Dallas — I’ve been thinking a lot about Super PACs, partly because of the latest conversation generated by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman’s For Freedoms initiative (http://www.forfreedoms.org/about-1/) aimed at bringing artists into the political arena. I’ve been thinking about how PACs work particularly as we enter the presidential election but maybe even more so because I know we are also entering a congressional election, which needs as much if not more attention than the presidential one.
What piqued my interest in For Freedoms is how the founding artists want to change the way PACs influence elections, taking the emphasis off money and putting it on visual communication. Inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Speech, in which he outlined his vision of four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, artist Norman Rockwell created a series of images that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on Feb. 20, 1943 and more than 25,000 readers requested full-color reproductions.
What I think bears mentioning is that the America of 1943, an America that was fairly united around a war effort to fight fascism worldwide, was a very different America than the one we are living in today. All four freedoms articulated by Roosevelt are under attack today and art is probably not going to make the critical difference in a national dialogue that is centered on change in the political landscape. Not to be a total pessimist (because I really am not!), I must say that I find it a little naïve to think that placing art in the public sphere, art that challenges certain political positions, will have a major impact on our political system that, like it or not, is driven by money. I sometimes think we artists overestimate our ability to make substantive change via artmaking!
I love the concept but I have doubts about the end result primarily because the arts in this country fail to reach the majority of citizens, no matter how hard we try to be inclusive. Because of this doubt, I am forced to ask the question “what would happen if artists and arts supporters actually did create a Super PAC that raised money to influence political campaigns like all the other PACs do?” What would happen if, let’s just say for grins, Dallas artists of all disciplines and their supporters, raised money to donate to political candidates and made some demands on those candidates that centered on making the arts and artists more of a priority in the development of their political platforms.
Given the notoriously low voter turnout for so many Dallas elections, it's not a stretch to suggest that some influence could be gained with some monetary muscle being added to organizing sympathetic voters. I mean if City Council members all of a sudden had an artist constituency that not only was vocal about its desires but also threw some dough behind its demands, we might actually see the arts take something other than a back seat to every other constituency out there! Just thinking this through, so bear with me. I’m thinking if we didn't have to always come hat in hand to City Council meetings begging for the crumbs we’ve traditionally gotten, wouldn’t that be a switch? Anyone who understands a capitalist system knows that money talks, and you-know-what walks, so wouldn’t this be a way to see our needs and wants taken more seriously?
I’d love to see a Dallas Arts PAC that raised money to support candidates for City Council, School Board, County Commissioner, etc. and artists and arts supporters who worked on their campaigns to assure that our interests are represented at all times. We all know that art can change minds and sometimes hearts but it isn’t enough to just know this. We need to have representation at all levels of government that truly believes this and assures we have support on all those levels. Because I think it’s easier to start local, I am suggesting that we look at this possibility in Dallas as we look at the coming years of cultural planning. This isn’t a pipedream and can be accomplished but we have to begin to think strategically and realistically if we expect to be players in the political arena. Who’s up for the challenge?
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.
» Previous ART-iculate columns: