A Travel Guide for Talking Hearts is a community art project that seeks to engage multiple audiences — students and members of University of Michigan’s communities — in a creative process that strengthens our human connection and develops a shared empathy around individual journeys and experiences during the global coronavirus pandemic, the current transition period, and the evolution to a new normal. Catalyzed by the involvement and perspective of Yo-Yo Ma, developed with the vision of three Michigan artists — Nour Ballout, Tunde Olaniran, and Avery Williamson – and incorporating the lived experiences of students from all three of the university’s campuses, the foundation of this project rests in the possibilities for all to participate in a shared art-making process and the ability of that creative experience to reconceptualize space, community, and human connections.

This project reimagines how we capture the human experience, based on the artists’ belief that we recognize and value non-exploitative, non-voyeuristic interconnection, and that lives can be improved through genuine appreciation and love for humanity. This wide-ranging project will be centered through the creation of heart-maps – maps that attempt to document the full spectrum of experiences from our communities this past year – taking care to honor their emotional lives, building new connections, and illuminating a deeper shared understanding of our human condition.

Through a series of guided creative exercises that use multiple modes of engagement to encourage a wide breadth of participation, student communities in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint are invited to engage with the project through self-facilitated interviews that include one-on-one conversations, letters, emails, voice notes, shared drawings and photos, and social media posts. Responses shared from these conversations will inform a wide variety of artistic responses including billboards, installations, exhibitions and performance events. They will also guide the creation of the Talking Hearts Portal, a virtual journey that collectively captures our communities’ individual experiences and the shared artistic creations they inspire.

“The arts help us conceptualize new possibilities born of the ruptures of the last year and how we can carry our community forward to create a better, more inclusive world together.”

Dr. Mark S. Schlissel
U-M President