The Swiss poet Rilke wrote that standing in front of some works of art enables viewers to see the world more clearly.
When Collective Action, a silent art auction, infiltrated gallery space at 990 Spring Garden on Jan. 15, it contained several such illuminating works; and was born from the frustration and mixed feelings surrounding last November’s presidential election results.
Collective Action sought to raise $20k, with proceeds from art sales to be donated to a variety of social justice groups: Planned Parenthood, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Network of Abortion Funds, International Refugee Assistance Project and the Natural Resources Defense council, to name a few.
Additionally, much of the same work from the Collective Action show will be featured on buildings all across the city on Inauguration Day, for the Signs of Solidarity movement, a familial jumpoff to last Saturday’s event.
“We were just thinking about what are some things that we can do in the arts world to show people that the election of Donald Trump just isn’t normal,” said Conrad Benner, a long-time activist through art who runs the popular website, Streets Dept. Originally only planning to showcase bannered artwork on abandoned buildings, Benner and other artists came up with the notion of asking recognizable structures throughout the city if they wanted in. “To our surprise, everyone we reached out to said yes. Now we have 30 artists making close to 30 banners that will be all-across to the city on Inauguration Day.”
As for Collective Action, it was arranged and executed by Benner, Grace Ahn, Jacob Klensin, Brooke DiLeone and Daniel Levine, in a direct response to the “increasingly dangerous, self-serving people” associated with the President-elect’s administration.
The initial idea for Collective Action came by way of Ahn in the post-election slump that gripped so many communities across the nation. The previous iteration of the auction was originally planned to take place in mid-December, at a local bar with a fundraising goal of just $2.5k.
Increasing hostility toward the alt-right has created a grassroots movement in reactionary protest. Alongside each artist’s display that night was a note that offered this poignant message:
The recognition of what is wrong with our country, much like any piece of art dedicated to making its viewer see more clearly, can start a dialogue about the codification of disputed values. Thanks to Trump, as a fact of life, citizens are beginning to realize what it means to come together against a common enemy for the first time in a long time. This being no small feat.
Collective Action’s message is vital because we need to hear it. From artists reflecting a world that we thought we knew, the difficulty in coming to terms with a frightening truth is one more reason for our acceptance of it.
“We’re just people who are disheartened by the kind of campaign and the kind of person Donald Trump seems to be and are worried that he is going to attack the communities he said he was going to attack,” said Benner. “We’re holding this fundraiser to raise money either for those communities or organizations that help and protect those communities.”
After reaching out over Facebook, and messages from over 150 artists interested in sharing work—Collective Action moved to a larger venue and decided to reschedule to align when its message would hit home. They also modified their fundraising goal to accommodate the increase in anticipated size. Which again happened to be well-timed.
“Before the weekend, before the inauguration, on purpose,” said Benner. “Mainly because we thought hopefully people would be just as pissed as we were.”