the project appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

While Oring has been performing the “I Wish to Say” project across the country since 2004, this year’s event – which was part of the PEN World Voices Festival – was particularly memorable because of the student engagement. Students were involved in nearly every aspect of the large-scale public art project, from project management to documentation to implementation.

“Watching the students engage with the project and learn on the streets of New York instead of inside the classroom was an extremely rewarding experience,” Oring said. “Not only did students help create a platform for New Yorkers to speak their minds, they also offered their own messages to the candidates.”

For Oring and her students, the project is all about giving people a voice. The “I Wish to Say” team produced more than 300 letters last Tuesday, all of which will be mailed to the candidates. Additionally, excerpts from letters were read to the public throughout the one-day event.

“This project reminded me that all too often, voices go unheard,” said UNCG student Robert Rose. “Typewriters, like us, have become silenced in a world of continual growth. By bringing them back to life, we are showing the world that we have something to say.”

“‘I Wish to Say’ offers people a very unique way to speak out,” Oring said. “The typewriter functions as an antidote to the feelings of alienation that grow out of our screen-dominated lives.”

Where is the project’s next stop? Right here in North Carolina. Oring will perform “I Wish to Say” on Nov. 1 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem, and is currently planning a fall performance in Greensboro.


Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations
Photography by Jiyoung Park