By Rena Hodosevich, Digital Content Intern, Summer 2019
The PostSecret exhibit—based on the world-famous community art project founded by Frank Warren—features thousands of artfully handmade postcards with the deepest secrets of their senders inscribed on them. Visitors to the exhibit are able to experience these genuine secrets—ranging from romantic and comedic, to painful and heartfelt—and even share a secret of their own by creating a postcard right there in the exhibit. Since opening in 2018, we have collected over 15,000 postcard secrets in the exhibit and at PostSecret Street Team events around the county. Many of these secrets have been displayed in the San Diego Secrets section of the exhibit.
Our talented exhibits team regularly switches out these San Diego Secrets to feature a new selection. We recently sat down with our Exhibits Manager, C. Paul Majors, to talk about the process behind selecting and displaying the San Diego Secrets and his favorite secret in the exhibit.
Tell us a little about yourself! How did you start working in museums?
I started working in museums when I was 18. I started volunteering with the Paleontology Department at the San Diego Natural History Museum and then they started paying me. I have not worked in museums continuously since I was 18, but I’ve spent most of my adult life working at them. Initially, when I was doing paleontology stuff, I was just behind the scenes and more in cultural resources management and the scientific side, but now I am in front-of-the-scenes, or “making the scenes,” I guess, doing exhibits work and running the exhibits department, which is awesome. My team is so talented, it’s amazing.
Do you think what you learned behind the scenes helps you in your current work?
Yes. Whenever somebody asks me about going into museum work, I always tell them to work in as many different departments as possible, just because everything that you do is going to add what you do next. No experience is worthless – it helps to know things.
What is the difference between the San Diego secrets and the rest of the secrets in the PostSecret exhibit?
Largely, there’s not much difference, other than the fact that the San Diego secrets were collected here in the exhibit. The secrets really run the gamut of the human experience and the PostSecret project has always done that – the exhibit is like an extension of what was already happening.
When it’s time to pick the new San Diego secrets, what kind of secrets do you look for? Is there a theme, or do themes appear naturally on their own?
The secrets we select for display won’t be representative of all the secrets we collect at a given time, but there tends to be themes that show themselves. Secrets related to bodily functions are very common. Sometimes, secrets are more about relationships, and sometimes they’re more about the state of the world at large.
We always try to make sure these themes are represented in the ones that we pick for display in some way. If I’m seeing a theme in the secrets, then there must be something going on in the world that either I’m not aware of, or something that I am aware of. Making sure that that gets represented is really important because if there is a theme happening then people are likely to identify with that theme. It creates a window into the exhibit in a way that we could not do otherwise.
What reasons do you think compel people to submit secrets to this exhibit?
I think there are many motivations, but I think finding a community is at the heart of it. Even though this is an exercise that is an individual exercise, and is supposed to be cloaked in secrecy and anonymity, sharing our experiences helps people not feel alone. Even though we feel isolated with our secrets, the need for supporting others and getting support back is so great that we can even do it anonymously.
Once you realize your secret is not just yours to carry, that other people are carrying the same secret, it lowers barriers to discussing those secrets openly and honestly. Just recognizing that shared humanity is something that can really start a lot of conversations.
What is your favorite secret that’s on display right now in the exhibit?
There’s one that says, “I want you to tell me the truth,” and then in parentheses below, in small letters, it says: “I think.” I think that one represents a classic human condition: “I really wanna know what’s really happening, but there’s a part of me that is really scared to know what’s really happening”. Just the duality of that – where someone is hoping for the unvarnished truth, but they’re also kind of scared of it. I like that one because it so neatly sums up that human conundrum.
What is your biggest takeaway from the PostSecret project as a whole?
I think about how much my own experience is reflected in the shared experiences of people around me in ways that I never even thought of. I can stand in that person’s shoes, I can understand where they’re coming from. I think that’s been one of the really powerful things for me, personally, about this exhibit. Seeing that my secrets are everybody’s secrets humanizes the whole experience of having these secrets.
Have you submitted any secrets?
If I had, I would not say – because they’re secrets.