Arts Magazine: Art of Democracy

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

The Art of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion

For nearly thirty years the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) has brought the voice of the living artist into the encyclopedic museum that is the Minneapolis Institute if Arts. Through their collective action, the artists of this time and place have co-created this curatorial department that is run by and for artists. Since the Program’s inception the artists who are MAEP have maintained their commitment to its democratic principles and process and have expressly worked to maintain a venue not inhibited by curatorial fashion or commercial demand.

The trajectory of the MAEP is set over and over again by the artists who attend the program’s Annual Meeting, who run for election on the board, who serve on the artist panel to select its exhibitions, and who exhibit their work. No one is appointed. No one person or group can direct its outcome. Since 1975 the MAEP has produced and presented 155 exhibitions of contemporary art.

Many artists who participate with the MAEP are occupied with the context of their art and feel strongly about the social and political responsibility of the artist. Artists who create site specific work respond to the architectural context of their installations-- the spatial flow, the gallery walls, the height of the ceilings, the dynamics of light -- for these artists, the gallery is part of the art. Many artists believe that for contemporary art to be relevant, it needs to be socially or politically engaged with the world. Some believe that art holds up a mirror to our lives. Indeed there is much to be done to make the world a better place. If we can face the truth about what has gone awry, there is a chance for restoration or healing.

There is a long and strong tradition of social and political commentary in the visual arts. The graphic properties of printmaking dramatized even the simplest of drawings and its distribution potential has made it a political tool for centuries. Today’s Internet parallels the revolutionary power of those early presses in its ability to deliver images and information to a massive public. In both cases, vast amounts of information are available to everyone.

While political action is most often associated with populist traditions, many wonderful artists have made important, singular works that cry out against the suffering of oppressed peoples or the tyranny of one government or people against another - Picasso’s “Guirnica,” being one such example An art image can be a very effective tool of persuasion which is why many oppressive regimes have sought to destroy, suppress, or control them.

The concept for the exhibition”The Art of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion” evolved out of a series of conversations between the 2002-2003 MAEP Artist Panel (Jan Elftmann, Clea Felien, Bill Gorcica, Alexa Horochowski, Jimmy Longoria, Douglas Padilla, Barbara Thill-Anderson) and the MAEP staff (Karen Paraday, Cynde Randall, and Stewart Turnquist) about contemporary politics and the current state of American democracy. The conversations began with the commencement of the war in Iraq. The topics discussed over the months that followed included concern about who is in control of the “news”, a perception that many American’s are not participating with the democratic process, that our response to terrorism has diminished the personal liberties of many Americans. The Panel observed that many people feel powerless to affect change in their government or to solve the fundamental problems in their communities.

The Panel became interested in providing an opportunity for artists to speak out by hosting an open call for Minnesota artists (you are an artist if you call yourself an artist) to express their political opinions through original works of art, in an exhibition coinciding with the 2004 Presidential Election. The exhibition titled “The Art of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion” (dates of show) is intended to stimulate freedom of expression and to serve as a venue for a multitude of opinions not only about the presidential election, but any observations of social or political urgency. What is the work to be done? What do we need to do to make our neighborhood, city, state, nation, world a better place? What are the calls to action that could make the difference? The MAEP Artist Panel invites all artists in the state to consider these and other questions of the day and share their views in this ever changing, exhibition of diverse points of view.

The exhibit’s call-for-entries will specify formats for political ephemeral including lawn signs, posters, bumper stickers, T-shirts, flyers, magnets, pins and infomercials. Artists will be invited to submit one original work of art weekly for the run of the exhibit, which will morph as new work is installed. Artists will be encouraged to make multiples of the work and to distribute the rest in their communities. MAEP’S artist panel hopes that this exhibition opportunity will enliven the discourse surrounding myriad issues, making possible new awareness and new relationships. Together we really can make a difference. (For more about how to participate with “The Art of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion”visit

Cynde Randall is an artist and Program Associate for The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) a curatorial department of the MIA made possible by gfenerous support of the Jerome Foundation.