A Homegrown Art and Activist Organization in Baltimore Rallies to Support REAL Media by Cara Ober

“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

-Toni Morrison

What is Artists for Truth? What is the mission?

Lillian Hoover: Shortly after the election, when so many of us were feeling frightened and apprehensive about what was coming, this quote from Toni Morrison came across our feeds. It was a good reminder that we could either live in panic or do something useful. As individuals, we recognized that our monetary donations will only go so far, but we could leverage our skills to make a greater contribution.

And so we formed Artists for Truth. We believe that the ability to discover, share, and weigh facts is a right and a responsibility for everyone within our democracy. In a political and media climate that disregards reality, we fight to enable citizens with the skills and tools to effectively develop a civil society based on truth.

Rob, Melissa, Ryan, Amy, Emily, Lillian, Bart, Maggie, and Baby Soontornsaratool.

Who are the main team members?

Lillian Hoover: The Artists for Truth Co-Organizers are Rob Ferrell, Lillian Hoover, Ryan Hoover, Bart O’Reilly, Amy Eva Raehse, Emily Soontornsaratool, Maggie Villegas, and Melissa Webb.

How did AFT come about?

Melisa Webb: A group of artists, curators, gallerists, teachers, community organizers, and information professionals came together through conversation via social media and word of mouth just after the election of Donald Trump. The initial catalyst was a post by Lillian Hoover asking people if they wanted to mount a fundraising exhibition to help organizations that were already out there doing important work.

I think that those who responded were all feeling a great deal of shock, and wanted to do something real- we didn’t want to just rant on FB and worry about what was about to happen. Lillian’s post tapped into something we wanted and needed- a way to gather and talk about what we were feeling at the time, but also to act- to use what each of us personally had to offer to create a community around the change we wanted to see.

Amy Eva Raehse: The election was sobering, and the propagation of fictitious information was staggering.
 As each of AfT’s soon-to-be organizers heard from their varied communities wondering what they could do to challenge the system and form a resistance, the need for action was clear. Lillian [Hoover] brought us together and we immediately bonded. We were 100% collaborators. We wanted to send a message, and we wanted to empower artists to use their voices because artistic voice has been a potent looking glass and change maker throughout history. The programming was designed to provide tools to embolden and educate our citizenry to demand constructive change in the face of hate and fake news. Baltimoreans know, despite challenges, we rise if we unite for change.

 


“We wanted to send a message, and we wanted to empower artists to use their voices because artistic voice has been a potent looking glass and change maker throughout history.” – Amy Eva Raehse


 

How did you select ‘Media’ as your topic for support / sponsorship? Why is this issue so important  to you? Who are the media entities the auction will support?

Emily Soontornsaratool: We actually chose the topic of “Truth” which is far more open and perhaps more loaded. We’re thinking about this really broadly… from content creation to our rights to share and access information, to our rights to speak truth and stand up for it. We spent a great deal of time researching and discussing the organizations our fundraising efforts would benefit, and identified four “pillars” of access, literacy, communication, and protection. In the end we chose four excellent beneficiaries that directly tie to those pillars. Enoch Pratt Free Library provides free and open information access to our community. The News Literacy Project teaches middle and high school students how to be responsible media consumers. The Center for Media Justice fights for fair and democratic media ownership and representation. Baltimore Action Legal Team stands up for truth-tellers exercising their right to free speech and protest.

Lillian Hoover: Listening to Trump’s political rhetoric last fall, and watching his policy unfold this spring, we felt so overwhelmed by how many different groups were being targeted; everyone seemed to be at risk. As we planned this fundraiser, how could we choose between supporting Planned Parenthood, LAMBDA Legal, CAIR, Black Lives Matter, and so on? Ultimately, we decided to work on a topic that affects us all, regardless of specific demographics: the right and ability to access and make sense of real information, and to be secure while doing so. Without this, we are all vulnerable and completely disempowered.

Tell me more about the reception and auction on June 2. How many works of art will be included? What do you hope to gain from the experience?

Melissa Webb: There are 258 artworks by 163 artists featured in the Artists for Truth Benefit Exhibition. These will be offered for bid by silent auction on the evening of Friday, June 2nd, from 6pm-10pm. We feel that the overwhelming response to our call for entry, both locally and nationally, points to a desire by artists to unify as a community and to put forth our most valuable commodity- our work- to stand up for what we feel is right. Each of the participating artists chose their price points, as well as whether they would donate their work fully or take a standard 50% cut of sale. It was important to us to offer artists this choice. Our partnership with our fiscal sponsor, Strong City Baltimore allowed us to do that.

For people who are interested in purchasing artworks, the silent auction event is such a great opportunity, as much of the work is priced to sell. Artwork can only be bid upon at SpaceCamp during the June 2nd event. After this date and through the final day of the exhibition on June 23, all unsold artworks will be available at both the gallery and online at artistsfortruth.com at a “buy it now” price. The event is free to all, and will feature live music by local funk band Colour Blynd, as well as light fare and beverages donated by several incredibly generous local eateries and breweries- Neopol Savory Smokery, Atwaters, Ceriellos Fine Foods, Pure Chocolate by Jinji, Peabody Heights Brewery, Flying Dog Brewery, and National Bohemian.

Amy Eva Raehse: Also featured as part of the exhibition is a wall mural created by Megan Lewis, a stencil collaboration by Marcus Civin and Melissa Webb, and an edition of Artists for Truth prints created by illustrator Alex Fine.

Lillian Hoover: What do we hope to gain? Well, we’re hoping the auction will raise a lot of money for the four beneficiary organizations! We also hope to draw attention to the work these groups are already doing. And of course, the programming events have all been carefully designed to educate, foster important dialogue, and facilitate the building of community.

AFT organizer Amy Raehse

Tell me about the additional programming happening around the exhibit?

Emily Soontornsaratool: Artists for Truth will host free workshops, training sessions, panel discussions and a visioning session, all while the benefit exhibition is up at SpaceCamp Gallery. In addition to raising funds, we’re also committed to fostering dialogue around “truth” and our rights to access, share, and communicate truthful information. We’ll be hosting a CryptoParty which is a digital self-defense workshop on how to protect yourself online; a training session on identifying Fake News, led by Enoch Pratt Free Library; a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon led by Art and Feminism and a Know Your Rights training led by Baltimore Action Legal Team.

Panel discussions on June 17 moderated by Dr. Jared Ball will explore the rise of fake news and ramifications of living in a post-truth society. Those discussions will include a really diverse and interdisciplinary group of people who can speak about these issues from perspectives in journalism, librarianship, psychology, activism, law, health, and the arts. I think what is most interesting is how we’re bringing folks from all different sides of these issues to come together in a dialogue.

Amy Eva Raehse: The Deutsch Foundation also generously agreed to support these programming efforts.

After the show is done, will the group continue to operate? How do you see this organization in the future??

Lillian Hoover: We do see this as the beginning of something, not as a one-off event. The overwhelming response to the AfT call for entries illuminates the depth of the Baltimore art community’s belief that everyone must defend the rights and access upon which a democratic society is built. So many people have come together around this project–our community clearly recognizes that, like folks in other fields, artists can participate in the creation and protection of a society that values truth.

Donating our time, money, and artwork for this is one way artists can create the society we want, but there are so many ways we can mobilize as a community. On June 23, we’ll hold a visioning session in the gallery to mark the exhibition’s end and begin talking about what’s next. Any and all community members with an interest in our mission are welcome to participate! Please come and offer your thoughts, skills, and time!

A Preview Selection of 10 Available Works in the Artists for Truth Exhibition and Auction:

 

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For more information about Artists for Truth and our beneficiary organizations, and to pre-register or volunteer for the June 2nd auction event, find details about AfT programming, or to donate to our beneficiaries, please visit artistsfortruth.com. After the June 2nd auction, artworks will also be available on our website at a buy it now price.

Artists for Truth is made possible by the generous support of The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, individual donors, in-kind sponsors, volunteers, and many members of our local and national art community. Special thanks to Strong City Baltimore  for serving as fiscal sponsor for Artists for Truth, and to SpaceCamp Gallery for hosting us this summer.

 

Author Cara Ober is founding editor at BmoreArt.

All images courtesy of Artists for Truth.

Full disclosure: The author of this article donated two works to the Artist for Truth Auction and Exhibit.