PostSecret founder Frank Warren tells us a secret

In case you haven't seen the exhibit, or have been living under a rock for the past five years or so, PostSecret is a project from Frank Warren that began when he handed out blank postcards to strangers in the Washington, D.C. area, inviting people to decorate the postcards with a secret and mail them back to him. What started as an innovative idea for an art exhibit soon exploded into a website, five books and, now, a traveling art exhibit and lecture series.

Warren doesn't always get a chance to appear alongside his exhibits, but he will tomorrow at a special lecture and booksigning event at Foothills Art Center, which has had the show up since April 29. We caught up with Warren to ask about how PostSecret has evolved and what's next for the project.

Westword: Can you tell us how PostSecret got its start?

Frank Warren: The idea itself, I think, was pretty simple and unoriginal -- just mail me your secrets -- but I had an extraordinary amount of space to explore this. In my own life, I had a rich interior self with my own observations and fears and hopes, and if I could tap into that for others and create, just for a moment, a non-judgmental space where they could share that part of their lives, it would be really special and I would appreciate it. I was shocked by the response, and the fact that in five years, I've received 500,000 postcards with these silly and dark secrets on them.

WW: How did you begin the project?

FW: I would drive into D.C. at night after work and hand out the postcards, inviting strangers to mail me their secrets.

WW: And where did PostSecret go from there?

FW: I used the postcards that I received through my mail in an art exhibit in D.C., and that got some attention. There was an article in the Washington Post. And when the secrets kept coming -- which was a shock -- after the exhibit closed, I wanted to keep sharing them with people, so that's when I started the blog. And responses started coming in from all over the world.

WW: What's the furthest place from which you've received a secret?

FW: I really don't know, geographically, once they started arriving from Hong Kong and Australia and Afghanistan and New Zealand. Sometimes they arrive in languages I don't even understand. Sometimes I post them on the web and ask for help, sometimes I use Babelfish to figure it out.

WW: Have you received any secrets that have especially shocked you?

FW: I think when you're asking people to share the secrets they'd never even share with their spouse, you're going to be shocked. I've been contacted by the FBI before about some of the secrets. They run the gamut from silly to shocking.

WW: Can you tell use what to expect from your Foothills appearance?

FW: There are five PostSecret books out altogether, and the last one reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list. My favorite part of the project now is really traveling to universities and performing arts centers and museums and sharing the funny, inspiring stories behind the secrets, and talking about some of my deepest secrets that led to why I've started this project in the fist place. I project on a screen images of postcards that were banned by the publisher -- I get to reveal the secrets of the secrets! It's a multimedia event, with video and audio and visuals, and at the end, I invite the audience to come up to microphones and -- in front of friends and family -- share their secrets live. That can be really cathartic, emotional but unforgettable.

We had an event at a state school in Massachusetts called Framingham State; the secrets that were shared there were extraordinary. There was one secret told by a woman about losing her grandmother, a funny secret was shared by someone else, there were lots of hugs in the room and tears and laughter. So that seems to be the latest evolution of the project: I've been able to somehow take that safe, non-judgmental space from the website and bring it to a physical place where, just for an hour or two, people feel like they can share the secrets they've kept in the dark for life.

WW: Have you ever followed up on any of the secrets you're sent?

FW: All the postcards arrive anonymously, so typically, I can't reach out and find how the stories go. Here's a secret: I posted this one postcard I received from somebody on the website on Valentine's Day, a surprise proposal secret to his girlfriend. And he told me that when he saw the secret -- they started reading the postcards, like they do every Sunday -- and when they got to the proposal secret, she said yes, and they got married.

WW: What's next for PostSecret?

FW: We're working on a PostSecret stage adapatation -- a PostSecret play -- and we're working on an app.

WW: For Droid or Apple phones? Will it show people the website on their phones?

FW: For both -- and it's going to be different than just a reader. It will allow people to take a photo with their mobile device, type a secret over the photo and send it out. And then you can say, "show me all the secrets for my city or my school," and there's ways to connect with people whose secrets you identify with.

WW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

FW: Sometimes the events sell out kind of quick, so get your tickets early! I'm going to be signing books afterward, sticking around and chatting with folks. It's really thrilling to be able to link the event with the art exhibit -- for me, it makes the evening even more special.

Frank Miller appears tomorrow at Foothills Art Center in Golden at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

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