What would statues say if they could talk? You can soon find out thanks to the project New York Talking Statues, which is launching on July 12th at 11AM at the New York Historical Society‘s West 77th street entrance. The project lets you hear the stories behind 35 famous statues around New York City, from Shakespeare to Frederick Douglass, right from your smartphone.
Here’s how it works. You can scope out the locations of all 35 statues on this map right here. Next to each statue is a sign with a QR code, which you can then scan on your smartphone. You’ll need Internet access and a QR code scanning app to do this (if you don’t have one, you can download an app for free). Or, as an alternative, you can type the web address on the sign into your smartphone’s browser, which also initiates the process.
After scanning the code, you’ll get a “call” from the statue. You can then listen to a pre-recorded speech right from your phone, lasting about 90 seconds. Each recording was written by a modern author and voiced by an actor.
One of the best parts of Talking Statues is its celebration of New York City’s diversity: if you prefer, you can listen to the statues speak in Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Greek, depending on the historical figure or event that the statue honors.
Three criteria were used to select the 35 statues, five of which are women: statues with historical significance to New York City, those put up by immigrants to highlight culture, and statues of artists who have contributed to the city.
Although Talking Statues seems like the kind of project to start in a culturally and historically rich place like New York City, it actually has its beginnings in Copenhagen. It all started when documentary filmmaker David Peter Fox was taking his kids through the King’s Garden—the oldest garden in Copenhagen— and was intrigued by the stories behind its old sculptures. He aspired to find a way to share their stories with the public, and initially planned to make a short film about each statue. But then he thought of a better idea: let the statues tell their own stories. Soon enough, in 2013, Hans Christian Andersen in King’s Garden became the first “talking statue.”
Hear what Gertrude Stein, another talking statue, has to say in Bryant Park.
The idea caught on, and Talking Statues spread to other European cities, including London, Berlin, and Helsinki. The project also came to cities in the U.S. like Chicago, San Diego, and of course, New York City.
According to New York Talking Statues, Fox said he was “excited to see this project that [he] started in Copenhagen launch in New York.” He is especially proud of its linguistic diversity and hopes “New Yorkers will enjoy it and that the statues will never stop talking.”