Category: Art Activism

OCCUPY SOTHEBY’S

Occupy Wall Street protesters held a boisterous demonstration in front of Sotheby’s New York headquarters on the evening of Nov. 9, 2011 as the auction house conducted its biggest sale of contemporary art in three years. More than 100 protesters chanting “Art for the masses, not the ruling classes!” and “They say cut back, we say fight back”, confronted well-to-do art collectors as they disembarked from their limousines. Escorted into the auction house by New York City policemen and Sotheby’s security staff, the wealthy clients participated in frenzied bidding that fetched the auction house $315.8 million.

In its coverage of the demonstration Businessweek quoted Richard Feigen, a New York art dealer who attended the Sotheby’s auction, “It demonstrates the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. You see people demonstrating out there, people are out of jobs and their houses. And people in here are dumping millions into art.”

The protest was organized by Occupy Wall Street activists and forty three union art handlers employed by Sotheby’s but locked out by the auction house since July 29, 2011 over a labor contract dispute. Sotheby’s is demanding the replacement of several of its skilled full-time handlers with temporary non-union workers who will work shortened 36-hour work weeks without benefits. The company also insists that worker’s give up their 401k plan. When contract negotiations stalled, Sotheby’s locked its art handlers out. While Sotheby’s refuses to pay its art handlers a decent wage, The Art Newspaper reported on May 2011 that Sotheby’s CEO, William Ruprecht, was awarded $6 million in compensation for fiscal year 2010 (up from $2.4 million in 2009). All told, executive pay increases for Sotheby’s top five CEOs came to $15.3 million, a 125% increase from 2009. Sotheby’s profits for fiscal year 2010 were over $680 million.

As the affluent were ushered into Sotheby’s auction by the police, locked out art handlers carried aloft a huge inflatable rat and an inflatable “fat cat” strangling a worker. While Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted “Shame!”, a brass band blared in the streets as demonstrators blocked the entrance to Sotheby’s with a sit-in action; several activists chained themselves together. Police swooped in and dragged the protesters from the entrance, making 8 arrests. One of those being arrested said, “I am here because Sotheby’s is the 1%, their CEO makes sixty thousand dollars a day, but apparently they can’t keep their union workers employed.”

At the auction a quartet of abstract paintings by the now deceased American painter, Clyfford Still (1933-1980), went for $114 million, twice their asking price. One of Still’s abstract canvases, 1949-A-No. 1, sold for $61.6 million. In the mid-1930s Still painted figurative realist works influenced by the American Scene school, but by the late 1940s he turned to abstract expressionism. Describing his having embraced abstraction, he once said; “Our age, it is of science, of mechanism, of power and death. I see no virtue in adding to its mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage.” By the 1950s Still was disillusioned with the art world, severing ties with galleries and even turning down an invitation to exhibit works at the 1957 Venice Biennale. He continued to make art until his death, but sold little and exhibited even less.

One can only imagine what Still would say about his paintings selling for tens of millions at Sotheby’s during the most severe economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

Nagasaki Nightmare

“They’re always there high in the skies
Pretty as a picture in the generals’ eyes
They’ve done it once, and they’ll do it again
They’ll shower us all in their deadly rain.”
- Nagasaki Nightmare. Crass.

August 6, 2011 marks the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. detonated an Atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima at 8:15 in the morning. Three days later a second bomb was exploded over the city of Nagasaki at 11:02 in the morning. The Americans called their bombs “Little Boy” (Hiroshima) and “Fat Man” (Nagasaki); the Japanese simply called them Pikadon, meaning “Flash-boom.”

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

In the early 1990’s I put together on online gallery of art created by Hibakusha (Japanese for “Atom Bomb Survivor”).

The artworks that comprise the gallery were placed in my hands by Japanese peace activists in 1984 through the good graces of now deceased Quaker peace activist Barbara Reynolds. The two illustrations to this article can also be found in the gallery; the artworks are by Iri and Toshi Maruki, who created the Hiroshima panels, a massive mural project with the atomic bombings of Japan as their subject.

After looking at the hibakusha paintings, artworks created by those who survived the first, and hopefully last atomic holocaust, there is little else that can be said about this most unhappy anniversary. It is shameful that governments still posses, or seek to posses, such weapons of mass murder and terror; it is doubly appalling that the people of Japan must now suffer through the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown disaster. Even as the tragic events continue to unfold in Japan, President Obama presses ahead with his irresponsible plans to construct additional nuclear power plants in the United States. He has set aside $36 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power-plants in the U.S., and has also allocated $185 billion to “maintain and modernize” the U.S. atomic stockpile.

In 1979, Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), organized a series of “No Nukes” concerts in New York. Their concert at Manhattan’s Battery Park City landfill drew over 200,000 people. Musicians Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Gil Scott-Heron, Tom Petty, and many other notables were involved. No Nukes, a film that documented the concert series, was released in 1980. On August 7, 2011, MUSE will hold a benefit reunion concert of sorts, starring many of the veteran musicians from the ‘79 concerts, but also including new performers like Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, and Jason Mraz. The concert, to be held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, will also be shown in a live video broadcast.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

Despite the undeniable contributions made by the aforementioned entertainers, it is the U.K. anarchist punk band Crass that set the standard - at least for this writer - for having created the most profound of all anti-atomic bomb songs, Nagasaki Nightmare.

The song was released just a year after the No Nukes concerts, but the piece of music was worlds apart in terms of aesthetics and attitude. In fact to this day most listeners will probably regard Crass’ opus as nothing more than irritating noise, however, as an avant-garde arrangement I regard it as perfect in every respect.

Having been a participant in the early L.A. punk movement, I still contend that punk from the late 1970s and early 1980s was on equal par to the best protest music of the 1960s, or any other period for that matter, and Crass’ doleful ode to the horrors of nuclear war and the bloodlust of national leaders is a perfect example of the punk aesthetic.

Crass released Nagasaki Nightmare as their second 45 single in August of 1980, and despite receiving absolutely no radio airplay, the record quickly reached the number one spot on the U.K. indie singles chart. The record was entirely self-produced and distributed by the band, and packaged in a marvelous wraparound sleeve with artwork by Gee Vaucher. The single also included a small silk-screen cloth patch printed with the Japanese kanji for “anti-war”, it is a patch I proudly wore pinned to my leather jacket for many years - I still have it in my possession.

Nagasaki Nightmare begins with the gentle sound of a traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute made of bamboo. The composition ends with the sound of a Japanese Buddhist Temple Gong being gently rung over and over; in the context of the overall piece of music it is the saddest sound imaginable, a bidding of farewell to tens of thousands who perished in atomic fire. What takes place between the opening and closing of the arrangement almost defies description; layers of spoken word and frenzied, panic-stricken vocals - a melodic high range female voice spouting poetic lyrics juxtaposed against a raspy male voice barking the refrain “Nagasaki Nightmare”; a relentless primitive base guitar line reminiscent of the patter of falling rain - only here I speak of radioactive black rain.

Midpoint in the song everything falls apart, the vocals become incoherent babbling; the utterances of a deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland, the frenetic guitar riffs and crashing drums evoking the flash of a nuclear explosion. Somehow the band managed to capture all of the terror of atomic warfare, as much as anyone could in a piece of music. To my knowledge no one has done this before or since - no one has even tried.

You can hear Nagasaki Nightmare on YouTube, where the lyrics can also be read. The song is also presented on the group’s “Best Before” compilation album, obtainable on iTunes.

An Exorcism at Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern, July 18, 2011. Screen shot from the You and I Films video - see below.

On July 5, 2011, I received word from Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah that he was taking his flock to London in order to “lay hands on the Tate Modern, and cast out the evil demon of BP’s oil sponsorship.” The good Reverend had been invited to the U.K. by activists groups Liberate Tate, UK Tar Sands Network, Rising Tide, Art Not Oil and Climate Rush, and he was scheduled to exorcise the Tate Modern on July 18th.

On July 16, BP announced yet another pipeline leak at its Lisburne oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope.

BP’s ruptured pipeline spilled some 4,200 gallons of crude oil, methanol, and water onto approximately 2,000 square feet of tundra. BP’s latest Alaskan oil spill only added a sense of urgency to Reverend Billy’s church service at the Tate. Of course, BP funds the Tate, but the oil giant also funds The British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Royal Opera House - not to mention the largest museum in my city, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Washed in the blood of the earth.

On Monday July 18, Reverend Billy and & The Earthalujah congregation began their 5:30 service at the Tate’s immense turbine hall.

As the faithful gathered in the museum vestibule, the good Reverend began to preach his fire and brimstone message, capturing the attention of hundreds of bewildered tourists and museum goers. As Reverend Billy’s Stop Shopping Gospel Choir sang songs of praise and parishioners cried out “Amen!” and “Earthalujah!”, Reverend Billy began to sermonize:

“Brothers and sisters, a dark beast lurks within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions. While good-hearted, god-fearing, gallery goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse!

Each and every one of us is a sinner! We let this happen to a great institution! British Petroleum, destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico, and Tar Sands over in Canada, and so much else around the world, cannot be sponsoring the Miró exhibit!

At this point the Reverend got down on his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens in supplication, and called out, “Wash Me!”, “Anoint me!”. Green robed members of his gospel choir stepped forward to pour what looked like oil over the Reverend’s head and body as he shouted out, “BP money is the Devil!” The theatrical anointing was followed by an even more histrionic exorcism. The Reverend and his congregation moved towards a BP logo emblazed on the museum’s wall, wailing, moaning, and speaking in tongues. The Reverend shouted out, “Each of us must make a decision - to exorcise British Petroleum from this place!”, then laid his hands upon the BP logo, finally pressing his entire oil soaked body onto the BP emblem, smearing oil over the wall and the insignia. Afterwards the entire congregation left the museum triumphantly singing “Earthalujah”.

A short rally was held outside the museum, where Reverend Billy made the following statement, “Art is a way for us to teach ourselves to see more, to see the visions held within things, to remember more, to imagine more, to become more sensitive to the world around us. Not the opposite. We have a responsibility here - this fossil fuel economy must end!”

An end to oil company sponsorship of the arts

In marking the one year anniversary of the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I signed a letter of protest along with 165 other arts professionals and activists that appeared in the Guardian on April 20, 2011. Titled Tate should end its relationship with BP, the letter calls on the Tate Gallery of London “to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP.”

The letter reads in part:

“In the year since their catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP have massively ramped up their investment in controversial tar sands extraction in Canada, have shown to be a key backer of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and have attempted to commence drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. While BP continues to jeopardize ecosystems, communities and the climate by the reckless pursuit of ‘frontier’ oil, cultural institutions like Tate damage their reputation by continuing to be associated with such a destructive corporation.”

Signatories to the letter include the likes of writer and art critic Lucy R. Lippard, painter John Keane, artist and Stuckist co-founder Charles Thomson, artist Billy Childish, and many others. Anti-corporate globalization activist and author of The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, was also a signatory.

While directed at the Tate, the Guardian letter by implication calls upon all art institutions to end their partnerships with BP specifically and with oil companies in general. I first began writing about the relationship between BP and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2007. The Director of LACMA, Michael Govan, had just accepted a $25 million “gift” from BP, monies the museum would use in part to build a new entry gate, the ill-named “BP Grand Entrance”. That first muckraking article was followed by a multitude of other commentaries and critical essays that further exposed the saga of BP and LACMA; by the look of things this current post will not be my last entry on the matter.

Since the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico exactly one year ago, much has been learned about the oil company’s affairs. PLATFORM brought to light the oil giant’s close relationship with former dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, now under investigation for ordering the murder of hundreds of protestors during the three-week long pro-democracy uprising that toppled his regime. Last February I wrote about the collaboration between BP and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi - a friendly and quite lucrative business relationship that culminated in a deal worth billions. On April 16, 2011, Al Jazeera published an in-depth report by independent U.S. journalist Dahr Jamail. His BP anniversary: Toxicity, suffering and death is about as excoriating an account of corporate and government irresponsibility likely to be found.

On April 19, 2011, The Independent published Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq, a timely report that verifies the U.K. government was holding meetings with BP, Shell and BG (British Gas), on “post regime change” opportunities for oil exploitation - a year before the war on Iraq began. Minutes from one Nov. 2002 government meeting with BP noted; “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.” At another meeting held in Oct. 2002, the government’s Foreign Office Middle East director noted, “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in Iraq for the sake of their long-term future. We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.” Indeed, after the war, BP was awarded 20-year contracts on some of the largest of Iraq’s oil fields containing upwards of 60 billion barrels of oil.

Here the reader should be reminded that in a 2007 interview in the Los Angeles Times, LACMA Director Michael Govan offered a truly laughable justification for taking BP’s millions - he cited the oil giant’s “commitment to sustainable energy.” Since then Mr. Govan has fallen silent regarding the matter of BP sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. One must ask why in all these years the Los Angeles Times has published only a single article that questions the wisdom of LACMA taking money from BP. Art critic Christopher Knight offered a mild rebuke of Govan in his May 18, 2010 article, BP Grand Entrance at LACMA looking not-quite-so-grand, but the article was hardly an in-depth critique that offered solid details on BP’s terrible record.

A protestor from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, stages an intervention titled "Human Cost" at the Tate Britain on Wednesday April 20, 2011. Photo: anonymous.

A protestor from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, stages an intervention titled "Human Cost" at the Tate Britain on April 20, 2011. Photo: anonymous.

Also occurring on the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, artists from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, staged an intervention they titled “Human Cost” at the Tate Britain.

On Wednesday April 20, 2011, a number of silent figures peacefully entered Duveens Hall of the Tate where the exhibit Single Form: The Body in Sculpture from Rodin to Hepworth was on display; the exhibit is part of a series of “BP British Art Displays” staged throughout the Tate.

A nude member of the Liberate Tate group assumed a fetal position on the floor in the middle of the room, while veiled comrades dressed in black poured what appeared to be oil over him from containers emblazoned with BP logos (the substance was actually ground charcoal and sunflower oil).

The motionless naked man, slick with viscous black goo, looked as if he were trapped in the globs of crude oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico by BP exactly one year ago. Eventually museum security directed  museum goers out of the room, placing a screen around the area to hide the action from public view. In due course the protestors left the museum and a clean-up crew dealt with the aftermath. To my knowledge there were no arrests. England’s Channel 4 also broadcast coverage of the event.

Sandra Paige, a participant in the intervention/performance, said the following about her group’s action; “It’s astonishing that Nick Serota and other Tate executives can be so blind to the horrific social and environmental impacts that BP is responsible for around the world. From the destruction of fisher folks’ livelihoods in the Gulf of Mexico, to the indigenous communities in Canada fearing for their very survival – the human cost of BP’s oil extraction is staggering.”

Terry Taylor of the Liberate Tate group said of the April 20 intervention; “Many important cultural institutions have been the victim of the government’s cuts in arts funding recently. The fact that many organizations will be actively looking for new funding means that the debate around the ethics of corporate sponsorship is more important than ever. Oil companies like BP are responsible for environmental and social controversy all over the world, and we can’t let their sponsorship of institutions like Tate detract from that fact.”

Flash mob "Sleep-In" protestors occupying the Tate Modern on Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

Flash mob "Sleep-In" protestors occupying the Tate Modern on April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

April 20 was the culmination of a BP Week Of Action called by U.K. groups Liberate Tate, Art Not Oil, Climate Camp London, UK Tar Sands Network, Climate Rush, Indigenous Environmental Network, and London Rising Tide. Under the slogan of “BP and culture: time to break it off”, the groups held a number of public campaigns, the most amusing of which was an April 17 mass flash mob occupation and sleep-in at the Tate Modern, where some 100 protestors with BP-branded blankets, pillows, pajamas, teddy bears, and alarm clocks held a sleep-in among the art works. A video documenting the Great BP Sponsored Tate Modern Sleep In can be viewed on YouTube.

"Sleep-In" protestor at the Tate Modern - Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

"Sleep-In" protestor at the Tate Modern - Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

Gallery visitors were told that BP sponsorship of the arts was “sleep walking us into climate crisis” and “BP’s relationship with this gallery is one of the ways that BP buys our acceptance - it tries to distract us from the crimes against people, from the crimes against the environment, that they are currently conducting around the world. We are here because we believe that sponsorship is part of the massive PR offensive that BP is engaged in all the time.”

In reporting on the April 20 “Human Cost” intervention at Tate Britain, Channel 4’s Matthew Cain said the following; “An over-reliance on corporate funding of any description can lead to a climate of creative caution and conservatism, and at worst, fear.  There’s evidence of this in the US but, although our model of arts funding is slowly moving closer to the American model, so far there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it here.”

Matthew’s comments are certainly stinging, and it pains me that here in the United States - where BP virtually destroyed the Gulf of Mexico - there are no mass protests marking the one year anniversary of America’s largest ecological disaster. This makes the signing of the Guardian protest letter by American artists that much more noteworthy. I am proud to stand with all those calling for an end to oil company sponsorship of the arts. Hopefully the April 20th actions in the UK will be an inspiring preamble to similar events in the United States.

Artists Strike Against The Huffington Post

On February 26, 2011, the publisher and co-editor of Visual Art Source and ArtScene, Bill Lasarow, released an open letter to the arts community entitled, “On Strike from the Huffington Post.” The opinion piece is a call for artists and arts writers to “go on strike” against the Huffington Post over labor and content issues; the call no doubt coming in reaction to media giant AOL purchasing the Huffington Post for $315 million on Feb. 7, 2011. AOL has also given Huffington oversight over all of AOL’s media properties. Specifically Mr. Lasarow calls for two demands to be met by the Huffington Post before the strike can end, that a pay schedule “be proposed and steps initiated to implement it for all contributing writers and bloggers,” and second, that “paid promotional material must no longer be posted alongside editorial content.”

VAS provides a comprehensive guide to galleries and museums in the western U.S. Its associated ArtScene magazine is available in over 450 galleries and museum bookstores in the greater Los Angeles area, an online version providing listings for exhibits along with art criticism. In short, VAS and ArtScene have become a prominent voice in the arts community in the Western U.S., and their stance regarding the Huffington Post is an important one for arts professionals to consider. Since Mr. Lasarow has called for his article to be circulated, I am re-publishing “On Strike from the Huffington Post” in full so as to further debate. I offer my own thoughts and criticisms in closing:

On Strike from the Huffington Post
Visual Art Source / info@visualartsource.com
ArtScene / artscene@artsenecal.com

“When we were invited to become a Huffington Post blogger last year I understood that the company paid nothing. We surveyed our writers’ reaction to assess their willingness to have their material reposted there for no additional pay. Visual Art Source, ArtScene and art ltd. (www.visualartsource.com) form an umbrella art publishing company that is actually quite large by the standards of our very specialized field. The tens of thousands of readers and online users that we boast, however, are miniscule compared to the 26 million visitors per month that the Huffington Post currently draws.

Yet we are now going on strike. For now, at least, no more content from us will appear on the Huffington Post.

And just like the corporate titans of the American Right, it would come as no surprise if Ms. Huffington, whom I am certain has a good heart and only the best intentions, were to assume the obvious position: Who needs these people anyway? They are not even employees.

Nonetheless, we shall remain on strike until these two demands are met. First, a pay schedule must be proposed and steps initiated to implement it for all contributing writers and bloggers. Second, paid promotional material must no longer be posted alongside editorial content; a press release or exhibition catalogue essay is fundamentally different from editorial content and must be either segregated and indicated as such, or not published at all.

I am also calling upon all others now contributing free content, particularly original content to the Huffington Post to also join us in this strike.

We think it is incumbent upon the many writers and bloggers to form a negotiating partnership with Huffington/AOL in order to pursue these and other important matters so as to professionalize this relationship. It is not entirely Ms Huffington’s fault that so many talented professionals have been willing to accept the company’s terms on an “in kind” basis. Surely most do so in the hopes of achieving their own fame and fortune thanks to the great exposure that Huffington Post potentially offers. Unfortunately, such participants are only complicit in a relationship that fails the ethical smell test. And those who are already nationally known figures who will never need to be concerned about pay scales, shame on you, you should know better.

It is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing. It is unethical to cannibalize the investment of other organizations who bear the cost of compensation and other overhead without payment for the usage of their content. It is extremely unethical to not merely blur but eradicate the distinction between the independent and informed voice of news and opinion and the voice of a shill.

None of this is illegal, only unethical and oh so very hypocritical, so Ms Huffington if you insist do carry on, by all means. However we are taking this action, with the full knowledge of our contributing writers and editors, in the belief that your better angels will enable you to do the right thing. We stand ready to provide whatever helpful input we can.

- Bill Lasarow
Publisher and Co-Editor

The special announcement from Visual Art Source/ArtScene is important for a number of reasons. The statement is a necessary break from the usual apolitical stance of arts publications, and it suggests a growing understanding of the intertwined relationship between art and politics, especially during this time of economic crisis, austerity budgets, and war. Bill Lasarow made further comments regarding the proposed strike in the VAS weekly newsletter of Feb. 25th., where he properly targeted the economic exploitation of writers and urged collective action:

“We have decided to call for a strike of the unpaid, non-unionized, and unemployed Huffington Post contributors. Let all writers cease to contribute for now, and until the executives at the Huffington Post negotiate a proper contract with those writers they ought to deny them the profit-generating benefits of unpaid labor.”

I fully support Mr. Lasarow’s position that writers must receive fair compensation for their works, but he does not go far enough with his critique of the Huffington Post/AOL deal. The crucial question of adequate pay for writers and bloggers aside, there is another equally critical issue at stake. Lasarow fails to address the core political question that swirls around AOL’s acquisition of the Huffington Post, that of the marginalization and destruction of independent media by the juggernaut of corporate power.

At present six giant U.S. conglomerates - General Electric, Walt Disney, News Corp., Viacom, CBS, and TimeWarner - control nearly all radio, television, print, cable, and telecom companies in America. AOL belonged to the TimeWarner media empire before spinning off on its own in 2005, nonetheless AOL has erected its own corporate fiefdom which now includes the Huffington Post. As far as its involvement in or sensitivity to art and culture, it should be noted that in 2005 AOL launched TMZ.com, the dreadful celebrity gossip and entertainment “news” website and TV series that epitomizes the type of retrograde commercial “culture” served up to the American people. Why should artists and writers form a “negotiating partnership with Huffington/AOL” or otherwise accommodate themselves to media moguls, who now more than anything, resemble the Robber Barons of the American 19th century?

The Huffington Post became a toxic mix of frivolous celebrity gossip, pop entertainment, fashion, and “lifestyle” amusements, all held together by democratic party politics and a glut of commercial advertisements - and that was before its purchase by AOL! The muddle will only grow worse as AOL implements its “Project Devil” ad placement scheme on its newly acquired acquisition. The large format “Devil” ads will take up a third of a page, and they contain modules for video, images, rotating content, and other distractions. All of this is anathema to serious journalism and social activism, let alone any type of thought-provoking art criticism.

Since its founding in 2005, the ostensibly liberal Huffington Post has been naively regarded by many contributors and readers as a counterbalance to the stranglehold corporations maintain over the U.S. media landscape. Content providers to the Huffington Post have contributed their works for free in the sincere belief they were helping to create an alternative platform for a “progressive” political vision, i.e., they believed they were part of a cause that would help bring about social change. These volunteer workers built the Huffington Post from the ground up, for Ms. Huffington to sell the project to a corporate leviathan clarifies matters, which is why writers and content providers are abandoning the Huffington Post in droves. It is problematic that Bill Lasarow mentions none of this is his call for a strike. Chris Hedges, in his article Huffington’s Plunder, put it this way:

“The argument made to defend this exploitation is that the writers had a choice. It is an argument I also heard made by the managers of sweatshops in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, the coal companies in West Virginia or Kentucky and huge poultry farms in Maine. It is the argument made by the comfortable, by those who do not know what it is to be hard up, desperate or driven by a passion to express one’s self and the world through journalism or art. It is the argument the wealthy elite, who have cemented in place an oligarchic system under which there are no real choices, use to justify their oppression.”

With progressives deserting the Huffington Post over its becoming the very thing they have been working against, it would be the worst kind of opportunism for artists and arts writers to fill the gap left by earnest reformers. Those who continue to write for the AOL/Huffington colossus will no longer be able to feign having a stance that is above politics. Instead of temporarily withholding their labor from the Huffington Post, arts professionals should do so permanently.

To defend and promote non-corporate citizen’s journalism Adbusters has initiated a campaign it calls “Huff & Puff It Down.” Essentially a boycott, the Adbusters drive hopes to “strike a blow against the corporate media and simultaneously energize the indie blogosphere.” Adbusters is encouraging support for a wide array of alternative media sources that are decidedly free of corporate intervention and manipulation.

UPDATE: On March 3, 2011, Arianna Huffington publicly responded to the Visual Art Source strike call at the 2011 PaidContent Conference held in New York City. Speaking from a podium alongside AOL’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong, Huffington contemptuously dismissed the strike with the following words; “The idea of going on strike when no one really notices - go ahead, go on strike.” But people are noticing, and the call for a writer’s strike against the recently acquired AOL property has been duly noted by mainstream publications from the Atlantic Wire to the Los Angeles Times. Bill Lasarow, publisher and co-editor of VAS and ArtScene, was invited to publish an opinion piece in the U.K. Guardian regarding the strike, which exposes the matter to a European audience.

On March 6, 2011, VAS sent out a special announcement regarding the strike. The statement concluded with the following words: “One thing we are starting to do is gather contact information to reach out to as many current Huffington Post bloggers as possible. Please forward names and emails of anyone you know in this area; if you are a current HP contributor and/or want to join in on this, or have already, please let us know.” You may contact VAS at, info@visualartsource.com.

Sotheby’s Orgy Of The Rich Disrupted

Protestors from Arts Against Cuts disrupt Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in London, Feb. 15, 2011.

Protestors from Arts Against Cuts disrupt Sotheby's Contemporary Art auction in London, Feb. 15, 2011.

On February 15, 2011, as the super-wealthy gathered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction in London to sweep-up even more modern art “treasures” for their fetid private collections, reality intervened to burst their illusions.

Just as Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art was taking bids on yet another oh-so-expensive Warhol silk-screen, chaos broke-out in the auction hall as a dozen art activists set off alarms, shouted, screamed, and threw counterfeit money into the air.

Stunned and impassive bidders watched as activists unfurled a red banner near the auctioneer’s podium that read, “Orgy Of The Rich,” and for all too brief a moment the self-possessed world of the oligarchs came to a screeching halt. Before Sotheby’s security had time to forcefully throw them out en masse, the protestors left the auction hall to stage a demonstration with around 100 of their compatriots in the street outside of Sotheby’s.

All of this was staged by the arts activist group, Arts Against Cuts (AAC), which had previously occupied the Tate Gallery on December 6, 2010 in opposition to the massive spending cuts in the arts now being implemented by the British government. At the demonstration outside of Sotheby’s, an AAC spokesperson offered the following statement:

“We are here to expose the orgy of the rich that the Sotheby’s auctions represent. The super rich, bankers and collectors who buy this art exist in an international bubble of their own and don’t seem at all affected by the so-called ‘austerity’ of the government. They commodify creativity and Sotheby’s helps them ferret away their goods by offering creative accounting services such as ‘obtaining conditional exemption.’

Most of these works will end up in the hands of private collectors or used as tax havens, while vital public provisions such as Education and Health Care get the shaft. This evening’s take of 30 million pounds would pay the annual salary of 1,389 new teachers, 1,765 qualified nurses or the budget of 150 libraries for a year.’

We are fighting back against the most aggressive attacks on the public sector in living memory. We are in solidarity with the other sectors fighting against cuts and openly welcome coordinated creative action to oppose the selling off of our public services, the demise of the welfare state, the speculative valuation of art and the orgy of the rich.”

The demonstration in front of Sotheby’s included comedic political performance art, where costumed artists conducted a mock auction that sold off Britain’s public services. Protestors also carried picket signs making fun of Sotheby’s auction while bringing attention to the government raising student fees, cutting education services, and privatizing libraries and the National Health Service. AAC understands that the slashing of arts funding is part and parcel of the wider attacks against Britain’s poor and working class being waged by the reactionary “Con-Dem” coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

The Sotheby’s auction ended up bringing in 44.4 million pounds ($72 million), but the AAC demonstrators and their supporters made their point. The New York Times art critic Souren Melikian commented that “for the first time in British annals, a rowdy demonstration broke out on Tuesday evening inside the main room of one of the two major international auction houses.” The two auction houses Melikian refers to is of course Sotheby’s and Christie’s, which both have major branches in the United States. With President Obama announcing $1 trillion worth of austerity cuts in his 2012 budget proposal - cuts that will devastate arts funding, severely reduce or eliminate vital social programs, and freeze all non-military government spending - only one question remains, when will there be a U.S. chapter of Arts Against Cuts?

Download Egypt Freedom Poster

"Freedom" 8.5 x 11 inch full color poster published in Arabic, Spanish, and English.

"Freedom" Mark Vallen. 2011. Digital poster published in Arabic, Spanish, and English.

FREEDOM - 8.5 X 11 inch full color poster
Download a copy of the poster here (a .PDF file at 350 dpi resolution).

Along with people all over the world, I have been profoundly inspired by the heroic Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy against the 30-year old U.S. backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. As an expression of solidarity I created a digital artwork titled “Freedom,” so named because the word appears in my graphic in Arabic, Spanish, and English; my creation is dedicated to the people of Egypt, with hopes that their democratic aspirations will soon be realized.

I have published my artwork as a flyer-sized broadside meant to be distributed internationally. I invite one and all to download and print a free copy of my 8.5 x 11 inch full color artwork, which I hope will be used to advance the movement for true freedom and democracy. Please disseminate this artwork widely in the “not for profit” spirit in which it is offered.

I released my artwork on February 10, 2011, the very day Mubarak announced his refusal to resign. The hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Liberation Square reacted to Mubarak’s pronouncement with furious chants of “The people demand the fall of the regime!” Just prior to the dictator’s address, President Obama declared that “America will continue to do everything that we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy in Egypt.” Clearly, it is time for President Obama to cut all U.S. military aid to the criminal Mubarak cabal.

My initial intention was to create my artwork as an oil painting on canvas, but this traditional way of working is laborious and slow, whereas events in Egypt have been moving at breakneck speed. I decided on producing a drawing using Photoshop with a digital drawing tablet equipped with a pressure sensitive pen. This allowed me to work quickly, and the software combination allowed me to replicate the look of actual brushes loaded with paint.

My Tribute to Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan would have turned 100 on Sunday, February 6, 2011, and many U.S. citizens are celebrating this centenary from coast to coast with frenzied idolization, praise, and adulation for the “Great Communicator.”

As my beloved country undergoes another bout of historical amnesia that is every bit as debilitating as the Alzheimer’s disease our acclaimed 40th President was known to have suffered from, a comforting blanket of forgetfulness descends upon the land. As Reagan himself affirmed in 1988, “facts are stupid things,” but oh what the passage of time and a little bit of corporate propaganda can do to wipe away silly truths. Memories of Reagan supporting the rightist lunatic Generalissimos and terrorist death squads of Central America have been banished. Likewise, all recollections of his financing, training, and arming Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan have been forgotten; so too his support of the white minority racist regime in South Africa. All unhappy episodes from the B-actor’s mediocre career have been erased, and America is once again stuck in “Re-Ron” mode.

Lending a helping hand to relieve us of historic recall, is none other than that newly celebrated orator, President Obama. A day before his 2011 State of the Union address, Mr. Obama published an op-ed piece in USA Today that praised “the sense of confidence and optimism President Reagan never failed to communicate to the American people (….) He understood that it is always ‘Morning in America.’ That was his gift, and we remain forever grateful.” Who can resist our Nobel Laureate President’s inducement to fall into deep, unwakeable slumber? Certainly not America’s feeble liberal class, now falling all over itself in order to sound “Reaganesque.”

It is difficult to avoid being caught up in the hero-worship surrounding Ronald Reagan, and I feel compelled to deepen the national exaltation of the “The Gipper” with my own burnt offerings. But I must warn you dear reader, my version of the Reagan chronicles might seem decidedly heretical. My alternate take on his saga is here conveyed through the graphics I created during his time in office. Mind you, the images I have selected for this article are but a smattering of the anti-Reagan artworks I created during his ignoble reign, yet they help provide a more complete picture of the period, for the so-called “Teflon President” faced broad, implacable, and widespread opposition to his backward-looking and retrograde policies.

Nuclear Cowboy - Mark Vallen 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 14 inches.

"Nuclear Cowboy" - Mark Vallen 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 14 inches.

My intentionally crude Xerox photomontage, Nuclear Cowboy, was used as the central image for a flyer that announced a mass protest against President Reagan at a $1,000 dollar a plate fundraising dinner for the G.O.P. at the L.A. Century Plaza Hotel, August 22, 1985.

The text outside of the image running up the left-side of the flyer reads, “There will be a soup-line for those who cannot attend the G.O.P. dinner.”

The protest was organized and sponsored by a variety of organizations, from the Alliance For Survival and the Coalition For A Free South Africa, to Jews United For Peace & Justice and the Committee In Solidarity With The People of El Salvador (CISPES). Reagan addressed the fundraiser, and the demonstration was attended by approximately 10,000 protestors, making it one of the major rallies against the policies of Reagan to be held in Los Angeles during the 1980s.

Just two months prior to the protest, Reagan escalated his illegal and unilateral war against Nicaragua by declaring a crippling economic embargo against the Central American nation, accusing its leftist Sandinista government of backing “armed insurrection, terrorism, and subversion in neighboring countries.” Reagan declared his embargo after the U.S. Congress had rejected his request for tens of millions of dollars for the “Contra” guerrillas the White House had organized, financed, armed, and directed in military attacks against Nicaragua.

Soldier Of Fortune - Mark Vallen. 1985. Photomontage. 8.5 x 11 inches.

"Soldier Of Fortune" - Mark Vallen. 1985. Photomontage. 8.5 x 11 inches.

Soldier Of Fortune was my parody photomontage flyer lambasting the militaristic policies of the Reagan administration. I altered a cover of the rightwing magazine, Soldier of Fortune (an extreme rightist publication in the U.S. that openly recruited American mercenaries in the early 80s to fight in South Africa, Afghanistan, and Central America), inserting a photomontage of Reagan as the supreme mercenary commando, along with some tantalizingly jingoistic headlines. The tagline of “Shock Battalion” appearing at the bottom of the photomontage was the name of an arts collective I founded in the 1980s that primarily unleashed anonymous creative acts. The flyer was published as a color Xerox print.

“America Wins! Raiders of Grenada,” was a reference to Reagan’s 1983 military invasion of the island nation of Grenada, which was viewed by the world community as a flagrant violation of international law. The invasion was a classic example of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean, and the assault was roundly condemned by the United Nations General Assembly, not to mention U.S. allies Canada and the United Kingdom. Reagan’s invasion of Grenada was the first major U.S. military action since the Vietnam war, and many were convinced Reagan would invade Nicaragua next - hence the headline in my parody, “Nicaragua Next: Shooting the Sandinistas, Our New National Pastime.” Also included as a headline was Reagan’s infamous “joke” about nuking the Soviet Union, “The Bombing Begins In Five Minutes.”

While campaigning for re-election in 1984, Reagan let slip his “witticism” to radio technicians while preparing for his weekly Saturday address on National Public Radio. The Commando in Chief’s quip went as follows; “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” The recorded jibe was leaked and people around the world were naturally horrified. The Soviet Red Army was actually placed on high alert after hearing of the crack-pot remark. The joke soon found its way onto flyers, posters, and protest signs around the globe. Musicians Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Bootsy Collins (Parliament-Funkadelic) sampled Reagan’s sinister comment, turning it into a 1984 hit dance record titled Five Minutes.  Harrison and Collins released their record under the name “Bonzo goes to Washington,” a reference to Reagan’s starring role in the 1951 B-movie, Bedtime for Bonzo.

"Divest Now!" - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

"Divest Now!" - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

Divest Now! was a flyer I created in 1985 for the anti-apartheid student movement then active on the campus of UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

At the time students throughout California were engaged in an aggressive campaign to force the UC system to “divest,” i.e., to withdraw the huge financial investments made in the apartheid regime of South Africa.

The UC Regents supported apartheid by investing 30% of the UC system’s portfolio in corporations and financial institutions that conducted $1.7 billion worth of business transactions with South Africa.

Through unrelenting militant struggle the students eventually forced the UC system to divest their holdings in South Africa, helping to pave the way for the total collapse of the rotten apartheid regime.

My flyer announced an “Evening of Cultural Resistance” in celebration of the student occupation of the UCLA administration building, a takeover that demanded divestment, the release of Nelson Mandela, and an end to all U.S. military and financial support to the racist South African regime. The event took place in “Mandela City,” a tent encampment students had illegally set-up adjacent to the administration building. During that evening’s staging in front of a hundred striking students, I performed a multi-projection antiwar slide show, and singer-songwriter Carole King dropped in unannounced to lend her support and sing a few songs. The performer listed as “Hollywatts,” would in the future go on to use his real name, Roger Guenveur Smith, appearing in several productions by Director Spike Lee.

It must be noted that L.A. student opposition to UC investment in apartheid was also part of the broader national and international refusal to accept Reagan’s support of the criminal South African regime. Reagan maintained a very friendly relationship with that government, considering it an ally in his fanatical crusade against “communism.” The Reagan administration viewed Nelson Mandela’s ANC (African National Congress) as a “terrorist” organization under the influence of the Soviet Union, and Reagan himself vetoed a congressional bill to impose economic sanctions against the government of South Africa.

We Abhor Apartheid - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

"We Abhor Apartheid" - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

We Abhor Apartheid was another street flyer I created in 1985 as a satirical barb aimed at Reagan’s policy of propping up the South African racists.

I self-published five thousand copies of this flyer, all of which were distributed throughout Los Angeles.

By depicting Reagan in the company of other well known “opponents” of racism, the mocking image made fun of Reagan’s hypocritical avowal “that apartheid is very repugnant to us.”

In a 1985 radio interview with WSB Radio of Atlanta, Georgia, Reagan said the regime in South Africa had “eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country, the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated, that has all been eliminated.” That was of course a bald-faced lie. In the same interview the “Great Communicator” went on to sound off about South Africa, “I have to say that for us to believe the Soviet Union is not, in its usual style, stirring up the pot and waiting in the wings for whatever advantage they can take, we’d be very innocent, naive, if we didn’t believe that they’re there.”

 March & Rally/Marcha y Mitin - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset poster on newsprint. 13.5 x 22 inches.

"March & Rally/Marcha y Mitin - Mark Vallen. 1985. Offset poster on newsprint. 13.5 x 22 inches. Poster announcing a mass antiwar demonstration in downtown Los Angeles.

March & Rally/Marcha y Mitin, was a drawing I created for the “April 20 Coalition.” In opposition to the reactionary policies of Reagan, the national protest group organized mass demonstrations in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles that took place on April 20, 1985. My commissioned pencil drawing reflected the central demands of the protest; no U.S. intervention in Central America, an end to the arms race, and stopping U.S. support for the racist regime in South Africa. My drawing was published as a bilingual pull-out poster in the L.A. Coalition’s broadsheet newspaper, of which some 10,000 copies were published. Thousands of copies of this poster were circulated in L.A., with many appearing on city walls.

The signs depicted in my drawing were accurate representations of placards and posters carried by protestors at the time, some of which I had designed myself, such as the silkscreen posters “No Más Guerra,” and “Solidaridad con el Pueblo de Guatemala.” As a historical/political time capsule, the most astonishing facet of my poster has to do with the left opposition’s call for a liberated South Africa. The African American portrayed in my drawing of course carries a sign that reads, “Free South Africa - End Racism,” but he also wears a set of buttons that read; “Free Mandela,” “Smash Apartheid,” and “Forward Ever, Backwards Never.” That the Reagan administration opposed Nelson Mandela and instead supported the racist jailers of the apartheid regime, is everything one need know about Reagan and his henchmen. Assisting the victory of South Africa’s freedom struggle was one of the U.S. left’s greatest achievements; the objective of stopping militarism and building a just society has yet to be fully realized.

Stop The War In Central America - Mark Vallen. 1986. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

"Stop The War In Central America" - Mark Vallen. 1986. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 11 inches.

Stop The War in Central America was originally a large pencil drawing I created in 1986 to express my opposition to Reagan’s policy of military intervention in Central America. The focal point in the artwork are three skeletal figures inspired by the Dia de los Muertos drawings of the great Mexican artist, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), only my skeletons represent the Escuadrones de la Muerte (Squadrons of Death) unleashed by Reagan in the nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua. They are clothed in U.S. supplied military uniforms that have dollar signs as their camouflage pattern. Clutching U.S. supplied M-16 automatic rifles in their decomposing hands, they move threateningly towards the viewer. In the wake of the deathly trio one can see the graveyards of countless victims, the skyline blackened with acrid smoke and bomb-blasts. I published this unsettling image as a flyer and a poster.

The flyer announced a mass demonstration scheduled to take place in downtown Los Angeles on November 1, 1986, and 5,000 copies of my self-published flyer were distributed throughout L.A. I simultaneously printed a 22.5 x 28 inch poster of the drawing that did not include the text announcing the rally; that poster had a run of 1,000. Around 20,000 people ultimately participated in the Nov. 1 mass protest. That same month, a U.S. military cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua killing the three U.S. mercenaries serving as its crew. One “merc,” Eugene Hasenfus, survived the crash and was captured in the jungle by the Sandinistas. The plane was on a covert U.S. operation delivering weapons to the anti-Sandinista “Contra” guerrillas, military aid that the U.S. Congress had expressly forbidden in the 1982 Boland Amendment.

No Aid For Contra Terror - Mark Vallen 1986. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 14 inches. Flyer based on the artist's original silkscreen print.

"No Aid For Contra Terror" - Mark Vallen 1986. Offset flyer. 8.5 x 14 inches. Flyer based on the artist's original silkscreen print.

My silkscreen image, No Aid For Contra Terror, was also created in April of 1986. Around 200 of the 18.5 x 22.5 inch posters were printed and distributed across Los Angeles.

I reduced the artwork, combined it with text announcing a mass anti-war demonstration on the Westside of L.A. on April 5, 1986, and published five thousand 8.5 x 14 inch flyers for citywide distribution; some 5,000 people participated in the protest.

Reagan, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA, insisted they had nothing to do with the arms supply to the Contras exposed by the shooting down of the cargo plane over Nicaragua - but the incident started the unraveling of what would become known as the “Iran-Contra Affair,” or “Contra-Gate.” The scandal involved the Reagan administration selling sophisticated weapons to the Islamic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, which was subject to a U.S. arms embargo, then using the profits from the sales to fund the Nicaraguan “Contra” army, an undertaking forbidden by the U.S. Congress. Reagan denied having any knowledge concerning the secret arms deal with Iran or the illegal arming of the Contras, a denial that allowed for only one of two possibilities; Reagan willfully acted in contravention of U.S. law, or he was totally inept in his duties as President of the United States. Several members of the Reagan White House that were involved in Iran-Contra were charged and convicted of breaking the law, but their convictions were either vacated on appeal, or later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

U.S. Out Of Central America - Mark Vallen 1986. Photomontage offset flyer. 4 x 6.5 inches.

"U.S. Out Of Central America" - Mark Vallen 1986. Photomontage offset flyer. 4 x 6.5 inches.

U.S. Out Of Central America was a small, 4 x 6.5 inch flyer I designed announcing an anti-war demonstration scheduled to take place on March 24, 1986 in downtown Los Angeles.

The crude “ripped and torn” aesthetic of punk was most apparent in this diminutive flyer, for which I took no credit (much of my political and punk artwork at the time was done anonymously).

In my rudimentary Xeroxed photomontage I combined a photograph of a smiling Reagan pointing at a book, with a horrific photo of Salvadorans that had been beheaded and mutilated by the U.S. backed Salvadoran military. I self-published 5,000 of these rough little broadsides, and distributed them all across L.A.

The works shown in this essay were of an activist nature, made for the street, mostly displaying a rough and ready, unrefined angry aesthetic born of urgency. These works of mine were part of an avalanche of protest art created by dissident artists during the bleak days of “Reaganism.” We are today revisited by that miserabilist political philosophy, and contemporary artists must meet its rising challenge.

Art for Haiti: Benefit Exhibit

blah blah blah

"Art For Haiti" flyer. Based on the drawing "Uproot" by Mark Vallen.

Starting February 5, 2011, José Vera Fine Art & Antiques in Los Angeles will present a month long exhibition of artworks related to the people, culture, and history of Haiti.

Proceeds from the sales of these artworks will be used to provide direct material aid to the Haitian people, who are currently suffering from a long train of abuses and natural disasters - not the least of which was the January 2010 earthquake that left in its wake an estimated 1,000,000 homeless, 300,000 injured, and 316,000 dead.

I have submitted a 23 x 25 inch black and white drawing to the exhibit titled Uproot, a term used by Haitians to describe “pulling the old regime up by its roots,” - a reference to the mass uprising in Haiti that overthrew the corrupt Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. My drawing in lithographic pencil on watercolor paper has also been combined with text to serve as a flyer (shown above) and postcard announcing the exhibit (download and print a .pdf version of my 8.5 x 10 flyer). Money collected during the Art for Haiti Benefit Exhibition will go to Hope for Haiti, and All Hands Volunteers, organizations that are sending food, medicines, clothing, cholera prevention kits, and other vital supplies to the Haitian people.

The José Vera gallery will also be hosting a number of fundraising events as part of its Art for Haiti Benefit Exhibition. On Feb. 5 the gallery will hold an Opening Night Gala - with the $20 suggested door price going directly towards Haitian relief efforts. On Feb. 12 the Opening Reception for the art exhibit will be held (this is a free event but donations to Haitian relief are encouraged). On Feb. 19th a Poetry Reading Event organized by Isabel Rojas-Williams will take place - the $5 suggested admittance going towards Haitian relief. Finally, on Feb. 26 an Open Discussion Forum will be held to discuss the continuing challenges in Haiti and how the public might best aid the Haitian people. For a full schedule of exhibit hours and related events, please visit the José Vera gallery website. In the weeks to follow I will post a statement on the meaning of my drawing, and what motivated my creating it.