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Five Ways Bay Area Artists and Arts Orgs Are Getting Out the Vote

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Michele Pred's performance 'We Vote Parade, New York,' 2018. (Courtesy the artist; Photo: Pontus Hook.)

The 2020 election has already seen record-setting participation in fundraising, volunteering and early voting. Civic participation has been growing since 2018 and artists, often among the first to speak out on crucial political issues, have been an integral part of this effort to increase turnout in the lead-up to Nov. 3.

So it’s no surprise that Bay Area artists and organizations have initiated local and national projects to support voter engagement and fight voter suppression. These campaigns were built with creativity, passion and long-term planning, and their hard work shows. This is a list of just five such undertakings that speak to the role the arts can and must have in an engaged society.

And a reminder, if you have not already done so, go vote!

A Livestreamed Celebration of Feminist Voting

On Sunday, Nov. 1, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents artist Michele Pred’s project Vote Feminist Parade, a live Zoom event. Underscoring the importance of voting, this project uses the form of a parade to put artists’ voices on the frontlines to fight for the change they want to see in the world and their communities. For the organizers, the celebratory Vote Feminist Parade is about shifting political art out of galleries and into the streets.

While the parade will be a vicarious one (the event combines previously recorded performances in New York and Oakland), viewers will get to experience live music, guest speakers and “a guided radical love meditation.” Pred and her co-hosts, Carmen Rios and Autumn Breon, will provide live commentary throughout. Participating artists include Jaishri Abichandani, Ebony Brown, Christen Clifford, Aya De Leon, the Drizzling Diamond Dancers, Michelle Hartney, Amy Khosbin, Ann Lewis, Shireen Liane, Yvette Molina, Alex Posen, Favianna Rodriguez, Bud Snow, the Strut N Strive Dance Team, Lexa Walsh, Lena Wolff and Legacy Fatale Urban Punk Amazons. Details here.

Artists Assume Presidential Authority

An Instagram post from ‘Artists in Presidents’ featuring local artist Brontez Purnell’s “presidential portrait,” photo by @robbiesweeny and digital collage by Brian Hockaday. (Courtesy Artists in Presidents)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats were meant to assure the American public during times of despair and uncertainty. Experiencing our own moment of uncertainty along with the absence of national leadership, Chilean American visual artist Constance Hockaday created Artists in Presidents, which brings together 50 artists to assume the power of a presidential candidate to speak out about the state of the nation.

Through public addresses, artists (including Bay Area figures Xandra Ibarra, Sofía Córdova, Brontez Purnell, and Keith Hennessy) do not aim to recreate FDR’s chats, but offer leadership and radical visions of our country’s future. Coinciding with the final two months of the 2020 presidential campaigns, Hockaday’s project addresses today’s America, similarly crippled by the social and economic fallout of a global pandemic. Produced in partnership with UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and StanfordLive, the Fireside Chats for 2020 have been distributed for free over radio, podcast and social media and will continue through Friday, Nov. 13. Details here.


An Official and Official Unofficial Voting Station

A view of Related Tactics’ ‘Never Again is Now’ installation outside Southern Exposure. (Courtesy Southern Exposure)

On Nov. 3 and for the first time, San Francisco’s nonprofit arts space Southern Exposure will be an official polling place while showcasing two projects aimed at civic discourse and justice. Aram Han Sifuentes’ The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t, allows the disenfranchised to cast symbolic votes. Born out of the artist’s own inability to vote in the 2016 election, this project is housed at multiple venues throughout the country, allowing Han Sifuentes to collect a wide sampling of what people in the U.S. (not just eligible voters) actually care about.

Those waiting to vote in person can also view a new installation by the collective, Related Tactics, Never Again is Now, which references histories of protest and its visual culture (signs, slogans and marches), connecting previous struggles to the ongoing uprising for racial justice.

Dine for Democracy

Dine for Democracy, founded by Lena Wolff, Mariah Castle and Hadley Dynak, three East Bay-based artists, educators and activists, galvanizes a community of chefs, bakers, restaurants, food lovers and concerned citizen to come together across the country and raise funds for voter engagement and voting rights efforts. Initiated in the Bay Area in 2018, Dine for Democracy aimed to address concerns about extensive voter suppression efforts targeting people of color. In 2020, this campaign expanded to more than 100 restaurants and bakeries in 22 cities around the country and raised over $154,000 between May and October for five grassroots voting organizations: the Alliance for Youth Action, Black Voters Matter Fund, Mi Familia Vota, Montana Native Vote and Woke Vote.

While their main campaign has ended, starting Nov. 1, Dine for Democracy will direct donations to Movement Voter Project’s Defend the Election Fund, providing rapid response grants to voting groups seeking to protect the integrity of the election. Details here.

A Bandana to Empower Latinx Voting

Hughen/Starkweather, ‘A Votar’ bandana, 22 x 22 inches, printed on cotton. (Courtesy the artists)

In 2020, there are a record number of 32 million eligible Latinx voters in the United States, the majority of whom live in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Arizona. Struck by these numbers and the danger voter suppression poses to this population, artist collaborative Hughen/Starkweather (Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather) created a limited-edition bandana, the profits of which benefit two national civic engagement organizations, Voto Latino and Mi Familia Vota. Both organizations work to engage and empower Latinx and immigrant communities through education, voter registration and voter participation. Details here.

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