[Updated: Nov. 17, 2016]
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States came as a shock to at least half the country. The arts were not even a topic of conversation this go-round, unlike past elections during the Culture Wars. So we asked some artists and arts professionals to respond to the election on a personal and professional level.
What follows are heartfelt words of fear, melancholy, hope, and healing, and thoughts on what the arts can expect from a Trump administration and Republican Congress. More than a few respondents noted that great art has come out of difficult times. A number of people were “rendered speechless” or failed to respond. We’ve also included a handful of official statements from organizations and public figures.
Participants: Matthew Terrell, Joe Peragine, Donna Mintz, Pam Longobardi, Beth Malone, Louise Shaw, Peter Bahouth, Benjamin Britton, Steven L. Anderson, Scott Ingram, Craig Dongoski, Mary Addison Hackett, Jessyca Holland, Megan Murdie, and Akacorves.
Matthew Terrell, artist and writer, Atlanta
Expect to see a lot more punk rock. More socially conscious hip hop. More and better political satire on television, in theater, and in literature. Assuming all political dissent doesn’t become illegal, and critical voices aren’t rounded up into re-education camps… I think the role of the artist will become more vital in a Trump presidency. Arts funding? Well, that will probably go down. But the hungriest and hardest-hitting voices will be rewarded with increased engagement and interest from audiences.
For visual artists, I think there will also be an increased demand in work that is purely aesthetic. Audiences will want painting, photography, and printmaking that is pretty for pretty’s sake—something to distract from the divisive politics and problems of a Trump presidency.
Donna Mintz, artist and writer, Atlanta
On the morning after the election, I waited for Hillary Clinton’s first words on the radio while driving into Alabama on a planned research trip to Hale County, setting of James Agee’s and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The haze of filtered sunlight that glazed the empty countryside of Highway 80 out of Montgomery matched my stunned, echo-chamber, packed-in-cotton emotional state.
Her words, heartbreakingly elegant, reached me there as if from another time, which of course they were, making the fallow gray November fields even more forlorn. The spiral notebook that I always keep beside me when I travel to capture an errant thought or observation was empty that morning. After her speech I had written only these words: “Fighting for what’s right is worth it,” in what I hope is an accurate transcription of what she said.
With an inchoate sense of necessity, I detoured into Selma and to the iconic site where over 50 years ago brave men and women had fought for what was right. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a hometown Confederate general and U.S. senator, arches over the tobacco-colored Alabama River. On this day it was quiet and empty of people with no hint of the state violence that erupted there during a March 7, 1965 voting rights march. I stood there alone trying to imagine the courage of John Lewis and Hosea Williams and Bob Mants and Albert Turner and the hundreds of others that day who stood for what was right.
Two weeks later, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a court-approved march with federal protection that reached the State Capitol on March 25. King told a crowd of 25,000 people that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Let us – artists, poets, tellers of truth – prove that this is still true. Let us fight always for what is right.
Pam Longobardi, artist and activist, Atlanta
I found out about the election results while aboard a ship on an art/science/plastic pollution/research expedition in remote Indonesia, most of the time we were off the grid, making a documentary film while documenting and removing thousands of plastics from paradise. It was an international crew with people from all over the world: many Indonesian islands, Ecuador, Belgium, Hong Kong, Phillippines, Spain and the US. We were all blindsided by the results. All the Americans had voted early and thought it was in the bag. Where we being really blind? I don’t know: in fact, I don’t even really believe this outcome is true and hope there is a legal investigation. But maybe I’m ignorant. I thought we as Americans were smarter than this. I still hope we are. But there is no doubt, this is a DISASTER for the entire WORLD, to elect the President of Hate. We have him for four years now. What does this mean? To me, it means that I am afraid to return to the US right now, its not the country I thought i lived in. And I’m in mourning. But it also means that all of us that are fighting for transformation, conservation of the non-human world, creativity over destruction and the evolution of the human species, have to see this as a CALL TO ARMS, an irrefutable message from the greater world, that our fight has just begun.