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2016 Oregon Arts Summit to address “Arts in Action”

2016 Oregon Arts Summit to address “Arts in Action”

“Arts in Action,” art as a medium for addressing problems and strengthening communities, is the theme for the 2016 Oregon Arts Summit, scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, at the LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis.
Featured 2016 Oregon Arts Summit speakers include keynote Tim Carpenter of EngAGE, educator and artist Walidah Imarisha, “Last Supper” artist Julie Green and artist MOsley WOtta.

In addition, Oregon arts leaders will present “Insight Talks” about their experiences effecting positive change through the arts: Terry Inokuma and Nick Rivard of Samaritan Health Services; Bruce Burris of OUTPOST1000/ArtWorks; Liora Sponko from Lane Arts Council; Cheryl Snow of the Clackamas County Arts Alliance; Chrystal Figueroa and Stephen Marc Beaudoin from PHAME; and Seth Truby of BRAVO Youth Orchestras. Each will host round table discussions following their talks.

Walidah Imarisha
The 2016 Oregon Arts Summit also will showcase local dance, poetry and musical performances. Oct. 6 pre-conference activities include a tour of art and healing solutions at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center; a self-guided Corvallis Arts Walk featuring 13 different galleries and studios; and themed dinners with Oregon Arts Commissioners and staff.
Registration for the 2016 Oregon Arts Summit is $95 general and $25 for students.  To apply, register or learn more visit

Read a recent Arts Summit story by the Corvallis Gazette/Albany Herald.
2016 Oregon Arts Summit : Daniel Robinson painting exhibited in governor's office
Daniel Robinson. Early Light, 2016. Oil on canvas 30×54 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art.

Daniel Robinson’s “Close to Home” exhibited in Governor’s Office
Painter Daniel Robinson of Fossil, Oregon, will exhibit “Close to Home” in the Governor’s Office at the Salem Capitol Building through Nov. 11.
“Close to Home” presents large-scale oil paintings of rural Oregon landscapes-both natural and those affected by human presence. While depicting contemporary views of rural Oregon, Robinson’s paintings harken to the social realism of the 1920s and 1930s when artists depicted the everyday life of the American working class. With a richness of color, strongly defined lighting and a subdued sense of presence, Robinson’s paintings evoke a profound beauty and compel contemplation.
Read the news release.
Grant alert!
20 groups receive Arts Learning grants


The wind section of BRAVO Youth Orchestras.
Congratulations to the 20 Oregon arts organizations who will share $192,938 in FY 2017 Arts Learning grants from the Oregon Arts Commission.

The grants support projects to expand opportunities for K-12 students to learn in and through the arts. Applications are evaluated based on project quality and scope, project preparation and evaluation of student learning.
Arts Learning grants were awarded to: Architecture Foundation of Oregon; Arts in Education of the Gorge; Caldera; Fishtrap; Know Your City; Lane Arts Council; Literary Arts; Miracle Theatre Group; Oregon Ballet Theatre; Oregon BRAVO Youth Orchestras; Oregon Children’s Theatre; Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Oregon Symphony; Portland Art Museum; Portland Opera; Portland Playhouse; Regional Arts & Culture Council; Ross Ragland Theater; Stories Alive; and The Arts Center of Corvallis.
Read the full release.
Reminder: Fall grant deadlines
Arts Build Communities grants provide $3,000 to $7,000 matching support funds to arts and other community-based organizations for projects that address a local community problem, issue or need through an arts-based solution. More information can be found here. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3, for projects taking place in 2017.

The Ford Family Foundation’s Art Acquisition Funding Program, managed by the Arts Commission, helps visual arts institutions with publicly accessible collections acquire seminal works by Oregon visual artists. The effort preserves public access to great works and supports artists and the institutions that sustain their work. More information can be found here. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14.
Individual Artist Fellowships honor Oregon’s professional artists and their artistic achievements and supports their efforts to advance their career. FY2017 awards are open to artists in the performing arts. More information can be found here. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17.
Oregon to host the 2017 NASAA Leadership Institute
As part of the 2016 National Association of State Arts Agencies Assembly in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last week, Arts Commission Immediate Past Chair Julie Vigeland and Executive Director Brian Rogers announced that the 2017 NASAA Leadership Institute will be held in Portland, Oregon, Oct. 11-13.

The semiannual gathering is tailored to the learning and networking needs of top state arts agency leaders. Leadership Institutes are retreat-like convenings involving about 150 agency appointees and staff. The smaller scale lends Leadership Institutes to in-depth discussions and high quality connections with your colleagues from around the nation.

Stay tuned for more details.

Julie Vigeland (right) and Brian Rogers at the 2016 NASAA Assembly in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Southern Oregon Society of Artists Monthly Meeting: SOSA Work-in-Progress Critique by Dixie Kinser

The Southern Oregon Society of Artists (SOSA) holds its regular monthly meeting at the Medford Public Library on September 26, 2016 at 6:30 pm for a work-in-progress critique, refreshments and in-person social networking. Meeting / Critique starts at 7.  All members are encouraged to bring in a work-in-progress.

This month is our SOSA Work-in-Progress Critique by Dixie Kinser.  Members are encouraged to bring their work early.

Dixie first became enamored with art by dyeing silk. She loved to see how colors bloomed into beautiful patterns. In the 90s, she began another romance, this time with watercolor. Again, colors blended with beautiful results.

Since then she loves experimenting with color, shapes, composition and values. Then she just had to try abstract.

At present, her work is primarily abstract and mixed media collage using watercolor and acrylic.

For most of her career, Dixie worked in education as an administrator and teacher; however she finds art even more fulfilling.

For more information contact BJ  Mathis at 541-414-4993

Southern Oregon Society of Artists meets the fourth Monday of each month – January through October – at the Jackson County Library at 7:00 p.m. The library doors are locked at 7 p.m., so come early.  Members may submit 1-2 paintings for the January, April, July, and October juried critique at the regular meetings.  The other meetings will feature demonstrations from local artists.  For the latest updates check out

January  24th- Juried Critique

February 28th

March 28th

April 25th – Juried Critique

May 23rd

June 27th

July 25th – Juried Critique

August 22nd

September 26th

October 24th – Juried Critique

November – Awards Banquet

Center for Artistic Activism seeks Part Time Non-Profit Manager

The Center for Artistic Activism is looking to add a part-time manager to our small team. We are a research and training organization devoted to to exploring, analyzing, and strengthening connections between social activism and artistic practice.

In the past seven years we’ve trained over 500 activists and artists in a dozen countries, from sex workers in South Africa to undocumented youth immigration activists in South Texas, from Russian dissident artists to art students in NYC public schools. We do research into best practices, and have developed resources like digital databases and public podcasts to help make more creative activists and more effective artists. In the next five years we’re hoping to expand reach of the C4AA philosophy and practice to wider audiences, and in new ways.

To do this we are looking for a manager who will help maintain our current projects and commitments while setting the stage for new and expanded leadership and programmatic participation. You’ll help us create a foundation of smooth, and reliable day-to-day operations of the organization, and help improve and expand our workshops, research, and public-facing projects.

This position is ideal for someone who enjoys managing everyday administrative work, while helping take a new organization to the next level, and can thrive independently within a flexible work schedule. The C4AA does not keep an office and there are currently no other employees, so applicants need to be comfortable covering a range of duties, working remotely and under their own initiative. Living in the New York area is not required, but preferred.

Ideal candidates should share a dedication to art and activism and working within a dynamic, and innovative organization, and demonstrate the following skills and qualities:

  • Approaches art and activism with a sense of optimism, joy, and humor
  • Ability to quickly adapt to changing environments and conditions with grace
  • Enjoys creating structure with a team of people in mind
  • Well organized with an eye for detail
  • Thrives under their own supervision: self-starting and self-organizing
  • Likes working on a range of projects utilizing different skills
  • Ease in communicating with diverse groups of people
  • Able to track multiple projects and deadlines and create systems to ensure they get appropriate time and attention
  • Comfort with ambiguity, the capacity to “fail forward,” and an ability to take risks
  • Someone who will wake up each morning and think to themselves: “What can I do to make the C4AA better?”


  • Assistance with organization, administration, and delivery of workshops, consulting and speaking engagements (both domestic and internationally)
  • General office administration
  • Correspondence
  • Creating project budgets and reports
  • Assist in grant submission
  • Oversee Interns & Contract work
  • Basic Banking and Bookkeeping
  • Regular Website updates
  • Assist with maintaining Social Media presence
  • Produce Bi-Weekly digital newsletter
  • Organizing and maintaining C4AA alumni network
  • Organizing Boards of Directors and Advisors
  • Calendar and scheduling

The position is approximately 20 hours a week, and salary is $24,700/year.

To apply, please send a cover letter and CV to: [email protected].

We begin reviewing applications Oct 6. Position will remain open until filled.

C4AA is an equal opportunity employer.

The sublime uselessness of art



If art works to change the world in any way, it does so subliminally, uncontrollably, and by means that usually aren’t summarized in an artist’s purposes when making a poem, or song, or painting. In other words, art is life, as much as it’s a reflection of it, and only diminishes itself by becoming some instrument used to achieve a particular end in the world. I didn’t realize Stanley Fish had quit writing his columns for The New York Times until several months had gone by, and I suddenly identified the feeling of something lacking from my visits to the Times online. I realized it was his voice. So I ordered a compilation of his columns: “Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education.” It’s such a relief to hear him say things like this again:

These columns are written under the shadow of the (perennial) “crisis of the humanities,”a crisis to which humanists have responded by mounting ever more elaborate (and unconvincing) justifications of the humanities as a practice that will save democracy, if not the world. These justifications, wittingly or unwittingly, have the effect of implying that the humanities have nothing to say for themselves, that any defense of them can only be instrumental. An instrumental defense of the humanities is a defense that rests everything on the humanities’ usefulness to some other project—a robust economy, the realization of democratic principles, a peaceful world. The question posed to the humanities is “What are you good for?,”and the answer is assumed to issue from a measure of “good”that the humanities do not contain. The answer given in the columns reprinted here is that the humanities are good for nothing, for that is the only answer that preserves the humanities’ distinctiveness. If humanistic work is valued because of what it does politically or economically or therapeutically, it becomes an appendage to these other projects, and in a pinch it will always be marginalized and perhaps discarded when its instrumental payoff fails to arrive, as it always will. The paradox is that the stronger the case made for the utility of the humanities, the weaker the case for their support. In order to be truly healthy, at least in an internal way, the humanities must be entirely disassociated from the larger world of political/ social/ economic consequences, must, that is, be appreciated for their own sake and for no other reason.

Get to the Morgan by Sunday

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, Rembrandt, oil on panel, detail

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, Rembrandt, oil on panel, detail

I rarely go out of my way to see a Rembrandt. He’s one of those painters you assume you know inside and out. What more is there to know? Yet, every time I spend time with one of his paintings, I walk away almost in disbelief at his genius and his flawless skill. Nothing about Rembrandt’s approach to painting appeals to me, personally: the staging and use of darkness to create cinematic effects, the way in which his chiaroscuro banishes most color from his palette, except in subtle concentrations, and even then it’s usually a world of brown and gray. I don’t live in a world that looks this way unless I’m glancing around a room lit only by the glow of a flat-screen TV. Yet when you stand before one of his great paintings, it’s jaw-dropping and almost dumbfounding. I felt that way in 2014 at The Frick, when I saw Simeon’s Song of Praise, a small canvas depicting a scene that feels enormous, and I had an even more intense reaction last week to Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, on view until Sunday at The Morgan Library. The two paintings were completed two years apart, the latter when Rembrandt was only 23. How does a kid paint something this masterful, not only in technical skill but in its depth of understanding and empathy? When I saw this painting, it finally struck me that Rembrandt belongs in that cohort of rare, black swans who achieved effortless perfection at the earliest ages: Mozart, Rimbaud, Hendrix, Keats. In the case of both paintings I was astonished, the way I was six years ago when I saw how El Greco rendered the faces in The Coronation of the Virgin in a show at Onassis Cultural Center–overwhelming emotion and thought conveyed in faces that required, at best, a couple square inches of painted surface.

This show is built around only one painting, as the Frick show was primarily a way to offer the public a view of  Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show in 2009 offered access to his Milkmaid. In all three instances, the exhibitions were devoted to work on loan from European collections, and they all gave a single painting its own stage supplemented by collateral work that helped put it into historical perspective. Of the three, the Morgan’s is the most effectively curated. More than two dozen drawings and prints line the walls around the central painting, and they are equally exhilarating. It’s one thing to know that Rembrandt was a masterful draftsman, but it’s another to see evidence of his preternatural facility repeatedly, in one drawing and print after another.

In conversation with Lawrence Weschler, for a catalog that accompanied his 2005 watercolor show at LA Louver in 2005, David Hockney rhapsodized about the irrevocable brushwork, the once-and-done, Asian quality of a single Rembrandt drawing,  A Child Being Taught to Walk:

Look at the speed, the way he wields that reed pen, drawing very fast, with gestures that are masterly, virtuoso, not calling attention to themselves but rather to the very tender subject at hand, a family teaching its youngest member to walk. The face of the baby: how even though you can’t see it, you can tell he is beaming. This mountain of figures, and then to balance it all, the passing milkmaid, how you can feel the weight of the bucket she carries in the extension of the opposite arm. All of it conveyed, magically. But look at the speed, the sheer mastery. The Chinese would have recognized a fellow master.

Hockney called it “the single greatest drawing ever made.” This show will evoke the same kind of superlatives over and over, as you move from one drawing and print to the next. One technique Rembrandt file_0001used consistently was to drench a focal point in bright light by doing nothing but line drawings of the figures–outlines, almost cartoons, while rendering everything in shadow with a grisaille of light and dark. At first glance, you think, it’s unfinished, but then you realize that it simply indicates that the shaft of light is so intense that it washes away nearly all the detail in the spotlit figures. The contrast it creates makes the drawing seem even more spontaneous and alive. Ironically, Rembrandt had to fall back on only his unerring sense of line, without modeling, to show all he needed to show when it came to the most crucial individuals in the depicted event.

Colin Bailey, the Morgan’s director, in an interview with Leonard Lopate, pointed out that Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver went through many revisions as Rembrandt painted. Xray studies of the painting have shown how he changed his mind about the composition even in the advanced stages of his work on it. The intense light streaming into the scene from the left, which is fundamental to the entire image–the light source is what visually unifies most representational images, after all–was a late modification, at least in the way it makes the open Bible the brightest object in the painting and highlights the coins strewn on the floor. Everything in the painting is rendered with magical skill, from the faces of the participants–somehow the likeness of Judas is so distinctly individuated that the tiny features reminded me of Ezra Pound’s profile–to the little bits of glinting chain link dangling from the bottom of the mounted shield or breastplate overhead.

In reference to the fact that this painting has rarely been available to the public, having belonged for years in a private European collection, Lopate asked: “How does someone like you respond to some pretty great paintings hidden away in warehouses? It seems to me to go against our whole idea of what art is about–if people buy it as an investment and keep it in a warehouse as a way of avoiding taxes–Van Gogh, Picasso, Leonardo, works that should be seen. That has to cause pain for someone whose life is devoted to exhibiting.”

Bailey said: “Whatever we think of these warehouses, the works are safe and are not deteriorating, but from the museum’s perspective, public access is something we’re committed to. The depth, vitality of the Morgan is interdisciplinary. It’s an encyclopedic institution in miniature.”

I’m drawn more and more to The Morgan when I come into the city, on the strength of the shows I’ve seen there: William Blake’s work in A New Heaven is Begun, in 2009, the sui generis Emmett Gowin show last year, Hidden Likeness, and now this exhibition. If you want to see the outcome of concentrated curatorial passion combined with deep insight and archival resources, The Morgan is the place to go. From these shows, I come away feeling as if I’ve connected more deeply, not simply with great art, but with myself.

After Action Review (AAR) of Watercolor & Ink Demonstration

Review Time!

Greetings!  Yes, it is time I did a review.  It has been about two weeks since I did my watercolor and ink demonstration (demo) for the Southern Oregon Society of Artists (SOSA) in Medford.  I had a wonderful time!  The organization treated me well and I had an enthusiastic audience.   It was an exciting and memorable event for me.  So much to think about!

Review of Watercolor & Ink Demo

Here I am in mid sentence; all set up and ready to go! Southern Oregon Society of Artists; August 2016

Thank You!

First, I’d like to extend a huge THANK YOU to the following:

  • Lori Garfield for all the coordination before hand; it was great and most helpful! Thanks for the introduction.
  • Marilyn Foreman, for inviting me to do the demo; what an honor!
  • To the members of SOSA for their warm and enthusiastic welcome.

After Action Review

My purpose for conducting this after action review is to put down on paper all those things I am thinking about (so much to think!)  The great thing is that next time I need to do a demonstration, I can review what happened this time.  Remembering what went well and where I might improve is important to me.  I hope to do more demos in the future!

After Action Review Format

This is the AAR format I used. Feel free to copy if you like.

What Was Supposed To Happen

  • The Society of Southern Oregon Artists SOSA) invited me to give a demonstration on watercolor and ink techniques. My audience represented artists of different media and different skill levels. I had roughly an hour and a half to show how I work with watercolor and ink.
  • My intention was to show how I create a watercolor & ink painting from start to finish. I divided my work process into three phases based on the media I use: graphite, ink and watercolor. Each phase was to take twenty minutes.
  • Throughout the demo, I planned to talk and explain the development of the painting. Talking points were to include ideas, materials, working with the media, etc.

What Happened

  • I was able to follow my plan of roughly 20 minutes per medium: graphite, ink then watercolor.
  • After a nervous start, I dove in and did my best. By mentally diving in, I was able to relax and get down to the task of drawing and painting!
  • Artist members asked questions as I worked.  I was pleased to answer questions as I worked, and even more pleased that I was able to keep my focus!
  • The audience was so warm and attentive that I had a great time!  So much fun to be with a wonderful group of fellow artists!
Review - Organic Grind Demo Painting WIP

First state:  Organic Grind Coffee at the end of the SOSA demo session; August 2016

What Went Well

  • I had prepared; I had a plan and it worked.
  • Having a time line set for the demo worked well for me. I had a watch with a timer so that when 20 minutes was up I could move on to the next stage of the painting development. This method of chunks of time ensured I didn’t get bogged down in one task.
  • To my surprise, I worked on one painting throughout the demonstration. I had “work-in-progress” type paintings prepared in case I became stuck or had problems. However, I was able to work on one painting throughout.
  • Having multiple “work-in-progress” type paintings prepared facilitated the flow of the demo. I used the “work-in-progress” pieces to emphasize points about the development of a painting using watercolor and ink.
  • I was able to adjust on the spot. For example, I started the drawing phase of my demo painting using an HB pencil, true to my normal practice. Unfortunately, I draw too lightly with an HB. Once the audience told me they couldn’t see, I was able to pull out an 8B pencil which was much easier to see.
  • Having prepared and rehearsed talking out loud while painting, I was able to speak without referring to my talking points, at least after the first few minutes.
  • Another surprise was that the audience appreciated seeing me go through the drawing phase with graphite.  I had almost decided to cut out the drawing, but the audience was glad I did the drawing.
SOSA Demo Review. Final state of demo painting - Organic Grind Coffee

“Organic Grind Coffee S”; final state. Completed after the demo. 2016

What I Might Want To Do Better*

  • Get more of the plan on paper ahead of time.  I had a checklist and a narrative typed out.  But, I could have been more detailed on paper; I relied on too many things being in my head.  It might have been a disaster if I had stage fright!
  • I still get nervous when asked to do a demonstration. Practice, practice practice!
  • I might want to consider something like adding a simple PowerPoint presentation to keep the audience and me focused on key points. This is a “nice to do”; equipment will be the limiting factor.
  • Timing. I kept to my timeline, though I did not plan for a question period at the end. I think next time I might want to allow a period for questions. Could it be I was a bit nervous about questions?

*Note: My husband video recorded the demo session. He is preparing it for my review. I may identify a few more things I want to do next time around!  I hope to post a link to the video soon

After Action Review Conclusion

Review - Keys to success

For me, reviewing my preparation for and conduct of a watercolor and ink demonstration was important.  By evaluating where I am now, I can see what I might want to do to improve.  Its also good to stop and acknowledge what a grand time I had thanks to the members of SOSA.

Your Input

Your insight and opinion is valuable to me!  If you would like, please share your experiences!

Review of SOSA Demo



My husband video recorded my demo and it can be seen online.  Please see below!

SOSA Part 1


SOSA Part 2

Sit back with a cup of coffee, tea or… and enjoy!  ?


The post After Action Review (AAR) of Watercolor & Ink Demonstration appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Henry Coupe at Viridian

Child at Sunset, Henry Coupe, oil on linen, 10" x 10"

Child at Sunset, Henry Coupe, oil on linen, 10″ x 10″

I’m driving into the city on Thursday to attend the opening of Henry Coupe’s posthumous solo exhibition at Viridian Artists. His wife, Ann, will be there in his stead, since Coupe died in December at a Utica nursing home. I visited with Ann in 2014 at their home and was able to see all or most of the work in this show. She was a gracious host, talking about her husband and his work with great affection and respect. She had arranged all his paintings on the floor of their living room, standing them upright in their floater frames, as if they were our audience rather than the other way around. I sat cross-legged and spent time studying them as she sat on the couch, talking about her life with Henry.

I was a member at Viridian when, shortly after Couple joined the gallery, I first spotted The Letter, one of his small paintings on the shelf behind the greeter’s desk. I immediately asked who’d painted it and learned what little was available about him: that he had studied at the Munson Williams Proctor Institute under Oscar Weissbuch, a student of Hans Hoffman, at the end of WWII, and he had gone on to exhibit his work in New York City during the 60s, while teaching in Utica. He retired from teaching in that city’s public school system in 1976 and continued to paint until he was no longer able to do it.

Viridian offers a lovely description of his work on its website:

Henry Coupe spent his life creating small paintings, most under 24”, executed in strong, simple strokes, of people in landscapes. His people are shown both alone and in small groups. Tiny in scale, his delicate oils are filled with feeling and speak of love, portraying life’s simplest and most important moments, shared with others or experienced in solitude. With simple and direct titles like Girl Wearing Orange Sash or Man Reading, the people in his works are known by nothing more than what they are wearing or what they are doing. We don’t know them, but then we realize perhaps we do, for we’ve experienced that moment of “Listening to Father” or read “The Letter,” while lying on the grass.

It’s difficult to capture why these paintings, which at first glance you’re tempted to think of as roughly executed examples of art brut, are so haunting and arresting. Partly it’s because his sense of color is both bold and yet delicate, with blocks of reds and greens juxtaposed in skillful ways that might jar the viewer, but in Coupe’s work, the colors are so subdued that red conveys a subtle mix of nameless wistful emotions. His use of color and his dramatic simplification of form reminded me immediately of Louisa Matthiasdottir, who studied directly with Hoffman. Matthiasdottir is far more polished and her range and color sense are much more encompassing, but the intense restraint and confined scale of Coupe’s work makes it more personal, more suggestive of a narrative: there are stories here that you will never learn, a letter you can’t read, a bride with a future neither you nor she can discern. Yet many of these paintings are simply miniature portraits, the figures and faces almost unrecognizable, the circumstances irrelevant, because in all the pictures, Coupe evokes a sense of polarity, a tension between human isolation and the comfort of family and friends, with the world of nature offering both beauty and in some ways an intensification of the figure’s solitude.

Ann said that once Coupe discovered German Expressionism, he continued to think of himself a belated member of that group, but his paintings don’t convey the sort of agitation and inner conflict common to that movement. He did begin painting during WWII, yet his work doesn’t seem to sublimate the sort of violent, wartime emotions suggested by the distortions of that earlier work. His paintings are much quieter and in many ways more balanced and carefully constructed. I think Coupe, at one remove, learned more from Hoffman than he gave himself credit for; if you enlarged his tiny paintings to a more heroic scale—in other words to the sort of dimensions a mid-century American abstract painter would have employed—the images seem more at home alongside the work of Milton Avery, or even Rothko. The scale is what distracts you from the abstract expressionist sensibility at Two People in the Country 2work here. Two People in the Country is composed as a stack of three distinct rectangles, two of equal size at top and bottom with one narrow one bisecting them. The two faces of the figures at the left extend the facade of the house—three faces in a row, as it were—together forming one bright trailer-shaped block of white, Naples yellow and pink. Even the house seems to have eyes and an open mouth—but the feeling here couldn’t be further from an architectural homage to The Scream. The darkest area, on the left, is distinctly defined and curls around that bright middle rectangle to form one head of hair for the two figures. The color is extremely subdued, but in the way he juxtaposes the Indian red, which seems to have been the ground color for the whole painting, against the dull green and purple of the sky and trees, everything comes alive in an unstable and yet tranquil way.

My two favorite paintings in the show, The Letter, and Girl at Sunset, are perfectly done, instances where he found just the right balance between the human figure and its environment. In both, his arrangement of color becomes just as gratifying and expressive as the way he renders the figure. In Girl at Sunset, everything works in perfect harmony, the color, the composition, the brushwork, and even the tiny slivers of pale yellow, at the top of the girl’s head and behind her at the crest of the forest, suggesting the last ray of the setting sun giving her hair a backlit glow before it disappears. There are many paintings here that aren’t as satisfying as his best, but once you’ve seen all the work, you recognize in every painting a passion to honor how paint can make you see and, at the same time, awaken you to so much more than is visible.

This may be the only place you hear about this show, but it’s one worth visiting if you’re in Chelsea before it ends on Sept. 24.

Diana Arce

diana 5

[T]he change has to come from socialization. It’s the way that people are being taught to interact with other people. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to come quickly; I think it’s a generational issue. If we do enough right things now and teach these younger generations of people what’s up, get them on board early, then a generation or two from now, something can happen.

Diana Arce is an artist, researcher, and activist living in Berlin, Germany. She founded Politaoke, a karaoke-style participatory performance in which audience members are invited to step into the shoes of politicians from their region by delivering portions of political speeches. Arce also founded Artists Without a Cause, an organization that assists in the collaboration between activists and artists, as well as White Guilt Clean Up, a “service provider” that helps white people face their prejudices and become better allies to people of color. A prolific creative activist, Arce continues to create innovative work across a wide range of mediums.

Sarah J Halford: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your practice, and when did you come to Berlin?

Diana Arce: I’ve been living in Berlin for 12 years. I’m from an immigrant family who came from the Dominican Republic. I started as a filmmaker with experimental films, and I moved slowly into performance art and installation.

Toward the beginning, I was dealing with a lot of things about culture, and I was trying to see if I could make other people feel the way that underrepresented groups of people would feel in a situation, to see if I could flip minorities to majorities and majorities to minorities. So, all the work that I was making were experiments of that. Making pieces where if you didn’t speak Spanish, or weren’t from Latin America, you couldn’t understand 80% of what was happening. Or, forcing people to immigrate into an art installation, but the more American you were, the harder it was to get in.

One of my favorite things that happened with that was that a friend of mine who’s from Kenya came, and she got VIP’d through the whole installation. And she was really excited because she was like, “This never happens! Ever!” So, I spent a lot of time doing that kind of stuff, and that was also when I had my first experience coming to Berlin – I came here for a year on a student exchange. Half of my Master’s thesis was about Berlin as well, but it was also about a misconception in Germany, and by most Germans, that they are all white. There’s been a history of black people here since Medieval times, even black people in the courts – like, kings. But there’s this weird thing that World War II did a great job of, which was erasing any concept of any sort of multiculturalism within this culture, and that’s never been fixed. Everything that’s not white in Germany is still considered an “other.”

And so, I came to the way that I make art from this area. With time, the kind of work that I was making moved more and more into public space. It was kind of a slow process – first it was filmmaking, then it was performance on film, and then it was performance in a gallery, and then performance in a window, and then I took to the streets.

SJH: Can you say more about what your practice is now?

DA: It’s largely conceptual, and it’s very research heavy. I spend a lot of time reading. I’m basically interested in bringing other things into focus; bringing things into focus that people don’t normally notice but are the things that they should be focusing on. The medium doesn’t really matter. So, I do a lot of work in public space and on the internet, I am still making films, and I’m trying to make a video game right now, which is kind of weird because it’s totally new for me. But it’s very much about looking at the structures of different aspects of life and then reframing them.


I’ve been doing this project “Politaoke,” since 2007. For me, it’s about finding a way to talk about politics without actually talking about politics, because what happens whenever you talk about politics in a mixed room of people, all they do is get caught up in language and stereotypes of what they believe that the people they believe in tend to be, and then they don’t actually have a real conversation. So, how do you remove the candidate from what they’re actually saying? And the idea for that was like, okay, I’ll put everyone in the shoes of a candidate. If you get to be the candidate, it gets a lot harder to swallow the words if you don’t believe them. And then, people can actually have discussions about what it is that they want from our government and our politicians without thinking directly about the politician.

SJH: How would a night of Politaoke work?

DA: It’s just like a karaoke bar. It’s moderated, either by me or if I’m in another country then I find a local person to do the moderation. It’s non-partisan. I usually try to get a group of people to help me work on it, so there’s usually a team of researchers, and we collect as many speeches as we can find from all the politicians that are running for a particular office or who are from a particular region. We take a certain topic and we try to find all the speeches that we can find from all the candidates on that topic. The key thing is that we try not to find excerpts of a speech, but to find a full speech. Then, we take those full speeches, turn them into transcripts, and those are then taken and turned into karaoke videos. So, the videos themselves are one-to-one in the exact rhythm of the original delivery of the speeches. If they cough in the middle of the speech, it’s on the karaoke video, or if they mispronounce a word or sideline into something else.

What the show ends up looking like is a festive karaoke bar, but instead of just a microphone on the stage, there’s a podium. The audience can see the words as they’re being delivered; they’re right behind the person speaking, really big, and they have a teleprompter and can deliver the speech in any way that they choose, from any politician that’s in the program. So, we don’t choose for the people who participate; the audience chooses for themselves. In exchange for their participation, in the idea of using the same things that political parties use, they “become a member” of the “Politaoke party,” and we give out little gifts to people, like they get a button if they participate. The best speech is chosen, semi-democratically, from the audience, and they get a shirt and are ruled as the “Official Politaoke Party President” of that town. Shows can go between an hour and a half and — I had one show that went like four hours because the audience didn’t want to stop, which was really great. It looks just like karaoke, except there’s no…well, sometimes there is bad singing.

Diana 2Pictured: A participant performing a speech at a Politaoke event

SJH: Politaoke is one part of your work, but you also have a few others.

DA: Yeah, one of the latest projects that I’m working on is a project called “White Guilt Clean Up.” It is a service provider to help assist people who are suffering from issues of having white guilt to learn how to be better allies and accomplices to people of color. It started out as a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, and basically it was a free advice column for people who were “suffering” from or having issues with white guilt. Every week would have posted lists of “Dos and Dont’s” like: Don’t wear Indian headdresses to Coachella – this is what that’s wrong. And, if you want to show solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, tweeting #alllivesmatter doesn’t work.

I started bringing in other people, so now we have a “Resident White Accomplice,” who actually writes letters to white people to try to help them better understand why they have privilege. There’s several other people in the collective. But one of the funniest things that came out of it was that someone figured out that we’re here, and they started calling us in to respond to racist events or events that were culturally appropriating people of color. And so, we started to respond to things. It’s always about trying to look at it from a positive point of change. I have no interest in grilling people or telling people, “You’re wrong and eff you!”

One thing that came out of it was – there’s a magazine here that invited a Dutch girl who did black face to come braid people’s hair – but not just to braid people’s hair, but to give white women cornrows.

SJH: Ooof.

DA: So many levels of wrong.

SJH: So many!

DA: And so, they invited this woman, and of course the POC [people of color] community in Berlin lost it, and someone wrote to White Guilt Clean Up and was like, “White Guilt Clean Up! We need your broom!” And I came in, responded with some things, and I posted a video about what cultural appropriation actually is. It went back and forth and eventually that event ended up getting cancelled, and the magazine asked me to come in and talk to their staff, and now we’re actually organizing a panel with the magazine on cultural appropriation that will hopefully take place sometime this fall. It’s mostly going to be a panel full of POCs.

Part of White Guilt Clean Up’s position is that anytime we get brought in for anything, we have to get paid, but a percentage of our money goes to a local organization that’s doing work with POCs, hopefully within the topic of whatever the issue ended up being. So, we’re going to give 10% of the funds that we get to [one of] the several black organizations in Berlin. Another part of it is a “White Guilt Off-Set credit” that you can purchase. So, if someone has felt guilty about something racist that they’ve done, or said, or appropriated, you can meet with one of the White Guilt Clean Up consultants and we will talk with you about it and we will quote you a price, and for that price you will get an actual bond that will “absolve you” of your guilt for that particular issue. And then, it’s the same thing with that as well – a portion of the proceeds from whatever we collect in the bonds goes to a local organization to help fund anti-racism work.

The funniest thing about the response, though, is that everyone is really surprised to find out that I’m not white. There have been several events that I’ve gotten to go to recently and someone was like, “Oh my god! You’re White Guilt Clean Up! You’re not white?!” (laughs). But there’s been a really great response from people of color and also a lot of white people who have written us and [said], “I don’t really understand why this is wrong.” And instead of bashing them or making them feel stupid, we’re like, “Okay, you don’t understand why this is wrong, this is why. Here’s some resources, here’s some things you can read and people you can talk to.” It’s been really great, I’ve been really surprised.

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Pictured: A sample “White Guilt Offset Credit” bond to be purchased/earned by those who commission White Guilt Clean Up

SJH: Do you hope that your work will help to create change in larger, systemic issues?

DA: I would like to say that everything I’m making is an attempt to change people’s minds about things and see if you can get to someone effective enough who can actually enact those bigger parts of the change, but that’s mostly never the case. So, I don’t ever really think about the work that I make in the sense of trying to change the system as a whole, but it’s about: How can you change the ideas of actual, individual people? You have the people who agree with you, and what ends up happening with most people who work in art or political art or NGOs is that we all talk to those people all the time. And it’s useless to talk to those people because we already know that they agree with us.

SJH: That echo-chamber effect.

DA: It’s an echo-chamber, it’s preaching to the choir. And then you have the other end of the spectrum where it’s people who completely disagree with you, and there’s also no real point to talk to those people either because it kind of doesn’t make a difference what you say, those people are just so eager to disagree with you that there’s no room for change. But between those two groups of people are the people who are either undecided or don’t know, and that is actually the majority of most people. We don’t really look at things that way because it tends to be that the people on the other ends are the loudest. The people in the middle are quiet, or they don’t say much, or they don’t know that they should say something. And so, I have a keen interest to flip as many of those people as possible to think about things in a different light. And it’s not about necessarily completely agreeing with me on everything, but it’s to have a better understanding of how things are structured.

SJH: Do you have an example of how you’ve been able to reach those people in the middle?

DA: The first time I toured Politaoke in 2008, there was a funny situation where I actually got protested. It wasn’t a big protest, but I was really excited about it! It was like three or four people, and they were really loud and really angry. It was before the show and they were yelling at me about how I’m some pro-Obama outfit or something, and it was great because I got to say to them, “No, I’m not. This isn’t about my personal politics, this is about politics in general. If you look in my program, you can see that I have eight different candidates who are running for president. I don’t just have Democrats or Republicans, I have Libertarians, Constitution party members, the Peace and Liberation party, parties you don’t even know about. You can pick any of these people.” And so, after a bit of canoodling and getting them to calm down a bit, they decided to stay.

One of the guys who was protesting me decided to give a speech. He picked a speech from his favorite candidate, Chuck Baldwin from the Constitution party. It was about immigration. The guy gets up and starts delivering this speech, and he knew everything about the Constitution party – or so he thought. Apparently, he didn’t know about their immigration policy. Their immigration policy is very much á la Trump, but this was back in 2008 so it was even stranger. It’s this guy talking about building a wall between us and Mexico and how he’s just going to send everyone back and take all the Mexican immigrants and put them back over there.

SJH: Scary foreshadowing.

DA: Yeah! And this guy, who loves Chuck Baldwin and loves the Constitution party, happens to have a Mexican wife!

SJH: Wow. Was she there?

DA: No, she wasn’t there, but he happened to, apparently, have a Mexican wife. And so, he kind of loses it in the middle of the speech, he can’t really even finish delivering it. And at the end of the show, he’s sitting there with his friends, and there’s another guy who came to the show who was a Green party candidate running for a representative spot and there was another guy who said he was a Democrat, and they’re drinking a beer with this guy, helping him work through the feelings about the fact that his favorite candidate happens to hate his wife. And it’s clear that his world just opened up, and he had this huge realization that he didn’t really know as much as he thought he did and that there’s a lot more happening outside of these 30-second clips that he’s seeing on the news. It was really amazing to see that.

One of my other favorite things that happened was that we did one show where people were choosing speeches for other people. Everyone thought that John McCain’s NAACP speech was a speech from Obama. It caused a lot of confusion. It was funny because the speech was extremely charismatic and great, but not when it’s delivered by John McCain – he’s horrible at delivering speeches. But you give it a different context and all of a sudden it sounds like it’s something completely different.

SJH: Did it say on the projection screen at the end that it was a McCain speech?

DA: It says in the beginning, usually, but this particular show the audience wanted to do sort of a kamikaze karaoke where they were able to pick speeches for other people. I was able to shut off the screen that shows the person whose speech it is, what speech it is, what part of the speech it is – because no one does a full speech. No one wants to sit and do karaoke for 40 minutes, so we break the speech up into sections, usually by topic, if we can. That particular show was this random show where people wanted to guess who was doing [the speech]. But it was really funny about how many times they got it wrong. They couldn’t tell whether it was a Republican or a Democrat; the only time they could figure it out were with Libertarians, because they’re like, “You can smoke weed AND you can have guns.” Yup, okay, it’s a Libertarian. Everything else, no one really had a clue about who was who.

And another thing that happened – which, I don’t know how much it affected the people in the audience, but I know how much it affected the person giving the speech – I was in Israel, and I did it with Israeli and Palestinian speeches. When I got in, I was told that I could be shut down at any moment because it could go terribly wrong, which I understood. On the last show, it was in this public square. I was really unhappy that it was there, because anytime you do anything in public in Israel, it has to be covered by police presence. There was a kid who was hanging out and decided to come in and do a speech. He turned out to be a Palestinian teenager, and he gives the speech, and after he’s done he asked to speak to me with the help of someone who could translate. This 15 year old Palestinian boy tells me that that was the first time in his life that he feels like anyone ever listened to him. It was the first time in his life that he actually felt like he had a voice. For me, that was one of the most powerful things that has happened. Who knows what will happen to this kid; a lot of bad things could happen because he’s Palestinian, or maybe he’ll decide to become a politician or, I don’t know, maybe something will grow out of this because he felt like he had a voice, for once. And that’s a pretty cool feeling. Is it going to change the world? Probably not. But you don’t ever know.

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Pictured: Diana Arce (at podium) presenting for Artists Without a Cause in 2015. At this event in Berlin, Arce and her collaborators handed out European Crosses of Merit to citizens who  helped refugees cross borders.

SJH: Do you hope that your work sparks a fire in people?

DA: I would like to make a spark in people, at least in a few people. That’s sort of the goal.

SJH: And then you let them build the fire as they will?

DA: Exactly. For me, it’s more important – you can go to a protest and stand anywhere, do as much as you want, telling people what they should think, but telling people what they should think never really works. If someone gets ignited by something that you’re doing, by learning from something that you’re doing, that’s the best you can hope for.

SJH: If you had to categorize yourself, and your work by extension, would you call yourself a creative activist?

DA: I would say that I’m a creative activist. Yeah. I would definitely agree with that term. I think it’s better than political artist; I feel like it’s a more encompassing term of what I’m trying to do. Political artist can mean so many things, and there’s so many people who make political art that I think are doing a disservice to culture and are actually destroying things, using people. You can call whomever you want a political artist, but you can’t call someone a creative activist if they’re actively harming people in the process of creating their work.  You’ve got Syrian refugees dying in the Mediterranean ocean, and you’ve got artists cracking jokes about having them eaten by tigers.

SJH: Was this an action by the Center for Political Beauty*?

DA: I’m so angry about that. “Activist artists” like this are so useless. They’re doing their whole spiel about this, thinking it’s so funny, but you’re going to ask a refugee to volunteer to be eaten by tigers? No one gives a fuck about a refugee dying. There’s thousands of them dying in the Mediterranean all the time – we’re looking at pictures of babies on the coast of Greece and it does nothing. Who cares about a refugee getting eaten by a tiger – you know what’s more interesting? You know who’s more interesting to watch get eaten by a tiger? A white, privileged European. That they would put their ass on the line and say, “You know what? If refugees don’t get let in the country, tigers can eat me.” They’re not willing to feed themselves to the tigers, but they’re totally happy to exploit poor brown people for their personal gain.

They don’t care about politics; they don’t care about people. All they care about is making themselves bigger. For me, it’s such a disgusting thing to see because there are so many people who are suffering, and there are so many people who are trying to find ways to do better things, and there’s so many people who want to help, but they’re being misdirected and misguided by a group. They’re investing all of their money into a group of artists who are doing nothing with it. Who are basically making themselves richer at the expense of poor people, by producing highly crafted bullshit. Great, good job, you sent a lot of people to go cut a fence, and you made such a hoopla about it, that some of the activists that you took with you got arrested and then you left them there. You’re literally harming the movement for your own personal gain.

And then, a bunch of white folks get to feel good about themselves because they gave 20 euros to your campaign, and it’s 20 euros that they just paid to another group of white folks who are doing nothing. They’re doing nothing. They’re getting richer, making a name for themselves, getting printed in all of the newspapers and magazines, but in the end, when it comes down to actually helping disadvantaged people – zero. I find it disgusting. This last thing for me [the tigers] was like the final straw. I don’t think those guys even get it, but then there’s not even a single person of color in that group, so they wouldn’t get it.

Pictured: Election poster from Politaoke’s 2008 USA Election Tour
(Also pictured: portions of George W. Bush’s face)

SJH: Can you tell me a little bit about Artists Without a Cause?

DA: So, Artists Without a Cause started as an idea from when I got invited to a camp by the Tactical Technology Collective, which does a lot of work on digital security for different kinds of activists all over the world. The camp was 125 or so activists from all over the world, doing all different kinds of stuff. Toward the end of the camp, there was a point where anyone could hold a session for any kind of topic, and I asked if anyone was interested in talking about how to better collaborate – people who define themselves as activists, how they could better collaborate with artists. I was feeling for a very long time that I was making these works, but there was nothing to push it to the next level. What is the way that we can collaborate to help artists to produce materials or to utilize materials produced by artists in order to be better activists, and to share this information?

What the roundtable ended up being was a circle of people asking for advice. There were people working on different projects and they asked about working with certain artists that they haven’t been able to reach, and the artists in the circle gave some tips on what they should try. So based off of that session, [Artists Without a Cause] started out as researching different things and trying to find people that we would be interested in working with, putting together an idea of best and worst practices, how to work with artists or how artists should be working.

Out of the blue, I got invited by Open Knowledge Foundation to curate a larger group of artists to come to Open Knowledge Festival, which is all these open data scientists talking about how they do their activist work. Our idea was: open data is great and useful, but how do you get people to the information? And artists are a great way to get people to that information. It was funny because at the beginning of the conference, several people came to our table and said, “I don’t really see the point of this – I think it’s a big waste of time,” and we were able to convince a few to go to our seminars and they found that it was interesting and useful for their organizations. I think that when these groups and NGOs work with artists it tends to be an exploitative relationship. The artists end up not having so much creative input.

SJH: So, Artists Without a Cause tries to find ways to make the collaboration more of a partnership?

DA: Yeah, to make it a partnership. Any time that an idea is so new, even if it’s not a large risk, organizations tend to get spooked. NGOs and nonprofits are probably the least experimental organizations that exist; they don’t really have that much interest in changing their structures or trying something new. And then, there’s also the issue of measuring: how do you measure the success of an art project?

SJH: Which is necessary for grant applications, and such.

DA: Yeah, you have to be able to say how many people were affected, what was the outreach, and this and that. We’re trying to come up with ideas on how to frame that, in a way that would work, for these organizations.

SJH: What are your thoughts on that, so far?

DA: I don’t know – it’s really confusing because different kinds of organizations want different measurements, there’s surveying, there’s one-on-one interviews, but I think that the only way that you’re going to get more useful information in these scenarios is to do a qualitative analysis instead of a quantitative analysis. But those are very people-heavy, and it can’t come from the artist’s side. They don’t have the capacity or the manpower to do it. And so, not only are we asking these organizations to take a big risk by bringing in these artists and to give them a bit of autonomy as to how they work with them, but then to also give manpower in order to have the proper analysis to judge whether or not a project was successful. A survey is not really going to cut it.

SJH: Have you ever done any of that analysis yourself, for your own projects?

DA: I mean, I try, but it’s an issue of time. I can send out a newsletter and ask people to participate in a survey, and now I try to interview someone at the end of the shows that I do to talk about how they feel about the show. But that’s so immediate. It’s one thing to be able to interview a person right after the show, but what I think would be more interesting would be to see what they say two weeks after the show. But, do I invest energy in researching the effectiveness of the shows or do I continue doing shows? And I always happen to choose to continue to do shows or work on new projects.

SJH: When you’re at the shows, are there sort of instantaneous metrics that you use to gauge if it’s going well or not?

DA: Oh yeah, for sure.

SJH: Can you think about a time when you felt like the work was really successful?

DA: For me, it’s the more participatory work, which is not about the speed of the participation but it’s about the speed of the want of the participation. So, it’s the number of people you have in the pipeline who want to do something. With Politaoke, that’s very easy, because it’s how many [sign up] slips you have and how much time are you taking for people to do the show, as opposed to people doing it.

I did a show last year that was amazing; it wasn’t the most people I’ve ever had at a show and it definitely wasn’t the best room I’ve ever had, but it was a show that I moderated the least in. I had no time to moderate because there wasn’t enough time – so many people wanted to do it, and how that happened was so immediate. The first two or three people went up and after that I had a big stack of slips that just kept getting added to, so I didn’t have time to moderate. The moderation is a nice part, because then you can talk about the politics, but people were super motivated and they just wanted to hear it, so I had to get out of the way. That was a great example of something going really well, but on the other had, I had a show that was like five people and they went for three hours. They just kept going. So, it’s kind of different because I don’t think you can measure solely by how many people are there. You can say how many people are there, how many did it, how many times people did it, you can map out which speeches people did. You can talk to people about their personal politics and see if they went further away from what their own politics are –

SJH: What do people typically do?

DA: I think that people tend to start out with the things that they know. Then, you have a few adventurers who want to try something that they have no interest in. Then, you have the people who want to make fun of the politicians that they don’t like, and then you have the people who just want to do one, it doesn’t really matter which one. It’s always those groups of people.

SJH: So, do you give people backgrounds on the politicians before they go up?

DA: If people ask for the information, then it’s provided, and I try to make it so that there’s a bit of stats about the politicians in the karaoke books, and then there’s usually a small excerpt from the speech.

12304457_960353597343812_3324084197344535702_oPictured: A participant performs a speech at the Meine Rede Politaoke event in 2015.

SJH: What about a night when it totally fell flat, just didn’t go well at all?

DA: Well, I thought the show with five people was going to suck, but it turned out to be really amazing. To this day, I don’t think I’ve had a bad show. I only had one show that I considered bad, but it was because I got double-booked with a band and we couldn’t start right away because the band unhooked all of my equipment. But that’s the only show that I would consider as bad.

SJH: You said that when it’s going really well, you don’t have to do so much moderating. Do you feel like it’s a bad sign when you have to do more?

DA: I don’t think the moderation is a signifier in it being “bad” or “good,” it’s just different audiences or different ways. So, I made the misconception that I thought that I would have to do a lot more moderation for a German audience, because German audiences are not really interested in participating or putting themselves in the spotlight, supposedly. I had all of these conceptions of how it was going to be to do [Politaoke] in Germany, and they were all wrong. It took three speeches. It was the fastest show I ever had, with the least moderation that I ever had. And then, I’ve had other shows where I spent so much time talking to people and encouraging people, trying to get them to participate, but all of that time was still very well spent talking about the politics and about what the different aspects of things were, giving bios of certain politicians, talking about the aim of the project, itself. And yeah, it started out a bit slower, but once it got rolling, then it was rolling. So, I think the moderation was very important in the sense that it’s there to help guide the audience when the audience needs it. But it doesn’t necessarily make it good or bad. It makes it harder for me; it’s more work.

SJH: Yeah, you’d have to be very on your game.

DA: Yeah, but the first trials I did of it had no moderation and they absolutely sucked, they just kind of puttered out. And that’s when I realized that even if that person has no other purpose than to push a button on the karaoke machine, that person has to be visible and active in the participation of people.

SJH: “Puttering out” – what does that look like?

DA: A few people did them and then no one knew what to do after that. And the funny thing is, I went to a lot of karaoke shows and the best karaoke shows are moderated. So, it became very clear that this role has to exist.

SJH: In your work, generally speaking, how do you think about the audience when you’re creating a piece?

DA: I always try to think from the perspective that the audience is smarter than I want to believe that they are. I think that comes from a lot of personal reactions to art; there’s a lot of stuff where I’m either treated like I’m completely stupid or I look at something that you need a PhD just to look at it. I try to think somewhere in the middle. I need to be able to simplify this down in a way that’s understandable, but it still has depth.

And so, with something like White Guilt Clean Up, it’s about trying to be an ally, but it’s also a lot deeper than that. A person of color, who feels like she doesn’t have a voice and now all of a sudden she feels like someone can speak for her, and now she feels like she doesn’t have to defend herself all the time. That’s huge. I think that people have been able to figure out that it’s not a punchline, there is a complex thing that’s happening here. It’s the same thing as Politaoke – sometimes people come in and think that it’s a way to make fun of politicians and then they get really into it, and you end up with the Palestinian kid feeling like someone’s listening to him for the first time. But the packaging, itself, is not so heavy. It’s complex, but it’s simplified in a way.

SJH: If there were a spectrum of counter-culture to mainstream, where would place yourself?

DA: I think it’s somewhere kind of in the middle. It’s in the same way that I said that I’m not really interested in preaching to the choir, so I can’t be too counter-culture, but the mainstream has no interest in me, so it’s the people in the middle. That’s definitely what I’m going for; clearing it through the middle. And it’s not about dumbing it down or not addressing opinions. For me, what’s interesting about making work that’s so directly political is that you don’t actually have to tell anyone what to think; if you give them the options and let them figure it out themselves, nine times out of ten, they’re going to agree with you. But if you yell at them or you just tell someone what they should think, they’re not going to agree with you because you’re telling them to agree with you. 

Diana 1Pictured: Diana Arce

SJH: What is the change that you would most like to see happen in the world?

DA: That’s a tough one. Social, political, economic equity for all people…never gonna happen, but it would be so amazing if it could, and it would end a lot of the shit that’s happening right now. You wouldn’t have the rise of Nationalism…they almost elected a Neo-Nazi in Austria. It’s 2016; it’s like everyone forgot what happened. But I don’t know, I don’t really have a very positive outlook on legislative or social change. I don’t think that governments really care. Or, the people who do care either get burned out or they get sucked into a network of doing what the government should be doing that they’re not doing. It’s not sustainable.

SJH: So, if change is possible, it’s short-term? Putting out fires?

DA: We’re mostly putting out fires, but the change has to come from socialization. It’s the way that people are being taught to interact with other people. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to come quickly; I think it’s a generational issue. If we do enough right things now and teach these younger generations of people what’s up, get them on board early, then a generation or two from now, something can happen.

SJH: Do you see your work as a piece in that process?

DA: I hope! That’s the aim of it – I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think that I could reach at least a few people. I think that’s the end game, but I don’t expect to see any immediate results. I’m okay with that. If I can get the guy who’s married to the Mexican woman to realize that it’s bad to like the Constitution party and that he should really try to have a better understanding of politicians before he pledges his support to someone who would deport his wife, then I’ve done something. And maybe he could teach his kid that and maybe they will do something with that. I think a big issue is that people just don’t understand things that are different, and there’s a lot of fear associated with that. If we can remove part of the element of fear and teach people to be a little more empathetic, then it gets harder to support things where you see that it’s actually destroying other people.


To learn more about how you can work with Politaoke, White Guilt Clean Up, or Artists Without a Cause, visit

 *The Center for Political Beauty created an artwork that called on the German government to change an antiquated law that prevents refugees from flying from Turkey to Germany. If the law was not overturned, they said, it would be equivalent to the German government sentencing the refugees to an almost certain death. To illustrate the stakes involved in the situation, Political Beauty set up an arena with four tigers and asked refugees to volunteer to be eaten by them. In the end, no refugees were eaten, though some did volunteer. Click here to read the Center for Artistic Activism’s full interview with André Leipold, one of the core members of Political Beauty.

Roof lines

Christopher Burke, Roof Line Studios

Christopher Burke, Roof Line Studios

From Columbus, Ohio artist, Christopher Burke’s, Instagram feed. I like where he’s going with the simplification of the image, and wondering what he might do with color using this kind of format with cropped images of houses. He could render these structures with any colors he likes, even if the sky remains relatively constant. The simplicity of this one is part of what gives it such impact. I had that same reaction to the potential for color at the last Hirschl & Adler show of John Moore’s latest images of the studio where he paints, which appears to be a former industrial site. There’s room for personal improvisation with color in the work of both artists, representing architectural structure in ways that echo geometric abstraction. It appears Burke will have a solo show next year at George Billis Gallery in NYC.

Roof lines

Christopher Burke, Roof Line Studios

Christopher Burke, Roof Line Studios

From Columbus, Ohio artist, Christopher Burke’s, Instagram feed. I like where he’s going with the simplification of the image, and wondering what he might do with color using this kind of format with cropped images of houses. He could render these structures with any colors he likes, even if the sky remains relatively constant. The simplicity of this one is part of what gives it such impact. I had that same reaction to the potential for color at the last Hirschl & Adler show of John Moore’s latest images of the studio where he paints, which appears to be a former industrial site. There’s room for personal improvisation with color in the work of both artists, representing architectural structure in ways that echo geometric abstraction. It appears Burke will have a solo show next year at George Billis Gallery in NYC.