Baltimore-area Artists and Makers Explain How the Election of Donald Trump has Changed Their Practice and Ideas by Sherry Insley
Now what? was the question on millions of people’s minds on the morning of November 9th. Many of us woke to an election result we didn’t dream possible. We were confused, mourning, apprehensive and angry about what was to happen next. We felt fear for our families, friends, livelihoods, the environment, and the foreseeable future replaced the hopeful feelings for the history making prospect of our first female president.
Artists and creatives are often the mirrors for our communities, reflecting and giving voice to societal concerns and conflict. Some of us needed time to resurface from our stunned hibernations, to take a look around and consider what we can really do? Other artists were so jolted by this turn of events they immediately got to work on what they do best, whether it’s continuing to create art that is political in nature, designing new work or products that speak to social concerns surrounding the election, or seeking ways to support others and organizations that may be threatened in this new political climate.
It is with a new sense of urgency that many artists, makers, and independent creative business owners are approaching their work in the aftermath of the election. I reached out to a variety of makers in the region to find out how their work has changed since November 9, 2016.
Photo by Tina Henry
Tina Henry, DC Based Designer and Anya Henry, her 11 year old daughter
“I started working on some ‘Hooray for a Female President’ holiday cards near the end of the election season,” says Tina Henry. “My 11 year old daughter saw me working on them and decided she wanted to design one, too. A few days before the election, she excitedly drew a photo of Hillary and designed a card that said, “All I want for Xmas is a Pantsuit.” I bought her the url apocalypsepostponed.com and basically made a new brand of cards for people who would be excited about Hillary’s win.” Tina Henry is a DC based designer, recently on hiatus from her Tina Seamonster greeting card business.
“Then the election happened and Hillary lost. My daughter was really upset for many reasons, but also asked what we would do about her card. She had worked so hard on it. So we decided to deal with defeat and sadness by being more creative. We brainstormed how to use the card, but change it. I showed her the Pantsuit Nation secret Facebook group and we talked about what all of those people would like in a holiday card. She went back to her art supplies and drew a moldy orange and changed her card to say, “I asked for a pantsuit for Christmas, instead I got this moldy orange.”
Tina and her daughter updated Anya’s website to ApocalypseSurvivalPlan, where she has sold many cards and handwritten thank you notes. Tina describes this an amazing experience for Anya who was really sad at first, but then made something that connected personally to her customers.
“As for how this might change my business… I really thought I was done with Tina Seamonster, but watching my daughter express herself with her cards is making me wonder if it is time for me to get back in the game and make products that connect people again.”
Photo by SooJin Jeong
SooJin Jeong, Jeweler
SooJin Jeong, a Korean immigrant and jeweler based in Baltimore, began working with a safety pin image months before the election results. She felt “instinctual” about her choice of images in her metal work, and influenced by the “surrounding mood.” Often incorporating fibers, the safety pin began emerging as earrings and brooches. Immediately after the election she was mobilized to create a series of Safety Pins with me, a fellow artist who happened to be working at the Baltimore Jewelry Center. Together we hand-sawed steel and powder-coated a collection of pins. The pins were sold at MICA’s Art Market and The BJC’s Holiday Sale, and the proceeds are to be donated to the ACLU. A second series is in the works, as the pins sold out immediately.
“As an immigrant, the results of the election affected how I feel in the states.” Jeong explains. To her the safety pin is a visual that the wearer is a supportive and safe person. “It’s an important symbol to me.”
Photo by Sherry Insley
Letta Moore of Knits, Soy and Metal and Erica Bentley of Keepers Vintage
Keepers Vintage and Knits, Soy and Metal is a unique and inspiring collaboration in both it’s physical space and spirit. It is a “boutique inside of boutique,” where you can shop for carefully curated vintage clothing and accessories, and take a candle pouring workshop with friends.
Photo by Sherry Insley
“We created this as a space for women, specifically mothers. It’s a place to network, find resources and support,” says Letta Moore, owner of Knits, Soy and Metal. “Erica (owner of Keepers Vintage) is a catalyst to help other women grow. She is a new mom and has one of the biggest work ethics.” Part of the reason the duo started their businesses was to have the autonomy to be with their families. Erica often brings her four month old daughter to work.
Citing camaraderie and mentorship, as well as honesty about running a small business, Erica Bentley explains that there was already a “sense of urgency” for women to stay connected and keep each other’s best interests in mind. “We want to promote other women and women owned businesses. The election results further confirmed this need.”
“Even with the election results, I still think it’s the year of the woman,” declares Erica.
Photo by Red Prairie Press
Rachel Bone of Red Prairie Press and Heidi Shenk of Row House 14
Rachel Bone of Red Prairie Press, a silk screening studio based in Baltimore, echoes the sentiments of many creative business owners: it is is too soon to know how the election will affect small businesses long term.
“The stores I sell to said they had the worst sales in a decade in the weeks following the election. I suspect people were/are feeling uneasy, and not really in the mood for shopping. I haven’t changed my practices yet. I have spoken out to an extent, about my views, but it’s a hard balance of wanting to use the platform you have and not wanting to alienate customers.”
Like Rachel, Heidi Shenk of Row House 14, a stationary design studio, is concerned with how the election will affect small businesses. Both artists have taken a hard look at businesses they use to supply their own, choosing to either boycott or take action by writing letters of concern.
Photo by Heidi Shenk
“After finding out that Uline has donated a lot of money to Trump, I did a little research to source an alternative shipping and packaging company,” says Bone. “While I was already phasing out using them before I found out about their connection to Trump, I was able to find alternatives for the products that I was still getting from them.”
As far as future changes go, Rachel and Heidi both feel the impetus to support nonprofits and organizations that can potentially be affected by the new administration.
“Each holiday season, I donate 20% of my sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday to local Baltimore nonprofits in lieu of hosting a sale,” says Shenk. “For me, it’s really important that we think about giving to others instead of mass consumerism, and during this political cycle, I think it’s even more important that we don’t forget about the smaller, local nonprofits that serve our communities.”
Shen continues, “I worry that we’ll go into a recession again with Trump in office. With that in mind, I’ve been doing my best to support as many makers as possible this holiday season, rather than shopping with big box retailers. I think that makers and small businesses will be those that are most affected if our economy sees and downturn, so it’s incredibly important to support those people within our communities.”
Rachel has been inspired by the election to use her website as “a platform for positivity.” After talking with her young nieces who were disappointed in the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns, and of course the outcome, they decided on a positive way to protest their frustrations.
“I asked the girls if they’d like to design a t-shirt to sell and donate 50% of the profits to the ACLU, an organization that fights to protect the constitutional rights of everyone in the country” she says. “They agreed immediately. We decided to use the lyrics from a Woody Guthrie song as inspiration (Their 8 month old cousin, my son, was named after the songwriter and activist) but otherwise, they came up with the design themselves. I think it’s my favorite design Red Prairie Press has ever sold!”
“This Land is Your Land” T-shirt pictured above.
Photo by Justin Tsucalas
Priya Narasimhan, Priya Means Love
“Like many creative businesses, I’ve generally tried to keep my personal politics under wraps, even as my company embraces environmental values that clearly point left,” states Priya Narasimhan of Priya Means Love, a line of handcrafted products for the body.
“But times have changed, this election (and the run-up to it) marks a turning point for this country. I’ve been privately horrified since Trump entered the race, but I don’t want to privately seethe and do little. I don’t have great means, and I’m a pretty sensitive and shy person, so I’ve been thinking about what will make an impact and will be doable for me.”
To start, over Thanksgiving weekend a portion of the Priya’s online sales went to the ACLU, ProPublica and 350.0rg. She hopes to continue this support by creating “products with a purpose,” limited-edition batches to raise funds each month for a different progressive cause. “I have lots of goods up my sleeve — body creams, herbal salves, botanical fragrances, hair products — that I love and make occasionally only for myself or family, and I’d love to offer these and other products to raise funds to fight for what’s to come.”
“I firmly believe that many Trump voters didn’t vote for him out of misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, etc, but the key fact is that these same citizens did not see his bald-faced misogynist, racist, Islamophobic, and anti-immigrant appeals as a deal-breaker — they were willing to set those transgressions aside and vote for him anyway. As a brown person and a daughter of immigrants, I find that really troubling. We all need to stay oriented to what our values really are, and when our deeply held values of plurality, decency, and kindness are transgressed, we have to recognize that a line in the sand has been crossed and be unafraid to call it out.”
Karida Collins, Neighborhood Fiber Co.
“The election results have definitely impacted my business planning for 2017.” Karida Collins owner/artist of Neighborhood Fiber Co. explains. The company’s largest wholesale customer, as well a good portion of their retail business is in the MD/DC/VA area. Many customers are government contractors or employees . “Anything that has an affect on their jobs or income eventually trickles down to me. As a result, we’ve had to do some belt-tightening at work.” Collins is starting with the halting of new hiring, and trying to balance that without affecting output.
Second, like many other creative business owners, Collins will no longer be ordering shipping and office supplies from Uline. “I won’t give my money or business to a company owned by people who spend millions of dollars to support candidates who are so fiercely opposed to my beliefs.”
Lastly, Neighborhood will be selling a new t-shirt and bags that Karida is working with a designer to create. “I wanted something that incorporated a Black Power Fist symbol with a ball of yarn. In my mind, it’s a way for knitters and crocheters to show their support for the rights of ALL people to live, work, and create in America.”
She goes on, “I added the word UNITY to make it clear that is shirt is for everyone. We are all stronger when we are united together.”