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BLM vs. MLK, spiritual art, apple fritters

Jim Mott’s painting of a mailbox, after arriving at this spot in his Landscape Lottery.

Jim Mott came by this weekend for a conversation after a long absence, and we picked up more or less where we’d left off last time, talking partly about spirituality, art and God, BLM vs. MLK, his new art project, and some other things I ordinarily don’t talk about, like apple fritters. Though Jim is deeply political, in a way that goes back more to the Sixties than what’s happening now, he’s the least confrontational and least angry political person I know. Many people obsessed with politics seem to have embraced it as a substitute for religion. Jim already has a faith, so politics is simply a way of thinking about how to put that faith into action. What I like about his politics and his religion are the way in which they get submerged into his paint, in a sub-rosa way, neither overt nor strident, producing work that embodies his spirituality rather than illustrates it, if that makes sense. Most of the artists I’m close to are deeply spiritual, but each one in a very different way from the others. Here’s a good portion of our long conversation:

Dave: I went through this spiritual crisis in my teens and it was discovering Van Gogh who got me into it.

Jim: The crisis?

No, he got me into painting. He was so screwed up, but he responded to it by painting. He started by preaching and then went from that to painting, so it was kind of the way he dealt with there being something wrong with the world, or with him.

There’s that romantic notion or tradition that the world doesn’t get it and the individual poet does, so you’re at odds with the world.

It was just the opposite of that with me. I didn’t get it. Life was absurd and I didn’t get it, but that was repugnant to me, so at some level I knew I wasn’t right to have that perception. That was my dilemma. The idea that meaning seemed impossible and this was a crisis, a problem. It seemed the world was pointless and amounted to nothing, and this was horrifying because I couldn’t see out of that mental trap. But there’s a contradiction I didn’t see in this. Camus based The Rebel on a recognition of this contradiction: that people inwardly rebel against nihilism. If nothing matters, then there’s no reason to be dissatisfied with that, just enjoy what you can and that’s that. Why is it horrifying that life seems to amount to nothing? There’s some context in which the absurdity of life is unacceptable but if everything is genuinely pointless how can anything be unacceptable? I couldn’t get to that state of “there’s no way any of any of this can really matter, including my anguish over the impossibility of meaning, so I might as well enjoy life while it lasts.” I couldn’t reconcile myself to this nihilistic certainty I had. So I looked at Van Gogh because I assumed he had to have gone through something like that and responded to it by painting. I’d already been painting pictures of my favorite guitarists, Hendrix, Clapton, Bloomfield. I was in a band, I loved playing my Telecaster. I did the paintings just to have them on my walls. Enlarged copies of album covers. Then I read about Van Gogh and thought, hm, painting is an activity that’s interesting in itself, partly because Van Gogh, this incredibly discontented guy, was so devoted to it. Van Gogh got me to that point. My reading later gave me a way to understand this crisis I’d gone through in a spiritual perspective. So the painting and the spiritual perspective merged.

When you’re doing a good painting you feel like you’re participating in something larger than yourself, at some level it’s about ego-lessness and service. Given all that, the way the art world is all about ego competition and material symbols of success, what would happen if, I don’t know, what happens to you when you buy into that at all. You’re doing what you need to do to advance yourself but, as a result of that, cutting yourself off from your deepest, most authentic sense of what it’s all about – and that awareness of doing something in service to something larger, that awareness and how it imprints itself on the painting, that might be as important to the viewer as all the other qualities that would make a painting conventionally successful.

You mean given the art world’s definition of success. Should you fight it or resist it? That’s always a question.

You’re working to show this . . .

Mystery . . 

Right. The art world wants someone who’s world-famous. If someone had handed me world fame, I’m not sure I’d turn it down, but . . .

If it does amount to something, a painting, then if you aren’t known, how do you get it out there? Something essential to your life, how do you connect it to other people?

Even with the significant but moderately narrow level of recognition we get, is it worthwhile to generate a counter-narrative about what it’s all about? As an alternative to the pursuit of the material rewards or even critical recognition. I don’t know. Just to have a small audience to tell that to, you’re still having an impact. Integration is the mission now for me: art and spirit, left and right.

<Behind him on the little end table, I always display his night painting of the Memorial Art Gallery and nearby Tom Insalaco’s painting of an eclair. We have a sidebar discussion of eclairs vs. apple fritters and where to find the best fritters, which was possibly the most impactful part of the entire conversation, but not worth transcribing.)

So what are you painting?

Well, I find I’m not very motivated unless I have a project. So I’m doing this project with my wife’s niece. During the protests, my wife was saying the protestors were destroying the neighborhood where she’d grown up here in Rochester. She said, “My friends in the suburbs were cheering them on, but the people who live there, the ones the protests are supposedly helping, don’t have anywhere to get groceries now. She said, “Defund the police? What are the victims of domestic violence going to do when they’re getting beaten? So she was thinking of writing an essay. She knows the inner city. Her family comes in all colors.  She’s keenly aware of racism and poverty. She was writing an essay about how your lawn sign isn’t helping anyone. She had just visited her niece. Her niece’s son, whose father is Black, doesn’t see those signs.  What he does see is poverty and chaos and a school system that’s failing. He’s in third-grade at a school where the majority of students can’t pass state exams for their grade in math and English – on a good year. During Covid he’s been doing his schoolwork, doing all his classes on a smartphone with a smashed screen.

What a year.

So I was thinking, she went around looking for Black Lives Matter signs in her nephew’s neighborhood, where the message might reach him and make some difference, and there was just one in this area of several blocks. She was saying the people in those neighborhoods don’t need people in the suburbs to put up signs; they need people to go in and connect with them and understand poverty, start to make a larger sense of community a reality. So I decided to work with her niece. The project was to get together once a month and go sketching at a series of places that are meaningful to her. I’ll make paintings to go with the sketches. Ideally we’d have our sketches and the painting and a story about a place that meant something to both of us. But mainly we both sketch. It’s a model for how to reach out and connect with someone, using art – which has the benefit of being visible – show-able. It’s the next project after the Itinerant Artist series and the Landscape Lottery.

All of these projects encourage me to go out of my way to pay attention to parts of the world I otherwise would overlook or not see.  There’s a forced getting past my own interests in order to connect with something more (which I suppose is a deeper interest). Art is inherently spiritual, and this sort of builds on that, makes art practice a spiritual practice. I found what I painted in Ferguson, when I went there a year after those riots, it felt like a vigil or prayer, just being there doing a painting.

Did you see the Simone Weil quote I sent you in that material from Matthew Crawford. She said basically . . . Crawford wrote these books . . .

The World Beyond Your Head.

Right. Shop Class is Soul Craft was the first one. 

Which one did you like better?

The first one because it was so out of the blue. The second one is sort of the sequel, extending his philosophy beyond craftsmanship and the trades. His way of doing philosophy was to repair motorcycles. It’s analogous to painting in the way it connects physical skill and physical awareness. Iris Murdoch was one of the most powerful references in the first book. She wrote about how art is a way of simply paying attention to something else but yourself. That’s what you were saying: egolessness, just redirecting your attention to anything but yourself. That alone is ameliorative or just a way of approaching the Good. She calls it unselfing. 

Not just attending to it, but identifying with something greater.

The whole surround, the world you are in. You a part of this wholeness you’re inhabiting and just trying to be aware of it. Weil was saying that any moment of intense awareness is akin to prayer. That’s all prayer is, surrendering to something bigger. I thought that was interesting that you made that connection too.

I went through some of her stuff in my thirties and was really impressed.

Crawford talks about skilled physical labor. He talks about how, in motorcycle repair, it becomes intuitive because you get so familiar with the machine, the sounds it makes, the way it moves, whatever, that you diagnose what needs to be done, sometimes, subconsciously, by attending to physical cues without even being conscious of it. It’s partly a physical learning. Like muscle memory. It all derives from intense periods of just paying attention with care, even love.  

That reminds me of one of my hates. At Mendon park, one of the workers cut down some bushes that work as habitat for certain birds and put one of these carved benches with a little awning over – it doesn’t work as shade, the bench is crudely made, and it all looks horrible. He’s crafting but there’s no aesthetics and no knowledge of the environment. I complain, but who’s to say what’s bad. I am, I guess, . . . but you know . .

These days nobody hesitates to say what’s bad. Everyone is constantly passing judgement on someone else.

Right, and that doesn’t dissolve the ego. I realize I can be very judgmental.  There was this show in NYC in the 80s that was called Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

Wasn’t that Kandinsky’s title?

Yes. I was excited. But it was such bad art – well, a lot of it was weak. More to the point, the curators seemed clueless, and the writing in the review… it was clear the person didn’t know what spiritual was.  It was just something theoretically defined, satisfied by certain prescribed “spiritual” criteria.

Kandinsky’s art was spiritual, but it wasn’t overtly religious. If you asked someone to do a spiritual painting, you might get an illustration of a story from the Bible. Of course that could be a genuinely spiritual painting, but not necessarily

Someone who goes to a church I sometimes go to tried to get me to paint a picture of a holy mountain in India, but he wanted saints faces floating around it and I told him I didn’t do that kind of work. I tried to persuade him that a painting of an everyday landscape could be spiritual. He just got mad and found somebody else to do the painting. The guy just wanted that and nothing else would do. That’s one end of the spectrum, but the NYC end is that spirituality is one small sub-category of abstract painting, and nothing else was.

Kandinsky didn’t mean a particular kind of painting, but that painting itself is an attempt to show what’s there in the world unseen that might become more visible through the imaginative struggle with paint.

And for him it was mainly abstract – although he did leave room for “Landscapes with Spirit”. There were no landscapes in that NYC show.

With the surrealists and the heart of abstract expressionism there was an attempt to channel spiritual energy, not just a formal innovation.

They painted as if their lives depended on it. So I met with my niece once and did some sketches and tried to get some paintings done from them. She sketched a tree and it was good. She isn’t being artistically ambitious – at least not yet –  it’s mainly a chance to focus on something good or benign – in this case a tree – that she doesn’t make time for otherwise. It was just a way to get her out there sketching. She said she missed that. The first location was a church where she said she’d been baptized. And then, more recently, when her life was getting too crazy and she needed to get away, she’d slept on the back steps of this church one night.

So she got something out of the sketch that others wouldn’t. We did a sketch of houses with shadows on the roofs and the sketches were exciting, but the painting didn’t have life of the sketches. I got this photograph from that setting and I was blowing it up and just to focus I blocked off a panoramic strip of it and that strip got really interesting so now I may have this little thin painting that has nothing to do with poverty.

If you’re drawn to it, do it. Don’t stick with the plan.

<Then I contradict myself, talking about how I’m sticking to my plan, despite resistance. We talk about my marathon of taffy paintings and the way I have to postpone other things I’d just as soon be painting. I do small sections every day, a very laborious and long process but I don’t want to drop it and move on until I get the project done. A painting takes six weeks generally and when I get to week five, that’s the test in terms of energy and focus. They aren’t hyper-realistic but also not overly rough in a painterly way. You know it’s paint but you don’t see all the execution, the mark making. I’m surprised that this is what I want. I thought I wanted something else in the handling of the paint when I began this series.>

I don’t do much plein air anymore. I sketch and do photographs and work from them in the studio. I miss working from life. It’s different. You might change the image in ways that are poetic.

Yes. I think the people who are opposed to working from photographs, they are looking for variations you can’t help but make in the way you render what you see. Like Van Gogh’s marks. There’s no way he could get away from those marks. There’s no way a photograph could tell him to make them.

I have a selfish question. I feel I should try to do a Landscape Lottery somewhere else. I’ve done it here with good results. You get public interest. I’m trying to think of where to go next. It should be a city.

You randomize the GPS to come up with the locations.

Yes, for the Landscape Lottery the idea is to define an area – say Greater Rochester – then generate random points within that area to determine where I’ll go to paint.  The first time I did it – in Tucson – I used a computer to generate random GPS points. For Rochester I used a pair of dice and six by six grids superimposed on a map of the metropolitan area, nested grids. Roll dice three times and you end up with a fairly precise location. With randomized locations you find something demanding that you might not have picked voluntarily. It challenges my preconceptions about what’s worthy of being painted, my ability to feel a sense of connection. I like the idea that “there is significance in all things waiting to be attended to.” But it can be hard to tune into.

It’s just you and the device. Not someone else saying or giving you a suggestion. The itinerant project as you and the other people you stayed with.

One of the rules I give myself for the Lottery is that at any painting stop I have to try to meet people. Particularly, if I meet a stranger, I will ask them to roll the dice – determining my next painting destination. Someone in the inner city rolls and I get sent to farmland in Hilton. The farmer I meet there “sends” me to the next stop (it happened to be the airport). And so on.  It’s a way of getting to know people I wouldn’t meet otherwise and weaving these invisible connections through the community. (These people from very different backgrounds are sort of collaborating.) I would need to do it probably in a metro area with a gallery that would want to show the results.

Try Cincinnati. It’s a big art town. Manifest might be interested in a project like that.

That’s good. The heartland.

They’re non-profit. It’s a research center. They’re always looking for new ideas. They aren’t going to turn it down because it isn’t a money-maker.

I’m not really sure why I’ve made enforced randomness such a big part of my practice. Initially, with the Itinerant Artist Project, the focus was more on a way of sharing life – typically with strangers – that art made possible, especially getting outside the gallery and into their homes. The unpredictability was just a byproduct of relying on volunteer hosts. But I was drawn to the challenge of making art anywhere and being able to connect with anyone. And I’ve noticed the hosts for the IAP are self-selecting – I’ve gone all over the country, but it’s mostly been the world of middle-class white people who can afford to put me up for a night or two. When I do the Landscape Lottery, it’s different. I end up interacting with people from all walks of life. In both Tucson and even more here.  One of the memorable stops was – I think I told you this – the random point was in Gates and there were all these things on the way I really wanted to paint. But I had to keep driving to get to my spot. No, not the quarry, not the railroad. . . oh it’s just a residential street. And the light’s nice. But there were a bunch of American flags and odd little houses and nothing picturesque at all. It was a Republican street. That’s not bad, but there was a vibe that I was in a place . . .

That’s funny. Democrats don’t put out flags.

There was a certain feel. I knocked on the door of the house I parked in front of to explain why I was there. I was very uncomfortable, but I told them about the project and this nice old lady and her daughter living there, we had a great time. They rolled the dice and sent me to the next place, which turned out to be Mount Hope Cemetery where her husband was buried. <Along with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony> But then the scene I actually chose was just a mailbox on that Republican street with some old Fifties ranch house, and it ended up being a really popular image for the show. The woman who lived there came out to get the mail, and I apologized for being in the way and I said, ˜You know any artists around that I can give a sketch pad to?’ She said “my husband sketches all the time.’ Sure enough, he was coming down the road, and he looked suspicious, kind of unpleasant, but it turned out that he sketched everything, all the time. I got him to talk a little. He’d done a painting in high school, in Manhattan, which the school kept and he once went back to try to look at it and someone from the board of MOMA had bought it.

I remember that story.  

I like being on my own and withdrawn but I actually enjoy making these connections. Extending who I can identify with. I can be very very left on some things and my whole family, my grandfather was a socialist who helped set up Canada’s healthcare system and my parents were activists. Everyone was so enthused about the BLM movement but Sonja and I were horrified that they were demonizing the police.

Now you have this “insurrection” and the police are heroes.

It’s just, I’ve had bad interactions with lots of police. They’re often power-hungry jerks but . . .

But you have to have them.

Try to be on good terms, at least keep open the potential to interact with them as human beings, reach their humanity.

There aren’t that many serious anarchists anymore. Where is Bakunin these days? 

<Jim read from his phone Obama’s chastening comments about how unwise it is politically simply to talk about defunding police.>

As soon as someone’s camping on your lawn, you will call the police. The new District Attorney in L.A. says he isn’t going to enforce trespassing laws. As soon as someone pitches a tent on a front lawn in Brentwood, that will change. Compton too, probably, for that matter.

Strategically, when the protests started, I remember the news. Police all over the country were taking a knee. Yes, some are very racist. L.A. and St. Louis, but a lot weren’t that way. After a few months of demonizing police, that changed.

If I’m just a racist copy why should I answer the 911 call? With social media you feel as if you have to respond to stupidity with stupidity. It’s like the Goya painting of those two giants just bludgeoning each other with cudgels. That’s social media.

Almost all I watched of the Washington protests were these moderate Republican senators who had just lost Georgia and were talking about just getting along. They looked as if they’d had a conversion experience. Some of them really meant it.

Of course, they did. What happened to Martin Luther King Jr? Who is out there calling for the sit-in rather than the riot?

I have a friend, also named Dave Chappell, who is a student of Christopher Lasch and he’s now considered one of the top scholars on the civil rights movement. He’s white, but he’s . . .

But he’s really Black, like Bill Clinton?

He has an inside pass. He works so hard on that stuff. One of his books was about what made civil rights work. His argument was that it was prophetic religion that really had force and the leaders were willing to die for it. They had these high principles. The segregationists used church to reinforce their convictions but they didn’t have the same energy because they didn’t have the moral foundation.

It was the New Testament. Resist not evil. Love your enemy. It all comes from Tolstoy’s later writing when he embraced his own form of Christianity. He inspired Gandhi. They corresponded. MLK followed the example. Don’t answer evil with evil. Give love in response to evil.

Which is hard.

It’s seriously hard. But anyone can realize that if you’re sitting there in the photograph being attacked by police dogs and offering no violence in return, you’ve won. You don’t win against evil by being evil.

The movement now doesn’t have religious conviction.

It’s postmodern. It’s completely abandoned the absolute values that were undergirding the civil rights movement. Values are whatever works to seize and sustain power. Now it’s just power against power with no underlying absolute value. We have narratives, not values.

The push for justice and not being treated with bias is good but when you start pushing the police lines because you have demands based on what the people did who rioted last week and treating people like animals to get what you want – that’s not the moral high ground.

It’s Saul Alinsky not Martin Luther King, Jr. If the conservatives could wake up the same way. A hundred thousand people show up and sit down on the steps of the Capitol and refuse to leave, demand an investigation of the election. That’s a sit-in with a clear objective. Just sit peacefully and force the troops to carry them away. How would the media condemn them? That would be a way to ask for an investigation to find out whatever actually happened and move on. Everyone turns it into a struggle to the death because they want to turn the opposition into the enemy.

Well art can still save the world, Dave, right?

It’s certainly a way of sitting still and refusing to move. Wasn’t it Dostoevsky who said beauty will save the world? It’s worth a try. 

APPLY: Artistic Activism Training for Equity + COVID-19

Our COVID-19 healthcare for all campaign is about to launch its next round of artistic activism training and action. Join us!

Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 is a global movement working to ensure that COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines are safe, effective, and available to all for free.

New and returning participants are encouraged to apply here!

This program works as an Advocacy Innovation Lab, bringing together hundreds of people from around the world to collaboratively devise, design, implement, and evaluate new forms of advocacy that can succeed in these challenging times.

Our next round runs February 17 – May 12. Over those 12 weeks, participants will join weekly full campaign meetings, meet with smaller focus groups, and implement creative actions. No prior experience is necessary. As a participant you’ll learn about access to medicines, creative activism, and do both: learning and then taking action is what this is all about! 

Apply here by Sunday, February 7, at 11:59pm.

Those who participate fully in all 12 weeks are eligible to receive a certificate from Center for Artistic Activism documenting their participation.

Free the Vaccine launched in March 2020 and has had two previous seasons. Each season is different. This time we’re focusing on pressuring universities and publicly funded institutions to share their intellectual monopolies with the world in order to save lives from COVID-19. We’re also turning our focus to helping the public understand more about access to medicines and why it’s important–not only for getting through this pandemic but also for lasting, sustainable change. Join our growing community and campaign to Free the Vaccine for COVID-19!

ZoomRoom Local Author Reading – Christin Lore Weber

ZoomRoom Local Author Reading – Christin Lore Weber

Please join me in the launching of my new novel, NO THIS BUT THIS, on February 12th at 5 P.M. Pacific Time. Your free registration is in the above link from Art Presence Gallary.

“First Female President” says farewell

Margaret McCarthy, "the First Female President of the United States"


San Francisco, CA — President Margaret McCarthy bid farewell to a grateful nation today in a final address from the Oval Office, and promised a peaceful transition of power to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. President McCarthy is the 45th President of the United States, following the two terms of President Barack Obama.

In a public address viewable on YouTube, President McCarthy urged Americans to look back with pride on their collective accomplishments, noting the abolishment of I.C.E. and the establishment of the U.S. as a borderless nation, in keeping with her administration’s 100% Open Immigration policy, first announced two years ago at a press conference at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This policy followed closely on the heels of the nationwide airport welcoming committees that spring up organically at airline terminals across the U.S. to give flowers and messages of welcome to those arriving to the United States. She also cited the country’s leadership in fighting climate change and the incredible progress made in reducing emissions. The President further pointed to domestic accomplishments, supported in part by urgent action from the U.S. Congress’ Committee on Appropriations for Awesome, particularly the historically high taxes on wealthy citizens, which supported the rollout of universal health care as well as free childcare, pre-K, and paid parental leave, in addition to enacting 100% forgiveness of student loan debt, and supporting public colleges and universities in making tuition free. President McCarthy is well known for her outreach to students, speaking at the gallery opening of Copy Culture at the University of San Francisco in 2017 and addressing a performance art class at Lake Forest College later that year. In her farewell address, she drew particular attention to the Constitutional amendment passed during her administration’s historic overhaul of our country’s governing document, enshrining the inalienable right to vote for all U.S. citizens. Voting rights have been an issue of particular import to President McCarthy, as highlighted during her 2018 residency in the Artists Television Access window gallery and in her speech at 100 Days Action’s Blue Wave / Red Tide event at California College for the Arts during that same midterm election.

However, as is to be expected from a President who spoke openly about failure in a public conversation with the Center for Artistic Activism, she also noted the struggles the country had faced, as well as the challenges that still lie ahead. While the nation has made steps to defund the police and dismantle the carceral system in the wake of the murder of George Floyd aand other Black Americans, the President mourned these losses as “our family members, our friends, our teachers, our elders and our neighbors,” and noted, “I leave office knowing there is still a great deal of work ahead.” President McCarthy also mourned the over 400,000 Americans who have lost their lives during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We will never recover from these losses,” she stated, “but we can honor their memory with our actions.” 

At President McCarthy’s inauguration at San Francisco City Hall four years ago, she addressed dozens of supporters from behind a podium borrowed from a local bookstore, using a sound system delivered by bicycle – a fitting forecast to the spirited, community-based politics she attempted to further and for which the Bay Area is justifiably famous. At the conclusion of the event, the President shook hands with all attendees, petted a small dog and kissed a baby. In celebration of her victory, women marched on Washington and across the world in unprecedented numbers. President McCarthy credits the subsequent wave of progressive action and energy for her administration’s ability to enact such a progressive agenda.

In conclusion, President McCarthy gave her best wishes to the new administration, and exhorted her fellow Americans not to let up their activism, saying, “As President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris assume office, they are going to need your continued action, your continued attention, your continued organizing, both to hold them accountable, and to ensure that the flower of our Democracy is able to bloom as never before. After all,” she continued, “while it has been an honor to serve as the First Female President, my Presidency has never been about me; it’s always been about our collective dream of a United States that is different and better. We still have a ways to go on that brave journey. But I know that together, we can create a better, brighter United States of America.”

For more information, visit 


Call for Project Managers

The Center for Artistic Activism is looking for paid intern Project Managers for its Free the Vaccine campaign!

Season 3 of our COVID healthcare campaign, Free the Vaccine, will be starting in just a few weeks! Participant applications will be out soon.

But right now, we’re hiring Free the Vaccine Project Managers.

Project Managers will support participants in achieving the objectives of the campaign; assist in training participants in Creative Activism and Access to Medicines; and champion our diverse, vibrant community.

Apply here by Friday, January 22, at 11:59pm.

Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 is a global movement working to ensure that COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines are safe, effective, and available to all for free. The movement works as an Advocacy Innovation Lab, bringing together hundreds of people from around the world to collaboratively devise, design, implement, and evaluate new forms of advocacy that can succeed in these challenging times.

Since March 2020, we have run two seasons of the campaign. We are preparing to launch our third season in February and we will be implementing several exciting changes, including: broadening our targets to include government entities and popular education in addition to universities, grouping participants by interest rather than geographic region, and increasing collaboration across groups.

Project Managers will be critical to building our Season 3 FTV community, running the campaign, and achieving our goals of COVID-19 healthcare for all.

Questions? Email [email protected].

EVENT: The Power of Pie

Celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Peace Through Pie & Stir The Pot.

Learn about the Civil Rights history of pie, participate in interactive pie demos & be inspired by the words of MLK to activate your own action!

Join Chef Nadine Nelson of Global Local Gourmet hosting:

Tanya Fields
Executive Director of the Black Feminist Project

Nancie McDermott
Author of Southern Pies and 9 other cookbooks

STIR THE POT – Stir the Pot brings people together to cook, cultivate community, and inspire activism through the act of preparing food. Stir the Pot is supported by the Center for Artistic Activism’s Unstoppable Voters project.

PEACE THROUGH PIE – A Grassroots Peace Movement Creating a Culture of Peace through convening around pie.


3:00 – 5:00 PM on ZOOM

Be part of the movement.

RSVP at Come share pie together as we co-create the new frontier of peace, one piece of pie at a time, and inspire activism through the life of MLK & invited speakers.

Nancie’s Pie Recipe

Facebook event – if you’re into that.

When a Lifelong Friend Dies

Bill and his grandson, Jad
In half-dream last night I saw him in sunlight as an eagle and I must have been the hawk riding the thermals above  the Applegate hills. Wind ruffled our feathers and seemed to blow right through us as we circled. Those cries are all the words, I thought, hearing the birds’ cries echoing off the ridges of the Buncom Bowl. It was the sound that bound us. Our feathered wings never touched. 
It is a rare privilege to have had a friend like Bill Cunningham. He died this week–January 12th. I knew he’d fly soon, but one never really experiences death of a loved one until it happens. For half our lives we had lived a continent apart and saw each other only once, a few years ago when he made the trip west. But all that time, writers that we both were, Bill and I shared our souls in words. 
I met Bill in the early 1970s just after I had left the convent and he was one of the priests at the University of Minnesota Newman Center. He resembled a Hoffman Jesus and delivered homilies that urged the congregation to respond. Who could not notice him? Already he was in the forefront of a new and progressive Catholic Christianity–maybe he already was past that, though it still held him in its grasp. When he invited discussion, I loved the challenge and would take him on. It was so stunning–the way he stopped to reflect on everyone’s insight or question. He spoke from his sense of compassion, not from some cast-in-stone dogma. He was a Dominican Friar of the Order of Preachers–those who back in the day were in charge of the Inquisition. He, already then, detested (not too strong a word, I think) that historical connection.
He and I sat on my porch in St. Paul one summer day in the mid-1970s. He was right on the verge of leaving the priesthood and the Dominicans. He’d come to talk it over with my now deceased spouse, Pat Kelly, who had also left the active priesthood, and with me–recently dispensed from convent vows. Bill was deeply in love with Liliana, and his edgy relationship with the Church was beginning to feel impossible to maintain. The angst of finalizing the decision that would affect his remaining life, though, showed itself in his face and posture. He quoted passages from the then popular novel, The Thornbirds. What did it mean to be faithful? The whole struggle felt like such a paradox.
He married Lili. 

If I were writing a book, Part Two would begin the day Bill came from Florida in 1985 to spend the afternoon with Pat and me the day before Pat had cancer surgery from which he never recovered. We didn’t know that, of course, the afternoon we sat together in my living room listening to Symphony #7  by Ralph Vaughn Williams, with the poetry of Walt Whitman. I still see him in memory–eyes closed, focused, silent, aware, compassionate, as though he saw all our lives in this one moment.

I do not regret this journey.
We took risks, we knew we took them,
Things have come out against us,
Therefore we have no cause for complaint.
-Walt Whitman
We didn’t see each other again for thirty years. In the meantime, though, our friendship developed a character of presence. I had moved to California and remarried.  Bill and Lili and their girls lived a creative and socially involved life in Florida. But we phoned. When email became available we did that. Mostly we lived in each others’ souls. I was writing my books, now seventeen of them. Bill read every one and commented on all but the last. As our patterns of belief evolved we shared our newest realizations with each other, always reaching deeper and deeper for wisdom. He became more earthy–“I’m a pagan,” he insisted–while I drifted further and further into the mystical. Both of us began writing poetry. He would email from airports across the country while he worked as a management consultant. We shared ideas, beliefs, poetry, books we were reading, personal struggles and joys, hopes, dreams. He called himself Pilgrim-Seeker. He called me Dreamer-Weaver. We seemed to share one time and space while also being a continent apart. 
Last night in my grief over his death it came to me that very little had changed. As the poet, Yeats, had written, I loved the pilgrim soul in him. Except for the written words we shared for so many years, that soul of his remained. His presence lingers in all my books as well. His last poem written for me holds the paradox:
Failure of Language

The role of the artist is
to make you realize
the doom and glory
of knowing who
you are and what you are.
–James Baldwin

We once wrote each other often,
to tell the intimate tales of our lives,
rich in language, intricate in detail, full
of ideas and hope.
Then gradually, we stopped,
not for lack of caring, of that I’m sure,
but perhaps because we had drained out
of language all we could. Then the sudden
harshness in our lives, raw and open,
the painful death of our spouses,
left us stunned and speechless,
standing on a strange shore,
looking out onto a vast sea
where there were no islands,
no sails, no other shore
that we could see.
Perhaps we had given all we could to one another
and now had to face realities where language,
our common gift, once our great solace,
could not help.
-September 4, 2020
Words have done as he said. Words are fragile and eventually cannot hold reality. We ourselves eventually feel more attuned to the wordless winds We set out then, finally comfortable with the silence of our heart’s depths, onto the seas of which Whitman and Williams wrote, and Bill, Pat and I contemplated all those years ago. To Bill I now say, set forth and fare thee well. I bear witness to the magnificence of your life, your soul, my dear friend.
Sail forth–steer for the deep waters only,
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.
O brave soul!
O farther farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail.
Whitman’s “Passage to India.”

Santelli’s stream of consciousness

Minstream 17, Bill Santelli, colored pencil on paper

A three-person exhibition, Constellations, featuring paintings, drawings, and installation works by Sara Baker Michalak, Bill Santelli, and Mizin Shin will open shortly at Main Street Arts. It’s curated around the commonality of their work. Each, in different ways, builds a patterned image—loosely or with gridded regularity—that aims for the cosmic. As with every painting, the particulars matter because of their unity within the whole work, but in this case the particulars are mostly effaced within the flow of what’s happening everywhere else.

I’ve known Bill for years and was pleased to hear that he’d been invited into this show, having seen these new drawings on Instagram over the past year. Like his Prismacolor drawings in the Path series, these explorations of thought—the honeycomb of ovals suggestive of thinking’s fragmented flow—represent a patient, repetitive and extremely disciplined practice using the simplest combinations of tone and line. In the Path series, he creates long, languid and pliant streaks of color that evoke tall grass bending in a breeze, where each line creates cells of pale monochrome. They are like leaded panes of stained glass, but also look surprisingly like glimpses of dawn breaking over wetlands.

In these newer drawings, his colors are even simpler and richer, and the minimalism of the Path drawings has been reduced to a grid of loops with less reference to nature. When I asked him to describe what went into the drawings, he wrote “I began these drawings after reading about the concept of ‘mindstream’ in Buddhist philosophy, which is described as . . . the moment-to-moment flow of sense impressions and mental phenomena.”

He offered some background on his preoccupations in this work. He’s been reading a lot about Krishnamurti—a long-standing source of inspiration for his work—and watching videos of his talks. Krishnamurti’s focus consistently returned to a mindfulness that pulls back from the conscious mind’s endless jabber, the flow of that in-the-head narrator. He urged his listeners to impartially observe the operation of their own minds in an attempt to disengage from the grip of reactive thought and action. (Isn’t that a good phrase for our current national disease?) These drawings, for Santelli, grapple with his awareness of his own thought bubbles, as it were, floating past as he meditates or walks—pulling him away from being fully present and aware. Krishnamurti’s central point is to get his practitioner to disengage and become an observer of everything the mind is doing–to simply be aware of it all, and that awareness alone will awaken a kind of intelligence that isn’t simply conscious reasoning. It’s a bit like the Greeks referred to as nous. If you see yourself clearly, down to the roots of your behavior and thinking, both of those are changed as a result of that clarity.

Not that this is necessarily what Santelli is attempting to represent here. But it’s related. As he puts it in his statement for the show: “As with all my work, the drawings are an introspective process – I find myself reflecting on the inner journey, about letting go of old forms and opening to new ones, of balancing the path inward with the pathway outward. The choreography of shapes and colors creates a motion across the paper, a fluid yet gently turbulent “mindstream” that arises and passes away in each moment.”

As with the Path series, these drawings are in colored pencil—mostly Prismacolors in the ultramarine and dark gold images. He’s also working with Caran d’ache Luminance pencils in the brighter work for “a palette shift.”  He says, “The Caran d’ache colors are really nice, but each pencil costs almost $5!” he joked. When I asked about his shift from the Path series to this new mode, he said he continues to do the Path work, but they take much longer to complete.

He’ll be showing one 22 x 30 inch drawing in this Mindstream series and the rest are much smaller.  For those he worked with strips of paper cut from larger sheets used with the bigger work. “I had these strips laying around and I was able to get the most individual paintings by cutting the strips down to 5.75” x 8”. I’m happy with what I’m doing in the Mindstream work.”

I asked why the ovals? “I have used geometric shapes (circles, squares, triangles, rectangles) in other series of drawings I’ve done.  But the oval, hardly ever.  Visually, I think of the oval more as a form for these considering drawings (inspired by forms and shapes I was seeing on my morning walks), and also what I was trying to convey – which was (and here he quoted his statement in progress) “a choreography of shape/form moving across the paper – each individual shape/form representing a separate thought, that would arise and fall away as I worked.”

Celebrating 10 Years of Natural Earth Paint

Celebrating 10 Years of Natural Earth Paint
In honor of Natural Earth Paint’s 10-year anniversary, we’re offering 10% off the first products Natural Earth Paint ever introduced: our Natural Earth Paint Kit and our Complete Eco-Friendly Oil Paint Kit! Just use code Anniversary10 at checkout. Code expires Jan. 31. 
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Artist of the Month: Joey Hartmann-Dow
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Detox Your Studio for the New Year!
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Rest in Peace Michael Young

Michael Young

This week we learned that United for a Fair Economy organizer and Center for Artistic Activism alumni and collaborator, Michael Young passed away.

Michael worked with the Center for Artistic Activism on several proposals to organize for economic and racial justice in the southern United States. He was absolutely committed to equity and justice and held all of us to high standards of effectiveness. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family. He will be missed by those who worked with him, and we all suffer the loss of a dedicated organizer.


It is with deep sadness that we share that United for a Fair Economy has lost our dear friend and colleague, Michael Young, who passed away January 9, 2021 after a battle with cancer. He was 46 years old.

Michael has been part of the UFE team since 2012, when he began organizing UFE’s state-level Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative. In 2015, Michael moved with his wife Jennifer and two children from Boston back to his home state of North Carolina, where he has led UFE’s Inclusive Economies Project. A passionate and tireless organizer, his work in NC has focused on building the Raising Wages NC coalition to push for a statewide $15 minimum wage, and building a national network of living wage certification programs.

Words cannot express how much we will miss Michael’s vision, passion, wisdom, humor, camaraderie, and love of organizing. Our team is slowing down to grieve this loss and celebrate Michael’s impact and legacy. Join us in honoring Michael’s life and sending love and support to his family. We will share more about Michael in the days and weeks ahead.