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Art Workers Organize a Fair for Political Action

This Saturday’s Forward Union Fair intends to connect visitors with nonprofits and community groups, and to help people find ways to become politically active.

Image for the Forward Union Fair (image courtesy Forward Union Fair)

A group of artists, activists, and concerned citizens who are bowed but not broken by the apparent election of an aggressively simpleminded and capriciously cruel man to the highest executive office in the country will host a political and community action fair this Saturday, December 17. Organized by Gina Beavers, Julia Clark, Lauren M. Jones, Jennie Lamensdorf, Rachel Nackman, and Holly Shen, the Forward Union Fair intends to combat what’s shaping up to be Trump’s assault on the movements for racial, gender, and economic justice. It will consist of two main events: the information fair, scheduled for 11 am to 8 pm, and FU After Dark, a party and set of performances that will start up after the fair closes down to help people shake it off, get their freak on, and raise the roof (with a 21+ age restriction and a $10 suggested donation fee).

Lamensdorf says that, after the election, she was in a state of “mourning.” She “took stock of the resources” she had and didn’t initially have a plan, but “wanted to bring people together in person,” rather than leave it to social media to organize people’s responses. Lamensdorf got together with the other co-founders, all of whom are her friends, and they brainstormed over beers. Her boss, Francis Greenburger, also eager to support the effort, offered the use of a space owned by his company, Time Equities. The 6,000-square-foot raw space sits across the street from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and essentially contains only lights, large windows, and a wood floor.

Slinko, “AMERICAagh!” (2016) (image courtesy the artist)

To secure their crew of participants — which, at my last count, numbered 73 — each of the cofounders, who are embedded in New York’s various arts scenes, reached out to 21 other people to act as lead organizers; they in turn found many willing contributors (the website and Facebook page also attracted interest from unexpected organizations). The participants make up an eclectic coalition. Among them are Art 21, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, For Freedoms, Hollaback!, Immigrant Defense Project, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Shout Your Abortion, and Spaceworks, plus such artists as Yashua Klos, Rirkrit Tiravanija & Tomas Vu, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Raquel Echanique.

At the fair, representatives from the participating nonprofits will make presentations about the work that they do. They will offer a variety of ways to become involved: as volunteers, by donating money, by signing petitions. Whatever the requests are, the cofounders want visitors to engage with the presenters. Art21’s Eve Moros Ortega will also curate a selection of talks and panels running concurrently with the information fair, and there will be areas designated for relaxation, plus some art installations relevant to the theme of political and social engagement. The evening portion will feature drag queens, musicians, and DJs.

Jesus Benavente, “A Reminder About the Rules” (2016) (image courtesy the artist)

The hosts are looking for visitors who are, as Lamensdorf says, “finding their political inspiration for the first time or for the first time in a long time.” At the same time, they want to give the presenters an opportunity to find their footing anew in a political sphere that may cause them to pivot and expand their original aims. Lamensdorf cites Hollaback!, which has grown from a group concerned with the street harassment of women specifically to one determined to combat all public space harassment. Lamensdorf believes that people like her who work in the arts have become siloed in their political conversations. She hopes that at least a portion of the visitors will be inspired to take action in a new way.

The Forward Union Fair will take place at 714 Broadway (Greenwich Village, Manhattan) on December 17 from 11am to 8pm. FU After Dark will begin in the same space at 8pm and last until about midnight.

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