Artists Respond to the Trump Trigger: Panel discussion summary

Art Credit: Jill Waterhouse, book on the making of “Delta Venus”

On Inauguration night, January 20, 2017, WARM gathered a dynamic panel of creatives to discuss ways that we, as artists and creatives, could respond to the recent election and upcoming political and social climate. We had a wonderful, productive, interactive discussion on a wide range of topics and representing different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities we face. Best of all, we came up with both ideas for next steps and a great start on resources for artists who are interested in developing their own responses!

As a start, I have summarized the key points that I took away from the discussion. I am working on a more complete set of notes from the discussion that will be available shortly, along with some resources for further discussion and activity. My intent is to share the ideas for consideration, not as a prescription. It was clear that there were differences in both opinion and areas of concern among the participants. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of even more zoetic discussions.

The panelists came from a range of backgrounds:

  • Susan Armington: artist, creator of the Suitcase Project, project designer for schools, non-profits, foundations, and communities to use art to bring to life to their core concerns.
  • Lynn Olson: judge, President of Language Central, Inc., certified ESL instructor, former gallery owner
  • Doroth Mayer: mixed media artist, activist, Confederation for Somali Women
  • Vera Ming Wong: natural science illustrator/artist, PAN (Project Art for Nature)
  • Alison Price: artist, gallery director, leader of public art mural projects

The key points that I took away included:

  • Work from your heart
  • Expect to be uncomfortable
  • Acknowledge that you will have limited time and resources
  • Pick one thing and dig into that
  • Know that it is hard to get people to come to events and to get artists in particular to do things together (we often like to work alone)
  • Remember that a forest connects through the roots that spread out below ground; support can come from others who are doing their own work
  • There are places for different contributions – those who are already active in resisting and those who have been through a lot in their past benefit from art that is moving and from the heart. You don’t have to be doing “protest art” to be a contributor.
  • We are stronger together
  • People who share their lives in stories will come to understand each other differently and see other perspectives. Focus on the people first, not the opinions.
  • Find a partner in the community that you want to connect to or understand better. Ask if you can work with them, consider using shared meals or activities as a way to create a space to talk.
  • Small groups make a difference and may persist longer than you think
  • Public art provides a way for everyone to work together, make a contribution, and gain a sense of belonging
  • People will “live up to your expectations” (my phrasing), so be open to sharing to those who others may shy away from, allowing for those who may intend harm.
  • Technology can get in the way of deep connections, but it is also a way to share your work and process with others without having to be physically in large groups. It can be hard to learn, but worth the challenge as a way to extend your voice or be supportive with other artists (e.g. PAN).

I really loved that these were focused on what we can do to create positive change rather than simply objecting to what we don’t like in others’ opinions. They also did not assume that what you want to say with your voice was in any particular camp other than seeking understanding and connections with those who are like and unlike ourselves. There was no one true, magical way that we need to conform to. As artists, we each have different voices and paths. In my mind, that is a great strength we can build on. –Heather, Newsletter & Website editor

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