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LA Artists Raised $100K for the ACLU — Now What?

A benefit sale over post–Inauguration Day weekend featured T-shirts, buttons, and works by more than 200 artists.

Davida Nemeroff, “Fallen Star” (2016), inkjet print, 8″ x 10″ (all images courtesy “Amplify Compassion: An Art Sale to Benefit the ACLU” via Tumblr unless otherwise noted)

LOS ANGELES — “Amplify Compassion” may be the best name for an art sale to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) during a time when the President himself utterly lacks compassion, managing only occasionally to shout “Sad!” at the end of random tweets.

Over post–Inauguration Day weekend, LA artists Paul Pescador, Rochele Gomez, Daniel Ingroff, and Nick Lowe organized “Amplify Compassion,” a two-day benefit sale at 356 Mission with works by more than 200 artists. The event began on the same day as the women’s march in downtown Los Angeles and raised more than $100,000 for the ACLU — which took its first legal action against Donald Trump just hours before the inauguration. The organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data on conflicts of interest related to his and his family’s business interests.

T-shirt at “Amplify Compassion: A Benefit for the ACLU” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

More than 600 people flowed through the doors of the gallery after the massive LA women’s march (which turned out an estimated 750,000 people, making it even larger than the one in Washington, DC, with an estimated 470,000 people). The items up for sale ranged in price, size, and form. T-shirts with anti-Trump messages like “The Bully is the Beginning of All Other Oppressions” and ceramic buttons were on the more affordable end of the spectrum, ranging from $20 to $40. Works of art then started at $50 on the low end and went up to $1,000 and beyond.

“I was really excited that my friends were so quick to organize some kind of response to this election,” said artist Adrian Paules, whose work was on display. “Even if it was a small amount of money, the sale of my piece went to an organization that I anticipate will be much needed.” The show also featured some artful jars in which people could leave a few dollars if they weren’t able to purchase anything.

But for the organizers and others, the event was as much a sale as it was a gathering place for chatting and decompressing.

“Part of this was not just about doing a sale and raising money, but building a platform for people to come have this conversation, even if it is temporary,” said Pescador.

Installation view of “Amplify Compassion” at 356 Mission

For those who went to the march, that is. Just a few blocks from Pershing Square, something else was taking place on Saturday: an action at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) that was led by AF3IRM, a transnational women’s organization, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), “which has been holding similar concerts outside of the detention center for over two years,” said Claudia Batista, organizer and regional campaign coordinator for NDLON. Prisoners inside banged on the horizontal window slits and used mirrors to signal to a gathering of people below: musicians, poets, advocates, families, and allies from grassroots groups. Performers included award-winning poet Faith Santilla, LA-based women mariachi trio LaVictoria, and singer-songwriter collective Cuicani.

“We seek to highlight, through our words, poetry, music and activism, the injustices related to the treatment of immigrants, our solidarity with those incarcerated, and the issues women of color face,” stated Kyrie Sanchinelli-Salazar, chapter coordinator of AF3IRM Los Angeles. “This event is important because we are more than just anti-Trump; we are pro-woman, and we have an actual vision to put forward. We are calling for genuine liberation.”

MDC’s close proximity to the women’s march and the ACLU art benefit was as a reminder that the deeper issues left behind by President Obama’s administration remain, and will continue to get worse under Trump. For many, the action there served as an antidote to what some referred to as the “corporate nature” of the women’s marches.

“We need to remember that there are currently mothers, babies, and whole families caged in detention centers throughout this country. This is all normal now — it became normal during the Obama administration. So what can we expect from a Trump administration?” asked Batista. She explained that she decided to put her full support behind AF3IRM after feeling disillusioned by the women’s march, especially because she didn’t find the planning of the march to be very transparent or inclusive.

“Our struggle is beyond being called ‘nasty women,’ and because we stand with all womxn, not just those with a vagina,” she said. “I believe that holding space at the Metropolitan Detention Center was very important, because it represents the prison and deportation industrial complexes, the way that the government and corporations make money out of people of color’s existence.”

“We called for this convening of women of color to chant down the walls of fascism in the US . . . to move beyond the aims of the women’s march,” said Sumaq Urpi of AF3IRM. “We carved out a much-needed space for women and communities of color on Saturday.”

Josh Mannis, “So Much for Working for Change From Within the System” (2013), ink on paper, 21″ x 18″

Similar questions came up for others in the LA art community, who were at once excited that a weekend-long sale had raised so much money for the ACLU, but also concerned about local issues, particularly gentrification.

“It’s exciting to see artists and the galleries looking for ways to fight fascism and authoritarianism,” said an LA artist who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t have a problem with raising money for the ACLU, but it would be more heartening if, in addition to selling art, which is already what their business is, they took it a step further and engaged in actions like condemning the LAPD for categorizing graffiti on galleries in Boyle Heights that are there gentrifying the neighborhood as a hate crime, which means increased surveillance on people of color.”

356 Mission, where the sale was held, is also in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, so it’s de facto part of the gentrification. “Amplify Compassion” was, however, a temporary, two-day event with a specific, short-term outcome: to raise money to help the ACLU stop Trump. Like most actions, protests, and benefits that have happened since Election Day and continued through inauguration, it was about focusing on the dangers of the immediate future under a Trump Administration, rather than unpacking deeper, systemic issues. As the Left continues to discuss intersectionality and how to band together, perhaps all of this action will ultimately lead to a real, strong unification.

What does that mean for moving forward in the coming days, weeks, and months? For artist Rochele Gomez, a co-organizer of “Amplify Compassion,” it’s about working things out as you go.

“I’m still upset,” she said. “Just because I raised money doesn’t mean anything is solved. I’m still thinking about how to embrace a non-Trump spirit on a day-to-day basis. For this event, we started small, grassroots — none of us had ever done something like this before. The experience inspired me to think that you can embrace smaller ideas, and then the energy around those ideas can transform into something else.”

Victoria Fu and Matt Rich, “Head” (2017), acrylic paint, wood, archival inkjet photograph, 5″ x 4 ¾” x 1 ½”
Samira Yamin, “untitled (study for Scotia)” (2013), vinyl on acrylic, 9.5″ x 7.5″
Matt Hotaling, “How to become Immortal” (2017), watercolor on paper, 22″ x 18″

Amplify Compassion: An Art Sale to Benefit the ACLU” took place January 21–22 at 356 Mission (356 S Mission Rd, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles).

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