Donald Trump has not yet been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, and already artists’ response to his election has been, well, yuge! There’s the Halt Action Group, which has led the Dear Ivanka protest rallies, peopled by art stars and gallerists. The Nasty Women exhibition, on view at the Knockdown Center last weekend, had hundreds of participants, with 100% of the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. But one of the biggest and most consistent groups to emerge in the aftermath of the election is We Make America, an artists’ callback to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
“We Make America is about diversity; it is about all of America,” says Maria de Los Angeles, a graduate of Yale’s MFA program who has been a key organizer of the group. “We are makers, and we can have a voice, and what we do in life can have an impact socially. It’s not just artists. It’s anybody who makes things — which is everybody — and by making things, we can transform reality.” The group, which has been meeting since the beginning of November, has about 200 members in New York, with a following of just over 3,000 from across the country in its Facebook group.
This week, We Make America is focused on one task: making signs, props, and banners to carry at the Women’s Marches on Washington and New York on January 21. Taking the Statue of Liberty as inspiration, about 30 to 50 members have been meeting every weekend and making cardboard torches and crowns and sewing green ponchos, so that participants can march as a field of Lady Liberties. There are massive banners announcing “We Make America” in 12 different languages and parachutes emblazoned with slogans that can be carried overhead and seen for miles by police helicopters. Perhaps their most fantastic prop is a five-foot-tall torch, created in corrugated cardboard on a 3D printer, by Mark Rosen and Ron Baron, with help from theater artists Jane Catherine Shaw and Theodora Skipitares. No one knows for sure how many people from the group will show up on the day of the marches, but so far the head count seems to be roughly 500 for New York and 100 more trekking down to DC.
All of this began as a spontaneous reaction to the kick-in-the-gut feeling so many experienced on the day after the election. De Los Angeles was working as a studio assistant for artist Joyce Kozloff, and the two immediately wanted to take action, so they put out the word to immediate friends. Kozloff, who shows with DC Moore Gallery, is a veteran of several waves of political action groups, including the feminist art collective Heresies and the more recent Artists Against the War, which protested the US invasion of Iraq after 9/11. “As soon as I read about the Women’s March on Washington, I envisioned the great marches in American history and thought this could be one of them,” she says. “The world’s media will be there for the inauguration, and that picture of the streets filled with protestors could be on the front page of the world’s newspapers the next day. I decided: let’s contribute to this in some way.”
The pair called an initial meeting at the Howard Hotel in Soho just four days after the election, and 16 people attended, among them artists Heide Fasnacht, Nancy Davidson, Greg Drasler, Janet Goldner, Ann Agee, and Julia Kunin, plus a number of writers. They chose their group name and the Statue of Liberty theme in the hopes of addressing as wide a range of threatened freedoms — women’s rights, immigration, health care, and free press — as possible. That night they created a Facebook page, and by the next morning hundreds had joined. Subsequently, they’ve held meetings in spaces that can accommodate their size, mainly in various buildings of the School of Visual Arts. They’ve also been using an empty storefront in Soho for their mammoth work sessions, attracting many women artists of a variety of ages, and some men, to churn out hundreds of Lady Liberty–inspired costumes and signage.
For January 21, We Make America has designated two locations to meet up and march en masse. In Washington, the group will gather at 10am at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, just blocks away from the Capitol. In New York, marchers will congregate at 10:30am under the clock in Grand Central Station. Anyone is welcome to join, but Kozloff asks that interested participants get in touch through Facebook. “It would be nice to know how many are coming so we can bring enough things,” she says.
“I’ve seen many groups making signs for the Women’s March, but none that are as organized and powerful as this one,” says Deborah Stein from the New York City Chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, whose role is to supervise and coordinate community relations. She was among the crowd present at the Soho space during this past Saturday’s work session. The mood was upbeat, though individuals expressed anger and despair in between picking up paintbrushes or chomping on pizza, which was generously donated by students from Hamilton College.
“I think we have to make a lot of noise and fight the results of this election, which are really infuriating,” said L.C. Armstrong, who was taking time away from preparing for her upcoming show at Marlborough Gallery. While painting text on one of the parachutes, she confessed to working as a sign painter to put herself through school. “I hate marches and I hate crowds, but I am going to march in Washington,” she said. Armstrong was joined by artists Sandi Slone and Lisa Hoke across the 12-foot circle. “This is a chance for us to get together and make ourselves heard about all the issues — not only about the liberation of half of the human race, but about all the freedoms that are being threatened right now,” said Slone. “I think there’s a real urgency this time,” added Kozloff. “We are facing really scary stuff, and everybody wants to participate rather than stay home and be depressed by themselves.”