Next Conversation: “The Art of Politics”

Event Date: Tuesday, March 22, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Summary

This time we’re talking about art and electoral politics. Read on for more information.

The Guests (see bios below)

Laura Dean, designer, activist

Pamela Keeley, artist, activist

And we’re working on getting at least one more guest

The Story

We’re back! After our little writer’s block hiatus, we’re ready to have a conversation. This time, we’re looking at the art of politics, and more specifically, the roles that artists and culture workers play in electoral politics.

We have two excellent guests, artist and activist Pam Keeley and designer and activist Laura Dean. We’re looking for at least one more guest.

We’ll talk about electoral politics and about art, and the intersections between the two. In an electoral year that has seen both stunning beauty and vicious brutality, what do artists and other cultural workers bring to everyday politics? Can art and artists change the discourse? Is there something about artistic thinking that can change the ways in which politics happens? Or not?

So much about the political action that we know so well, action around specific issues and causes, lives on the energy of art: street theater, stunning graphics, giant puppets, and more. It’s political action relying on the power of surprise and imagination. But what about electoral politics? Is it doomed to remain a prosaic matter of polls, phone banks, and stump speeches?

Fascism and its offshoots tend to rely on a twisted form of art, a nasty sort of imagination: a theater of brutality, graphics designed to portray raw power, a poetry of death. What is the art of everyday democracy?

Come and talk about it.

A Note about something else that is coming up: Longtime Seattle writer and activist Philip Wohlstetter is putting together a project for May 2017 called “Red May.” (Readers of these announcements may recall that Philip and I created a conversation called “Looking Backward and Looking Forward” in 2009, pulling together a number of younger and older cultural and political activists.)
At one level, Philip’s Red May will bring together a number of activities built around the color red. At the same time, it will look into many facets of the work we do, from dance and theater to physical labor and union organizing.

On April 3, I’m facilitating the first of a series of Red May discussions at INCA Institute on Lower Queen Anne.
Scroll to the bottom of this message to get the details.



The Guests in Detail

Laura Dean studied psychology in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she worked and volunteered with at-risk youth. In 2001, she moved to Seattle to explore how her creative interests could be used to cultivate positive social change. While a security guard at SAM and the Frye, she taught herself animation and web design and then moved to San Francisco to pursue a MA in interaction design. In 2008, she organized a rural county in Wisconsin for Obama before returning to Seattle. Since then she’s worked as an animator, illustrator, hack coder and most predominantly a User Experience Designer, on multiple projects with creative agencies and start-ups, while volunteering for progressive causes on the side. Currently she’s a Director of User Experience with MyGrove, a small start-up based out of Brooklyn and a volunteer organizer with the Bernie campaign. For her, it’s not about winning one election; it‘s about changing the trajectory of US politics.


Pam Keeley writes:

I was born an artist and have been a political activist and nurse for the past forty four years. My political activism began with the campaign of JFK and grew to include multiple civil rights movements of the era. In 1972 I founded the first gay liberation group in Springfield, Illinois and have continued LGBTQ  and other political activities through the decades since. In 1975 I was a founding member of Colorado First Feminist Credit Union (the first such institution in the United States), created specifically to give economic power to women. Being a nurse has only deepened my inclinations to champion the socially wounded.

Locally I’ve been involved with organized labor (shop delegate and executive board member for SEIU 1199) and worked for candidates in numerous political campaigns, including President Obama (national delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention), WA 37th LD Senator Pramila Jayapal, Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant, and Senator Bernie Sanders’ current presidential campaign.

The creative bandwidth of art often provides a unique vehicle for my political concerns – from content in individual works to projects organized with other artists. My collaborative efforts include guerrilla billboards in support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the late 80’s and early 90’s, installations for women’s rights, and, more recently, a collectively-created mural on the UW Tacoma campus, commemorating the Occupy movement and Wisconsin uprising of 2011. In 2008 I organized a large Artists for Obama fundraiser in Seattle (one-of-a-kind hand-painted t-shirts and other objects) and currently coordinate another group, Artists for Sawant, which has 158 members.



Finally, Philip Wohlstetter’s Red May discussion

Next Red May Open House will take place April 3rd, 4:30-6:30 PM at INCA Institute, 2 West Roy St. on Queen Anne (one block over from On the Boards).  Expect wine, cheese, schmoozing, and for a change of pace, the first in a series of three extended visualization games. We want to ask you to play, to riff together, to collaboratively sketch out an art-political intervention/exhibition on the theme “The Working Day or The Struggle over Time.” Facilitating the process will be John Boylan, moderator of the long running “Conversations” series at Vermillion.


Here is the premise…




Your keystrokes are monitored, your bathroom breaks are timed; you’re pressured to stay after hours, to work off the clock. Rest periods you’re legally entitled to become unavailable, just like in Victorian times when a Factory Inspector could write, “I continue however to receive about the usual number of complaints that half, or three quarters of an hour in the day, are snatched from the workers by encroaching upon the times professedly allowed for rest and refreshments…” It wasn’t supposed to play out this way. Automation was supposed to usher in an Age of Leisure.  Three-hour working days. Fifteen-hour workweeks. But where are we after a century of seemingly-victorious labor struggles forced the working week down to 40 hours? According to a Gallup Poll (Sept. 2, 2014, Washington Post), an average workweek in the United States is 46.7 hours with 21 percent of workers clocking in 50-59 per and another 18 percent working 60 plus hours.


Moments are the elements of profit. In every workplace, the struggle over time continues. Or as a forgotten gent named Marx once put it, on one side, we have “Capital’s drive towards a boundless extension of the working day;” on the other, the worker’s efforts to set limits, “to reduce the working day to a particular normal length.” What kinds of events, interventions, exhibitions could be staged that would dramatize and interrogate this struggle? What kind of information and testimony could we collect and record? How and where would we present it? Should the final product be an exhibit? What kind and in what sort of place? Who are the logical partners and co-conspirators in this investigation?  What else could we collage in?

What kinds of projects or works explore this same area?


This is the first of three open houses/play periods at Inca. Invite everybody. Anyone can play. In May, the theme will be “De-Commodifying Eduication or What Should A Red May University Offer?” In June, we’ll riff on “Hot Money vs. The Right of the City.” As soon as we nail down the dates, we’ll get them out.


Nothing is off the table. Any one of these exercises could lead to a Red May event. But our immediate goal is more modest: to get to know each other, to delight our collective imaginations, to liven up the afternoon.

Hope to see you.






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