What Would You Tell Your Younger Self? Silicon Valley Art Project Offers Community Advice

Artist Susan O’Malley solicits life advice from the residents of Palo Alto.

What advice would you give to your 8-year-old self? What advice would you give to your 80-year-old self?


Those simple questions form the basis of Community Advice, an art project created by San Jose-based artist Susan O’Malley in conjunction with the Palo Alto Art Center. The answers, which range from instructive (“Don’t Ever Lie”) to helpful (“Enjoy Your Hair While You Have It”) to the sui generis (“It Was a Good Call to Buy the RV”) were solicited by O’Malley from around 100 residents of Palo Alto and turned into brightly colored wood type print posters by James Lang and hung throughout Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“It was interesting to hear the different advice that people would give,” O’Malley tells Co.Create. “It turns out, everyone gives out around the same advice. You heard the same things over and over again. A lot of it was synthesizing things I heard.” Approaching people at the farmers’ market, the library parking lot, and other locations where she thought they might be willing to speak and offer her advice, O’Malley found people extremely responsive. “Often times, we don’t listen to the advice we give people. I was interested in reflecting back to the advice of the community.”

Language has been at the center of several of O’Malley’s previous projects, including Inspirational Signs, a series of messages (“Everything Will Be Okay”) hung in public spaces in San Francisco, Houston, Denmark, and Poland and reproduced as part of a book, calendar, and notecard line by Chronicle Books. Another was Survival Flags, a collection of silkscreened messages on salvaged materials made in collaboration with artist Fanny Retsek and presented at The Survival Annex, a 2010 installation at San Francisco’s Curiosity Shoppe. The flags included messages like I’m OK and Beer + Internet Here. “I was thinking of things we’d need to hear in a state of catastrophe or natural disaster,” O’Malley says. While created in the spirit of whimsy, the flags wouldn’t be entirely out of place at the site of a real disaster like the one seen most recently following superstorm Sandy on the East Coast.

Community Advice may soon hang in Portland and Arizona, but O’Malley says it’s no accident that it’s currently hanging along Embarcadero Road, a major artery running through Northern California’s tech country, home to Facebook, and countless other companies. “I wanted it to be specific to Palo Alto and Silicon Valley, which tends to be caught up with racing everywhere,” O’Malley says. If Valley residents slow down and read the advice of their neighbors, they just might learn a thing or two about life and the undeniable value of recreational vehicles that they might not otherwise get. “People have been seeing it in more ways than just at the gallery,” O’Malley says. “It’s out in the world, which is the fun part of the project.”

Tell us what advice you would give your younger self in the comments section below!