Pandemic Healing Art Wall

Installed May 13 - June 16, 2022

Artist: Amie Tyler Builder: Rick Locke
Dimensions: Rectangle Box 8’ high x 8’ wide x 4’ deep
Materials: Painted plywood, metal chalk holders, chalk paint, chalk

Artist Statement:

Empowering communities through expressive arts is a powerful way to foster connection and enable collective healing in a way that is accessible to everyone.

The Pandemic Healing Art Wall was envisioned as an interactive, public installation to offer a safe space to reflect and find refuge and connection. Inspired by Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” project, I created a chalkboard “box” with stenciled prompts and an unending supply of chalk. Over a 30 day period, I was a steward to over ~10,000 handwritten notes. The journey around the four walls began with the prompts, “I lost, I am grieving, I am hopeful for, and I am grateful for,” where participants used chalk to write their notes.

When I began this project, I felt the world was returning “to normal” without a moment to contemplate the impact of the Pandemic on our lives. Many of my clients were carrying unexpressed grief and felt they had limited avenues to express it. They also felt external pressure to “keep going.” My own children, like so many, had experienced a tremendous amount of change, loss, and isolation.

Themes individuals expressed were around primary losses, such as loss of togetherness, loss of loved ones, loss of control over one’s life or future and loss of resources, but there were also secondary losses: loss of holding someone’s hand, loss of inspiration gained from travel, or the pain of witnessing someone pass just before they could experience their retirement – a sense of holding others’ unrealized dreams.

When I began this project, I knew from my research that deep neurological wiring patterns and emotional and spiritual healing could occur for individuals when grief or trauma can be expressed in a safe environment. However, I was surprised by the depth of the collective experience. Visitors of all ages came to the wall to cry, celebrate, and express their emotions. On several occasions strangers would connect and cry together.

I was moved when one wrote he lost both parents during the Pandemic, and when a daughter shared she lost her father to Covid just three days after he was able to get his first Covid shot when vaccines first became available. I was moved watching a mini-phenomenon day after day, where for example, a family with a newborn baby wrote they were grateful for their grandparent, and then face-timed them in Japan to show them their name on the wall, during a time when it was not safe to visit. Even in unspoken ways, when one person expressed loss, others would write thoughtful notes back to that person sometimes hours later. I loved watching teenagers make their visit an after school ritual, coming by almost everyday to leave notes for one another, opening up a new way of sharing and connection – an outlet for communication after so much isolation. I was in awe watching people use their courage to speak about their truth.

This project was live during the time the US hit 1,000,000 deaths due to Covid-19, the Uvalde school gun shooting, and the Russia-Ukraine war. The space to express oneself became a mode to allow us to collectively cry out and grieve, as well as to express hope for the future.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of healing is that it can take place in the space beyond words. Art allows us to feel. It acts as a mirror and matches what wants to arise to the forefront within us. It doesn’t matter if you are the artist, the participant, or the compassionate witness – just being willing to contemplate “the real” can open the door to healing.

Deep gratitude to all of the visitors and the City of San Mateo!

Watch the video of installation day.
See more images of the handwritten notes in the artist's photo gallery.
All photos & video: Amie Tyler.

3rd Avenue and B Street
San Mateo, CA 94401

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