Participation Project (Postcards to My Parents)

For my participation project, I chose to focus on the cross-section of Pittsburghers who choose to spend their weekends at Schenley Plaza.

I am intrigued by the idea of the mass-produced sentiment, and wanted to know what people of all backgrounds would write, if given the opportunity to produce  a message to someone that they’ve never met— the only information given about the recipients of the postcard was that they were my parents (if asked further questions, I answered accordingly, supplying their names for a salutation, etc.). In this way, each participant was given a few rules to follow: in order to receive a blank postcard, each participant must write a letter “for me, to send to my parents” in return.

While conducting this project, I expected more people to write the postcards from my perspective, attempting to write the message as me. However, I was surprised to find that only one writer followed this format. The other 24 participants wrote from their own point of view (and 87.5% of this sample even signed their own names). I was also surprised by how much time and effort each participant put into their postcard (the average writing time being about two and a half minutes per card).

I believe that my project had a positive impact on those who participated. One of my favorite examples of this was in a conversation that I had with a very friendly older woman named Barb. She and her husband were taking a walk in the area, and she took the time to write a postcard for me. While writing, we exchanged a few words in which she told me that she’d be sending her postcard to her oldest son, who lives in LA. Although they speak on occasion, she only has the opportunity to visit once a year. Barb seemed very happy to have an excuse to reach out to her son, and I was very happy to supply that opportunity to her.

Another favorite moment came from a husband who jokingly dictated a message as his wife wrote a note of her own: “Dear Mom and Dad… Hello from Singapore. The street gangs aren’t so bad, once you get to know them…”

I would like to continue this project in the future, taking 25 participants from different areas and seeing if any patterns arise between the written messages. Next time, I think I will collect postcards from my hometown in New York.




As of yesterday, all postcards have made their way to my parents’ house.

(Left: postcards before mailing   Right: postcards after mailing)

I plan on creating more postcards in a similar style and giving them to my parents so that they can find participants to mail postcards back to me in return.

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