Lauren Covey ’21 Makes New York Sonic Portraits to Highlight Unheard Voices

Carlos Barragán
February 21, 2023

Sound Art alumna Lauren Covey ’21 has recently been named an Associated Artist by Culture Push, where she will receive fiscal, institutional, and creative support for a project called Sonic Portraits of NY, a community-based art and archival initiative that aims to use sound as a therapeutic tool to restore and build confidence in marginalized communities dealing with mental health and incarceration.

“The therapeutic effect of sound is something that I've experienced personally. As a sound artist, I’m taking sounds from emotionally charged environments and remixing them into unique soundscapes,” she said. “This transmutation of capturing or recording something painful and turning it into something healing is what I mean by sound having a therapeutic effect on people. When I record sound, it makes me feel empowered, and in the act of capturing it, my focus shifts to my own agency in that moment. This active participation allows me to transform a negative experience into a work of art.”

During her time as a Sound Art student at Columbia University, Covey also worked as a mental health peer counselor for a non-profit supporting the homeless community and individuals who were experiencing untreated mental illness. She witnessed how they were being ignored and mistreated in their respective communities, especially for the fear other people feel towards them. This experience led her to her current work on Sonic Portraits of NY.

“Fear can lead to discomfort and a desire to avoid interaction, which inevitably means certain voices will be ignored or overlooked,” she said. “Creating "sonic portraits" allows people to record and share the sounds of their environment and can be a powerful way to highlight the voices that are often overlooked and bring attention to issues of marginalization and inequality. Ultimately, the goal is to create a space where everyone's voice can be heard and valued, regardless of their background or circumstances.”

Currently, Covey is working with Fountain House, a clubhouse for people experiencing mental illnesses. She’s planning her first workshop with a group of artist members in March. Their plan is to work together to find the best path forward for community members, teach them how to work with sound as a therapeutic tool, and guide community members to create their own field recordings.

“The group of artists will decide how to move forward with the recordings, and I will help facilitate the outcome,” she said. “I envision sharing these sonic portraits with the greater community, having an online platform or archive of sounds for the participants to continue to use, and presenting the compositions in a public art space. Still, the main goal is for this project to provide new coping skills to people living with mental illness.”

Covey, who previously worked in the fashion design industry, believes that her background as a stylist has influenced her role as an artist. “Stylists use a combination of existing pieces, like runway or vintage, to tell a specific story. Similarly, with my sonic portraits work, I take sounds from the environment and remix these recordings to create a unique soundscape. It's all about combining different elements in a way that tells a story and captures a certain mood or feeling.”

Lauren Covey (b. 1982 Lynchburg. Virginia) is an artist working with sound, video, installation, photography, and performance. After completing a B.S. in Fashion Design from Drexel University and working in the fashion industry, Covey studied at the Art Students League before receiving an MFA in Sound Art from Columbia University in 2021. Simultaneously she worked as a peer counselor in the mental health field, and sound has always been an essential part of her mental health. Covey hopes that her artwork can inspire social change through advocacy and her involvement in the community. Her work has been exhibited at the Governors Island Art Fair, Fridman Gallery, and Fountain House Gallery.