Communicating Experience through Art

Sylvia Brodbeck, Communications Fellow

Sylvia in front of her sound installation at HGSE's Gutman Library

Sylvia in front of her sound installation at HGSE's Gutman Library

What a year it’s been. It feels like only yesterday that I arrived in a town called Cambridge at a place named Harvard, settling into my dorm room and wondering what to expect at HGSE. I was full of anticipation, anxiety, excitement and a desire to find out what my potential might be so that I could fulfill it - in order to maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place. People often told me that this was idealism, something that could not be translated into this notion of a practical reality, which we so often accept as immutable when – actually - it is just a snapshot of our current understanding. 

I remember very clearly feeling full of doubts when I first arrived, eager to make my contribution but at the same time understanding that truly worthwhile work has to come from humility. That’s an easy word to say; it is touted around so much, a buzzword badge of honor almost. And knowing this, I had always been hesitant, worried about implications that might never come to pass. During my first two weeks, there was a crisis moment: I felt overwhelmed, unsure of how to proceed in this country that, for all intents and purposes, ought to feel familiar, like a kind of home even, but did not. I was torn, homesick, struggling to make sense of life at grad school. So much so that one day I did that thing of loitering outside our Program Administrator’s Office, pretending to just – accidentally – happen to be in the vicinity, in search of some chocolates which she had so generously offered at a meeting the week before. 

There is this [...] Communication Fellows Program here, maybe you should apply.

My head craned around the door, shuffling from side to side, feeling slightly awkward, she spots me and with unfailing instinct gets up, walks over and gives me a hug. We talk for a long time about what I want to do, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I like to talk to people, I say, get to know them, bring them together. It sounds naïve in my ears, but it is the truth and maybe this simplicity frightens me. We sit together for a while until she suddenly opens up her emails and says: “You know, there is this program, a Communication Fellows Program here, maybe you should apply.” I wrestle with this; after all any application comes with the possibility of rejection and that…. well…that is always difficult. But I do and am accepted which gives me confidence. Maybe there is something, valuable after all that I may have to say? 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Matt and Iman for their encouragement: they didn’t know it at the time, but I was incredibly nervous at first, which probably explains my almost total absence of any sort of digital presence at that point. They made me feel at ease and offered their insights, always with warmth, passion and patience. They encouraged me to write my first blog post ever and made me realize that I could dare to share my story. 

What needs to be said now stands on the first floor of Gutman Library. It is a walk-in sound installation that has been 4 months in the making, my way of paying respect and expressing gratitude to my wonderful, courageous friends at HGSE and beyond (three of them Communications Fellows!) who agreed to take part in this project. They have set the bar high and spurred me on.  Therefore, whilst I take full responsibility for each aspect of the project, the credit must go to them. 

What needs to be said now stands on the first floor of Gutman Library.

I hope to see you there; maybe even meet you for the first time or reconnect. Either way, it is and has been an absolute honor to spend time and, yes, communicate, with you.

My deepest thanks go to Akiesha Ortiz, Monique Hall, Raven Tukes, Des Floyd, Tracie Jones, Aric B. Flemming Jr., Daniel Pollack, Izzi Steinhaus and Stewart Brown.


Sylvia's audio installation is open to all, and located in the lobby of HGSE's Gutman Library. It will be live until 8 PM on Wednesday, May 17th.