We The People:
Political Art in an Age of Discord
Juror Statement, “We the People”
A short epigraph opens the first annual report of the National Endowment for the Arts, from a speech given in 1965 by the President Lyndon B. Johnson as he signed the federal agency into law: “Our civilization will largely survive in the works of our creation. There is a quality in art which speaks across the gulf dividing man from man, and nation from nation, and century from century… Even now men of affairs are struggling to catch up with the insights of great art. The stakes may well be the survival of civilization.”
Funding for the arts, even the mere appreciation of the arts, is prioritized here by the President of the United States as a constant struggle, a flame that must always be tended, less it go out. In the fifty years since the establishment of the NEA, there have been indeed been “men of affairs” who may not always understand the “insights of great art,” but as long as we always recognize that the making of art and the preservation of art cannot be taken for granted, the stakes of civilization will be secure.
In his first federal budget plan released earlier this year, the current President of the Untied States proposed the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, which has been a target of conservative lawmakers since the 1980s and 90s, even though it uses only a 0.004 percent of the current total federal budget. In an op-ed for the New York Times, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art made it clear that the NEA affects everyone who enjoys and supports the arts—coast to coast—from regional grants for travelling shows and local arts programs, to federal indemnification for blockbuster shows at the Met, the government’s role in the arts is wide-reaching and essential. To propose the NEA’s elimination may be folly, but it has also given us a chance to redefine what the arts mean to the American people in the twenty-first century.
When the call went out for “We the People: Political Art in an Era of Discord,” this spring, the mood of the nation was one of resistance. There was an overwhelming need to do something. When 760 entries poured in, the variety in both subject and medium was both astonishing and heartening. There were large scale oil paintings, charcoal drawings, mix-media sculpture, and even arcade games about subjects as varied as immigration, the working class, Black Lives Matter, gun control, education, history, climate change, and yes, members of the current administration. In putting together this show for the Barrett Art Center, I wanted to express the various moods of a people who needed to create art, who were determined to be heard, and whose creative expression was primed for action. The stakes of our civilization are secure: In an era of political discord, the artistic spirit ready for the long struggle head.
Jurors Second Prize
Hasna Muhammad "The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain (A Work in Progress "Cause It Aint Over 'Til It's Over)"