Artists as Politicos? Fractured Atlas Set to Build a Cohort

Fractured Atlas
The paintings of Toronto-based artist Tony Taylor interprets politicians as animals. Because, y'know. Photo: Tony Taylor

A lot of art, of course, is political, meaning it makes statements with political dimensions. A good many artists, in fact, say that all art is political. Here’s Toni Morrison:

All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS. What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political. There is none that isn’t.

So it should hardly be shocking that, sometimes, artists turn to politics undiluted by the interpretive touch of art. They become politicians. The transition has a history of mixed results, from Adolf Hitler to Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, who became known as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, communist senator, diplomat, exile and Nobel laureate.

Whatever the history, the well-established, well-known artists’ patrons at Fractured Atlas think it’s a good idea to encourage artists to enter the political fray. Up until now, Fractured Atlas has concentrated on fostering art by helping artists make a living — providing products, services and training that allow artists to navigate and succeed in the business side of the enterprise. Now, Fractured Atlas is sponsoring the Artist Campaign School, which is designed to do for artists in politics what they have been doing for artists in business. They’re accepting applications through Fri., Sept. 15, for the first installment of the new effort to be conducted Oct. 26 to 28 in Detroit. A hundred people, all in some branch of the arts, will be selected from applications to get three days of all-expenses-paid training by seasoned campaign veterans in the complex art of getting elected.

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Why? Lauren Ruffin, director of external relations for Fractured Atlas, says “Artists are good collaborators. They are creative problem solvers.”

Okay, but what about a political slant: aren’t artists, as a group, left of center? They are, she acknowledges, but this is not a reaction to Donald Trump or an effort to turn the country left. In fact, she says, there is nothing partisan or ideological in the invitation or in the judgment of applications. Many applicants, she says, emphasize their collaborative skills, their peacemaking nature, and their inclination to amend some of the partisan bitterness that have overtaken American politics.

Okay, so who’s an artist? Fractured Atlas puts itself in no position to make that judgment. “Anybody who identifies as an artist,” Ruffin replies. So the group could include painters and actors, poets and musicians, computer artists and sculptors.

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Underwritten with contributions from many sources, including major foundations, Fractured Atlas can repeat the October performance, and Ruffin says it intends to. No second cohort is scheduled, but she expects there will be more.

Looking through the applications for the first cohort, Ruffin says there’s “definitely a common thread” related to “community building” and “respect for people of different beliefs and different backgrounds.” Imagine that in our current politics.