Social isolation has left people all over the world feeling, well, isolated. That’s why Vince Murphy, an Oak Park therapist with 18 years of experience, partnered with the non-profit Compound Yellow to create the Community Talkboard, a socially engaged art installation that serves as an outlet for residents to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Each Wednesday, questions like “If you stop believing in the future, what do you start believing in?” are written on the large chalkboard located on the lawn of Compound Yellow’s Lake Street gallery (just across the street from Pete’s). Residents can then visit the Talkboard throughout the week and write their answer with chalk provided at the site. The Compound Yellow Facebook page also encourages individuals to bring their own chalk in order to prevent cross-contamination. 

Murphy conceived of the Talkboard through his practice at Vince Murphy & Associates Psychotherapy. After observing the general isolation that people are feeling due to the pandemic, he realized the need for a space where people can connect and reflect.  “I thought that there could be a shared container for peoples’ thoughts and emotions. A community art piece could be an interesting way to capture the moment and where people are at,” he said. 

Murphy brought the idea to Laura Schaeffer, founder of Compound Yellow, who provided the materials and space for the Community Talkboard to come to life. The project fit in with Compound Yellow’s mission as an experimental art space, as Compound Yellow accepts proposals for a variety of socially engaged art installations. The site has previously hosted multimedia artists, musicians, and its ongoing project, the Self-Reliance School. Like most public spaces, Compound Yellow has cancelled its programs indefinitely due to the pandemic. However, the Community Talkboard’s outdoor location makes it safe for social distancing. 

The focus on asking questions is a part of the project that Murphy finds to be especially important, as many of the questions posed on the chalkboard are questions that people may already be thinking about, but not have a space to outwardly express.

Murphy said that in a world-wide crisis, people often seek certainty in professionals such as therapists and leaders. However, crises also reveal that even world leaders cannot provide absolute answers. “The whole circumstance is so uncertain for everybody that nobody can really provide a guarantee. So what I reflect on with people is living one day at a time.”

Rather than forcing optimism, Murphy focused the project on posing questions that lead to conversations. He said reflection and self-expression during a crisis provide an opportunity for growth. 

“We’re trying to get people to think a little bit about this experience [of quarantine], and that even through this struggle, we can develop an understanding of ourselves,” he said.

Social distancing dictates that groups cannot congregate around the chalkboard. However, Murphy said the simple act of writing on the chalkboard can foster a sense of connection to others. 

The Community Talkboard opened on Wednesday, May 6, and will remain open on the Compound Yellow property through the end quarantine. Community members are encouraged to post question ideas on the Compound Yellow Facebook page, and authorship will be given on chosen questions.  

While nothing is certain, Murphy expressed hope that the Community Talkboard will provide a momentary pause for anyone who stops to participate. He explained that by seeing other responses on the board, individuals are reminded that while everyone is having a range of experiences, everyone is in this together.

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