Want to know a secret? Museum of Man exhibit displays postcards in which people open up anonymously

There is power in secrets — in keeping them, in sharing them and in letting them go.

“Secrets can be doorways to change,” Frank Warren said.

He should know. As the founder of the “PostSecret” art project, he has kept and shared more than a million anonymous secrets for the past 14 years.

The idea was simple: Hand out postcards that are blank on one side and ask people to write their secret on the other in a creative way. He started with 3,000 blank postcards in the Washington, D.C., area, when he was “searching for meaning and purpose in life.”

Warren has been getting postcards ever since. Some are profound, others funny, anguished or romantic.

These glimpses into the souls of others will be shared in a new exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Man, opening on Saturday. The “PostSecret” exhibit will display 95 percent of the postcards he has amassed since 2004.

“We want people to be enveloped in secrets,” said Erika Katayama, the Balboa Park museum’s director of exhibits.

“An important part is the quantity of postcards. It shows the universality of secrets,” Warren said. “It’s not just individual voices. Sometimes secrets lead to shame and stigma. I see a lot of people struggle. Seeing others’ secrets lets people see they are not alone with their feelings.”

Visitors will have a chance to rifle through the postcards, see them large and small, and even arrange them to choose which ones they want the next person to see.

“We want to make the secrets come alive,” Katayama said.

They won’t be arranged in any particular order.

“There’s no telling what’s coming next because no one secret is more important than the other,” she said.

Different secrets resonate with different people, giving people a chance to be connected yet alone with their thoughts.

The project has been so successful because writing down and letting go of a secret can be cathartic, Warren said. Yet it allows people to be vulnerable and protected at the same time.

“It’s the first step in a long journey,” he said.

Katayama has been working with a team to collect San Diego’s secrets to add to the show. The San Diego portion of the exhibit will continue to change and grow throughout the show’s two-year run as local postcards will be added and swapped. Visitors will have a chance to create a postcard at the exhibit or at various pop-up events throughout the county hosted by the volunteer PostSecret Street Team. The museum is also collecting audio secrets, which will be part of the exhibit. (To share a secret, call 619-269-3894.)

“This is the first exhibit that is this extensive and dynamic,” said Warren, who has published books and gives talks about the power of secrets. There’s also a theater piece based on the postcards called “PostSecret: The Show.”

“The first person you are sharing a secret is with yourself,” said Warren, who formulated the idea while volunteering at a suicide-prevention hotline. He said he has contributed his own postcards to the project.

“That unburdening has been a positive force in my life,” he said. “The project is about breaking stereotypes, revealing a tapestry that unites us that often is invisible.”

“PostSecret”

When: Opening Saturday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Where: San Diego Museum of Man, 1350 El Prado, Balboa Park

Tickets: $13, adults; $10, 62 and over, youth ages 6-17, military and students with ID

Phone: (619) 239-2001

Online: museumofman.org

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