“Tonight, with what appears to be a record-breaking voter turnout,” Bernie Sanders told an elated crowd in New Hampshire last evening, “because of a yuge voter turnout — and I say ‘yuge’! — we won — because we harnessed the energy and excitement that the Democratic party will need to succeed in November!” Exit polls from the historic primary victory drive home Sanders’ point; Clinton, who has (until recently) campaigned on the strength of the party establishment, was overtaken in nearly every conceivable demographic and political category, even those in which she once held an outsized advantage. Meanwhile, Sanders’ youth numbers are staggering: 83% of voters ages 18-29 chose him over Clinton.
But as Sanders has conceded many times, more than a temporary burst of this youthful energy and excitement will be needed to reintroduce democratic socialist principles into the imaginarium of history’s most entrenched capitalist regime. So far, Sanders supporters, who often lack for broader media support (today on CNN: “Who is Bernie Sanders?”), have been up to the task, offering a flurry of editorial punches and counterpunches. And these do often seem to stun their opponents in establishment media.
What about art, though? To put the question as naively as possible: what does “democratic socialist” art-propaganda look like in 21st century America? From our current vantage point, Shepard Fairey’s self-parodying yet adulatory combination of socialist realism and pop art (“socialist realism for the rich”) somehow fittingly illustrates the enthusiasm for the Obama campaign of 2008. But what about artists who feel the Bern of the aesthetic sublime in 2016? Are they as willfully idealistic as oldsters have assumed? Or does their political aesthetic now arise from conditions of debt servitude and material futurelessness?
To answer this question, we talked briefly with Matt Starr, a young artist who, along with Brittany Natale, has organized a group exhibition and political fundraiser for Bernie Sanders. The show — cheekily named “Weekend with Bernie” — will open this Friday in Brooklyn, where Sanders was born, just days after his victory in New Hampshire, and it will feature work for sale from more than fifty artists, including . All proceeds will go to the Sanders campaign. And, in the spirit of democratic socialism, Starr has assured would-be visitors that a registered nurse (RN) will be on site throughout the two-day show to provide healthcare for all.
Why did you decide to organize this art show for Bernie Sanders? And what were the organizing principles?
I knew I couldn’t afford to contribute to the campaign financially as much as I wanted to, so I decided to work with what I had — a contact list of amazing and creative people. The idea was to bring their talents and energy together to inspire other young people to get involved. So one goal of the show is to inspire and educate young people to get involved, especially during the primaries.
Until Bernie Sanders started running for president, I’d always felt disconnected from politics, like there was this locked door that no one would give me the key to. He was my key in. It made politics accessible in a way it hadn’t been before. I began to understand how and why certain issues were affecting me. Honestly, it made me care more about other Americans.
The budget for the show was based on the average donation people were giving to Bernie’s campaign — $27. So my producer, Brittany Natale, and I capped the budget at $27. All of the artists, speakers, performers, and sponsors are donating their time and work.
Was it easy to get artists who are enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders? Are they fairly young?
The day after I got the idea for this group show and fundraiser, I came up with list of artists with my producer, and Brittany sent feeler emails out to people. Within a few hours we got enthusiastic responses from ten fairly well known artists. We kept emailing more artists after that. I set my sights pretty high and got most of the people I wanted — except John Waters. He did write us a really nice email back, though. So most of the artists are young — but not all them. There are some professors.
It seems like you’ve gathered an array of different media and artist identities?
At first it wasn’t intentional, I just kept reaching out to the artists whose work I was into personally. I honestly didn’t even know before hand if the artists were supportive of Bernie Sanders, I just knew I wanted to have them in the show, and to my surprise 90% of them were.
Do you see any kind of unifying aesthetic?
Bernie has made his political platform so clear — healthcare, income inequality, campaign finance reform, police brutality, public education, climate change — so it seems like each artwork is trying to provoke a dialogue around a given issue. There is something broadly expressive about it; a lot of these artists, I think, are expressing something about a particular issue that a lot of other people are feeling also.
Do you think these artists are nervous in any way about the difference between art and propaganda?
I don’t believe so. I think whether it’s a Bernie Sanders inspired art show or a “what is wrong with the world and how can we fix it” art show, these artists are reacting honestly, and they believe in what they’re expressing.
Do you have any plans to continue this project of art in support of Bernie Sanders?
I do. One major goal of the show is to get other young people involved, so if it’s successful — if Bernie wins the primary — we will do another one for the general election.