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LOS ANGELES — As many of us in the humanities and arts already know, the Republican party and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have a long history of tension and adversity. In 2017, one year into the Trump era, president number 46 called for the dissolution of both the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Trump’s proposed budget cuts would not only eliminate the two endowments, but it would also encourage the privatization of public broadcasting. Back in 2017, these proposals set off alarms with members of the Democratic party as well as universities and secondary education facilities across the country, resulting in widespread upheaval and anger. The already low funds reserved for the arts and humanities barely cover what is necessary, and the dissolution of these support systems would be devastating.
At the time, public figures across the country implored their audiences to pick up the phone and call their representatives — an act that has become increasingly popular since 2016. Chelsea Handler, Trevor Noah, Alana Glazer, Amy Schumer, and others used their influence on social media to publicize representatives’ phone numbers, and other organizations bought out domain names for websites that would send out letters to representatives for you. In a world where the first amendment is threatened on a daily basis, there hasn’t been this big a push for citizen action and outreach to politicians since the 1980s.
In Los Angeles, a design studio called Use All Five, founded by Levi Brooks and Jason Farrell, sought to fight against the NEA and NEH cuts in a way that would showcase the design industry. With the guidance of Use All Five Art Director Troy Kreiner, Brooks and Farrell launched Artifax, a website that uses original artwork as letterheads for messages to local representatives. Website visitors can select an artwork, enter their address, and choose the representative they want to reach out to about a given issue.
When it was launched, this effort was wildly successful, amassing countless visitors and media attention. It was so successful, in fact, that Use All Five felt it deserved a 2018 revamp — especially given that in one year, the high-stake and highly alarming issues seeping out of this tenuous administration have grown exponentially.
“Artifax was all about saving the NEA. Now that the NEA looks safe — cross my fingers — our team adjusted Artifax to be used for other important areas of concern,” Brooks explained to me, “I hope it allows anyone to more effectively reach representatives on more topics that matter to them.”
While some might argue that Artifax offers another of many modes of action that ultimately have little to no effect on politicians, it’s a unique service that allows you to act on your visceral reactions to political decision-making with striking visuals. “The graphic imagery showcased on Artifax provides a visual entry point for people to latch onto and construct their own message,” says Kreiner. “The artists participating in this project help people rally behind a political message.”
If you’re curious about how you can participate in Use All Five’s project, here’s a breakdown of how it works:
Open your browser and visit www.artifax.us. You’ll be directed to the homepage, where you can choose from countless original artworks to use as a letterhead. Once you’ve selected your artwork, you’ll enter your full address so the website can identify your local elected officials (in my case, for instance, the letter would go to California Senators Kamala D. Harris, Diane Feinstein, or California Congressman Ted Lieu). You’ll then select one recipient and confirm your voter registration status — it’s important for the elected officials to know that the people writing to them have the power to vote, and to take matters into their own hands if the voting numbers are large enough.
On the next page you can either write your own message or choose from a drop-down list of scripted messages pertaining to any of the following issues: border separation; the Supreme Court; gun violence; and the NEA. From there, you need merely to enter your name and signature and click send. Use All Five will send the fax for you, at no cost to you.
Los Angeles–based artist Gabbie Bautista, who created the most widely selected artwork, “No Ice,” relays the outrage she felt when the news of families being separated broke. “We wanted to do something,” she told me. “We wanted to help the families. We wanted to actively protest this despicable policy. We decided to make shirts [as] a way to raise money and make a bold statement. The explicit messaging of the shirts called for an end to family separation and supported the larger movement to abolish ICE.” She subsequently submitted the image on her T-shirts to Artifax.
The second most-selected artwork is by New York–based artist Steph Lau. Lau’s semi-abstract work showcases the accumulating risks of restricting women’s right to abortion. “It is heartbreaking to know that the criminalization, lack of resources, and stigmatization of abortion will only drive women in need to more desperate and unsafe means,” she explains. “That is the main driving force behind my image: to create an ominous and mildly disturbing visual that speaks to the very real consequences to any potential changes on this issue.” It’s an issue that feels increasingly urgent in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s mortifying confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.
Use All Five recognizes how intimidating reaching out to elected officials can feel. Often, our fear of articulating our opinions can prevent us from acting out against issues that deeply trouble us and that negatively impact our lives and the lives of our loved ones. That’s why Artifax is an ever-evolving project, with the team at Use All Five continually accepting artwork submissions to broaden their roaster. “We are ultimately looking for an impactful image,” says Kreiner, “a message that we don’t already have on the website, a unique perspective. We are also interested in prioritizing a diverse pool of thought and life experience.”
“We would love to see an image of a congressperson holding up a fax sent from the website and a comment on how it influenced their decision making. This would be a huge sign of success,” confesses Kreiner. Let’s help Artifax become the catalyst for political change.