Creative Politics: The Project of Asking

 

Creative Politics is a new column in Broken Pencil. In each subsequent column, a creator will reflect on how their art intersects with their living, their business, their families and friends, and their personal politics. We hope you enjoy!

by Onya Hogan-Finlay

This is a nod to the nerds, the culture jammers, artists and administrators of grassroots and D.I.Y. projects everywhere. I hear you typing minutes on that grimey keyboard, can smell the ink drying on your posters, feel your voices rise and summon a collective consciousness into motion around your concerns. I implore you to get the money, get the money, get the money.

All I really needed to know I learned through the Bookmobile project. Based in Montreal and Philadelphia between 2001 and 2005, it was a binational touring exhibition of artists books, zines and independent publications in a retrofitted Airstream trailer. Our intentions were ambitious and naive when the Bookmobile Collective set out to reach a broad audience with our indie, artsy library on wheels. But in five years of touring I learned how to collaborate with others, to speak to a crowd, to facilitate a meeting, and how to hustle on a bare bones budget. Most of all, I learned how to ask questions and how to ask for help from friends and strangers.

Since we worked outside of dominant culture we didn’t ask for permission but we did have to ask for the elbow grease of volunteers and money to realize our project’s goals. We soon realized that fundraising is a project unto itself. Our first grant application to an arts council was rejected but we raised enough at the art-auction-benefit-dance-parties to pay for car insurance, gas and grilled-cheese sandwiches. Then it happened after our first tour. We began to receive recognition for our work and we finally did get a grant.

Assigning value to labour and artworks can still be a struggle but it’s a challenge that I welcome in my practice. Today I’m co-editing a book about the BOOKMOBILE project and I find myself once again mustering the measured sense of entitlement needed to inspire backers to support our project. I’ve discovered that the more passionately I believe in an idea, the easier it becomes to reach out and ask for support. Since my salad days with the Bookmobile project tour I have continued to invite strangers to collaborate and help me make projects take shape around political concerns by asking questions like…

● Who will attend the coming-out party for the town of Gayside, Newfoundland?
● What do the visual records of lesbians, transgender and people of colour look like in the world’s largest LGBT archive?
● How can mini-putt be politically enlightening and stimulate discussion about yeast infections, bed-death, and the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on native lands?
● How can I entice strangers to steam their gentials over healing herbal vapours on a bench that seats five in a U-Haul truck with a hay covered floor and a mellow new-age soundtrack?

Answers vary but the outcome is usually invaluable.

Onya Hogan-Finlay is a Canadian artist based in Los Angeles with a BFA from Concordia University and an MFA from University of Southern California. Her interdisciplinary practice uses humour to look at historical narratives of marginalized subjects through installation, drawings and public interventions. She is a co-founder of the projet MOBILIVRE-BOOKMOBILE project and co-editor of the forthcoming, The Bookmobile Book. You can learn more about the Mobilivre-Bookmobile here and visit the book’s Kickstarter page here.

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