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Someday, there will a Great American Novel (or Screenplay) set in 2016, a year that will stand in the collective mythology of millennials in the same way that 1968 is remembered by baby boomers—in the sense that this is the year Americans are convinced our country is going to hell. Someone is probably already taking notes for it. But until then, there is the Truth Booth, a 15-foot-tall, 22-foot-wide inflatable speech balloon/video studio that has been touring the country to record people finishing the statement, "The truth is. . ."
"The truth is different for everyone," says Will Sylvester, a video artist and member of the Cause Collective, a group of artists, designers, and ethnographers who work together and with the public to create public art. "For some people, it's factual. They say, 'The truth is, the sky is blue.' Some people give a definition. Some people say, 'The truth is, my life is not where I need it to be.' There's some really deep and personal stuff. And some of it is funny and more mundane."
The Truth Booth originated in Ireland in 2010 and has been traveling around the world ever since. But in January, 2015, the Cause Collective realized it had never done a proper U.S. tour. Historically, the timing seemed fortuitous. "It's a strange time to live in the U.S.," Sylvester reflects.
The Truth Booth was in Flint, Michigan, last week, where many people came in to tell the truth about the water and garbage crises. It's a particularly difficult time to speak up in Flint—last spring, Sasha Avonna Bell, who had filed a lawsuit against the city after her child had been poisoned by lead in the water, was shot and killed in her home.
"One woman was afraid to come into the booth," says Sylvester. "To speak up and tell the truth is a vulnerable and scary thing. But she came back. I don't know what she said, but I'm glad she found her voice. We give people a platform. An artistic platform is accepted more freely than publication or media or something that can easily be taken down off the Internet and censored. You can express your voice and agency."
Though a lot of people talk about politics and national issues, many of them concentrate on how these things affect their lives and their families. During the past six years the Truth Booth has been touring, Sylvester hasn't noticed much of a change in the concerns of Americans. Discussions of politics almost always turn into discussions of larger issues. Many of these things are universal. "In Columbus, Ohio," Sylvester says, "one woman said, 'The truth is, women can't be vulnerable. They don't have the same liberties as men.' And a woman in Afghanistan said the exact same thing. They're far apart, but they share the same truth."
The Cause Collective is in the process of putting the videos up online and organizing them into an exhibition of some kind. "We all have truths," says Sylvester. "That's why we do the project. We all have this thing in common. The truth may be different, but it's a bond, a common bond."
The Truth Booth will be at Millennium Park on 8/17 from 11 AM-6 PM and at the Stony Island Arts Bank on 8/18 from 12 PM-8 PM.