Protests have been part of our nation’s fabric since before the United States was a nation. Quakers in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood protested against slavery in 1688. The Boston Tea Party was a protest against a tax on tea in 1773. In 1848, women gathered in upstate New York for the Seneca Falls Convention to protest against their dismal status in American life. In the last 50 years, protests about war, civil rights, and LGBT issues have shown that our tradition of protest is thriving.
It may come as a surprise to some, but I’ve been to a protest march or two. I was in college when I went to my first march. The issue was something about the university administration coming down on the school paper. I’m not sure if my presence made a difference, but I hope it did. In the years since college, I’ve participated in one or two larger protests, for bigger issues. I enjoy being with a peaceful group of like-minded people as we exercise our First Amendment rights.
I’m fortunate that every protest I’ve been to has been peaceful. I watched the violence that arose from last summer’s protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in shock. I used to live in Charlottesville; I still can’t believe that the day descended into lawless mayhem. The civil and criminal court cases as a result of that weekend’s events are ongoing.
When my friend Maria Burchill from Schlow Centre Region Library asked me if the Festival would be interested in helping out with an exhibition about protest art in conjunction with the 2018 Centre County Reads program, I agreed immediately.
Centre County Reads is a “one city, one book” effort that annually encourages county residents to read a particular book that will promote meaningful discussion among a wide range of people. The project often involves a visit by the author, a writing contest, and other programming. The first Centre County Reads book was Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Centre Countians read and discussed it in 2003.
State College native Sunil Yapa wrote this year’s Centre County Reads selection, The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. His bestselling novel is set amid the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, known as the Battle for Seattle. These protests resulted in 500 arrests and cost the city an estimated $3 million. Some estimate that there was $20 million in damage to private property and businesses.
Artists have spoken through their work as long as there have been protests. From quickly done caricatures on protest signs to huge, complicated projects like Picasso’s Guernica, artists have their say on the issues of the day. A visual image can provide a visceral way to communicate dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Our exhibit, which will hang in the library’s Betsy Rodgers Allen Gallery during March 2018, is open to artists living in Centre County. Work entered in the exhibition should attempt to persuade the viewer to take action in favor of a particular cause. These could include peace, the environment, civil rights, freedom of speech or religion.
There is no entry fee, and artists may enter only one work, which they created in the past year. Since the library is an all ages environment, submissions should not contain excessive violence or nudity. The call for entries contains the complete rules for the exhibition.
The show’s juror will be Martha Carothers, Professor of Art & Design at the University of Delaware where she teaches visual communications and book arts. She will award $250 in prize money in addition to choosing the works in the show.
The deadline to apply is January 26, 2018. Complete rules are listed in the call for entries, available here.
There’s plenty to protest about in the world today: climate change, sectarian violence, and of course, the, um, “situation in Washington.” The list goes on and on. I’m looking forward to seeing what Centre County artists have to say.