AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
An odd thing happened in the middle of Manhattan today, and it sounded like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF TYPEWRITER)
CORNISH: That's a manual typewriter. There were 20 of them clacking away in Bryant Park. Volunteer typists were ready to take dictation as part of an art project. We sent NPR's Rose Friedman to check it out.
ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: The project is called "I Wish To Say." It's the creation of artist Sheryl Oring.
SHERYL ORING: I set out typewriters in public spaces and invite people to dictate postcards to the presidential candidates.
FRIEDMAN: Oring brought a group of students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she teaches a course on art and politics. They teamed up with a local literary festival. And together with some other artists and volunteers, they tried try to engage the public.
SHANNON FORBES: I need to get a consent form from you.
GUS KIJAK: Absolutely.
FRIEDMAN: Shannon Forbes typed a card from Gus Kijak, who was visiting with his family from Washington, D.C.
KIJAK: Dear president...
FORBES: Oh, dear. Now I'm on caps lock. I have you yelling at him or her.
KIJAK: ...Please don't forget what made this country great. Keep embracing diversity and support those with special needs.
FRIEDMAN: As they were writing, Kijak mentioned that his son was autistic. Shannon Forbes told him that she was, too. Kijak's wife hugged her before they left the park. Nearby, Hallie Tyner was struggling. She's a junior at UNC Greensboro and says her only experience with a manual typewriter was seeing one in her parents' attic.
HALLIE TYNER: Sorry. I was practicing on one that actually worked better, but it's ok.
FRIEDMAN: Other typists were dealing with less mechanical issues. Mirland Terlong is an artist and a Bernie Sanders supporter. She wrote down postcards from fans of Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
MIRLAND TERLONG: It just opens me up to thinking about that there's all these kinds of people who have different ideas of what the kind of America it is that they want. And, you know, you just have to acknowledge that.
FRIEDMAN: That kind of engagement with the idea of free speech is really the point of the whole exercise, says Jakab Orsos. He's the director of PEN World Voices, the literary festival that helped organize the event.
JAKAB ORSOS: It's a playful project, but the underlying current, the content is actually pretty serious. Come up. Step up. Use your voice. Say it out loud, and deliver your message.
FRIEDMAN: After today, the cards that hold those messages will be sent to the candidates. Copies will be exhibited in Brooklyn and also stored in Sheryl Oring's archive - carbon copies, that is. Rose Friedman, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.