David Horvitz is $58,412.10 in debt after getting an MFA from Bard College. A Brooklyn-based artist who’s currently “not working,” he has a grand plan that might also count as a crowd-sourced experimental art project, a project that he has recently released to the Internet: Help repay his student debt by mailing money, 58 cents at a time–two quarters, a nickel, and three pennies–to the Sallie Mae Corporation. He only needs some 100,000 people to participate!
Horvitz writes on his website:
My student debt for a MFA from Bard College is currently $58,412.10. My attempt is to use the internet to get 100,000 people to mail the Sallie Mae corporation (who administers my loans), a check for 58 cents. And that by doing this, the collective activity of these small gestures will not only relieve my debt, but will overwhelm and flood their P.O. box in Atlanta, Georgia.
He has confirmed that this is OK by calling Sallie Mae, an amusing interchange he has also posted on his site:
operator: Thank you for calling Sallie Mae, how can I help you today?
me: Hello. I have two questions.
operator: OK, please ask.
me: First, so it’s okay if someone else mails in a payment for me, right?
operator: Yes, just make sure your account number is clearly written on a letter with the check.
me: OK, and any amount can be sent in? I mean, ANY AMOUNT, right?
operator: Yes, you can send in any amount you’d like. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
me: Thank you very much, that’s all I needed to know.
operator: I’m glad I could be of service today, have a wonderful evening.
me: You too, bye.
We talked to Horvitz, who is graciously tweeting the names of people who send him checks at @fiftyeightcents. (You need to send him an e-mail if you send a check, if you want Twitter recognition.) He said: “I wanted to do something with my debt. I thought about it for a couple months, and thought, the Internet is the easiest way to broadcast yourself to thousands, millions of people. The site has been up for a couple of weeks.”
Currently Horvitz has 40-some people who’ve sent in checks, which, we calculated quickly, means 20-some dollars have been paid off. He tells us at this point it’s all interest. When a payment goes through, he gets an automated e-mail from Sallie Mae, proving that every penny does count:
So, does he really think this is going to work? “I don’t know. It’s an experiment. Maybe if I made it easier, like everyone send me 5 cents through PayPal, but the idea was more a mischievous act to fill the Sallie Mae mailbox in Atlanta, Georgia, with 100,000 checks. Maybe Sallie Mae will get upset and ask me to end my project and forgive the loan!”
(Or maybe Horvitz’s plan will save the U.S. Post Office, too.)
Along with the prankster element of the undertaking, Horvitz says, “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just about my specific debt–I feel like everyone is in debt, and you can pretend it’s not there. There’s a selfish quality that could be read here, but ideally this is not just about other people emptying my debt; it’s about this collective effort, this idea–amalgamating these really small gestures using the Internet.”
Thus, unlike other works of art, the idea is free for the taking. Horovitz has this note the bottom of his site:
AND OF COURSE, IF YOU HAVE DEBT, AND YOU LIKE THIS IDEA, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, STEAL THIS IDEA.