Staff Columnist

Merging art and politics

National artist-run initiative raising funds for Iowa billboards

An example of the type of billboard the national artist collaborative For Freedoms plans to place in Iowa, if it can garner enough funding through its Kickstarter campaign. (Screen grab from For Freedoms promotional video)
An example of the type of billboard the national artist collaborative For Freedoms plans to place in Iowa, if it can garner enough funding through its Kickstarter campaign. (Screen grab from For Freedoms promotional video)

If a new national campaign gets its way, some political advertisements in Iowa and across the nation this fall will be a little unusual.

Iowans, with their first-in-the-nation fame, are accustomed (or perhaps resigned) to a plethora of political advertisements. They clog our internet streams, airwaves and publications for months longer than what residents in other states experience. Now a national campaign is wondering if artists have a larger role to play in this part of political process, and what empowering artists to venture into this space in a nonpartisan manner could create.

The organization For Freedoms won’t promote specific candidates, but hopes to better engage the electorate through art. Several artists — Sam Durant, Marilyn Minter, Theaster Gates, Carrie Mae Weems and others — will create public artwork and some will lead town halls as part of the $1.5 million campaign.

The “50 State Initiative” aims to place billboards across the nation this September. Kickstarter campaigns — 52 of them — hope to raise $3,000 for each state to complete the project. Organizers are calling it “the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history.”

Fundraising is all or nothing. State projects that reach the $3,000 threshold on or before July 3 will have billboards. At last check, 15 people had donated $363 to the Iowa campaign.

“Our work’s been seen on billboards, posters, in the news and at public events, and it addresses fundamental questions about the link between our culture and our politics,” said Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, founders of the For Freedoms artist-run initiative founded in 2016.

The group is working with more than 200 partners — museums, universities, libraries, nonprofits, etc. — and 175 artists that represent each state, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

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“By giving artists the space and platform to raise their voices and concerns, we’re hoping to show that democracy should be a collaborative process that includes — by design — equal representation and validation of the many identities and voices that make up America,” organizers explain on the Kickstarter page.

Multiple conversations have taken place locally about the importance of public art and placemaking. This is an opportunity to bring another facet of our communities into that space for the betterment of us all.

Art and the artists that surround us deserve opportunities to intervene in the world and challenge it to look at things differently. All art, I believe, pushes the boundaries of public opinion. Really good art, regardless of medium, spurs a quest for more knowledge and enhances empathy.

All of these are attributes Iowans should want and actively welcome into our too often horse race mentality political process.

No doubt who wins an election is important, and factors like staff size and garnered contributions can provide insights into who is running the most effective campaign. But the actual act of voting is supposed to be about something larger and more important.

Injecting public art into the process is a reminder of why we do what we do, and why we can be so passionate about it.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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