ARTIST CALL- Against U.S. Intervention

September 25, 2007

If, as artists, we can silently witness the
destruction of other cultures, we forfeit
the right to make art of our own.
ARTISTS CALL general statement,
January 1984
On January 28, almost a thousand
people wearing black walked single
file from the aircraft carrier Intrepid on the Hudson River (our museum of war)
to the Judson Memorial Church on New
York's Washington Square (our mu-
seum of peace, housing three exhibi-
tions of art for, from and about Central
America). Each marcher wore the name
of a person missing or murdered in Central America. At the end of this
mourning procession, each name was
read out loud and then tied to a balloon
and released in a colorful celebration of
hope.
The "Procession for Peace" was
one of hundreds of events taking place
across the continent in January as part
of ARTISTS CALL Against U.S. In- tervention in Central America. In New
York alone there were 31 exhibitions
and some 50 events. ARTISTS CALL
is the largest cultural campaign of its
kind ever organized in the United States.
It began in-the New York visual arts
community last May, at the initiative of
the young Institute for the Arts and
Letters of El Salvador in Exile (INAL-
SE). By winter the idea had spread to
27 other cities in the United States
and Canada, and it now incorporates
poets, writers, performers, video and
filmmakers, musicians and theater
people.
ARTISTS CALL's stated goals are
to raise consciousness, to affect public-
opinion and to express the cultural sec-
tor's outrage at the Reagan Administra-
tion's disastrous policies in Central
America. Funds raised from the events
and sale of art will support cultural
work in Nicaragua and education and unions in El Salvador and, in some
cities, Medical Aid to El Salvador or
Guatemalan refugees.
Why artists? Why Central America?
Images of the caricatured Banana Re-
publics, of ancient ruins and colorful
Indian cultures which once seemed so
distant have given way to a new and
grimmer reality in the past two years.
Central America is closer to us now,
not just because it's in the news, not
just because we clearly share its future,
but also because the flow of political and
economic refugees into North America
includes exiled professors, students
and artists. One of the most important
aspects of ARTISTS CALL has been
the way in which it has strengthened
the national and international solidarity
among artists, and personalized our
common grounds.
It has come as a shock to many North
American cultural workers to realize
that our colleagues in El Salvador and
Guatemala are targeted for repression,
torture and death precisely because of
their talents as communicators. The
exiled artists often show little inclina-
tion to plunge into our esthetic melting
pot. Though torn from their roots and
their audiences, they maintain proud
connections with their heritages.
Into the Front Yard
At the same time, more and more
North Americans are visiting Nicara-
gua, where they witness firsthand the
burst of creative energies that followed
the revolution. In the double process,
Latin culture has become more familiar
and more accessible to many North
Americans. Film, video and news pho-
tography have been particularly effec-
tive in bringing Central American life
out of the back yard and into the front
yard.
Although the progressive art com-
munity formed its backbone, the im-
pressive array of commercial galleries,
small museums and extremely well-
known artists participating enhanced
ARTIST CALL's public stature. The
project's success has surprised even its
most dedicated organizers. It has not
only been covered nationally by news
media (excluding The New York Times,
which has totally ignored this unpre-
cedented phenomenon), but more im-
portant, thousands of cultural people as
yet unaligned have mobilized around
Central American issues. At one point
we worried that New York's eight-
night performance festival, for instance,
would be too much of a good thing on
top of all the other events. Instead, it
seemed that each night generated more
energy. All the presentations sold out.
The growing awareness and creative
intensity in the air was often almost
tangible.
There is no better way to set artists
thinking about issues than to ask them
to put their art on the line. ARTISTS
CALL differs from precedents set dur-
ing the Vietnam War, not only in its
vaster scale but in the level of con-
sciousness that had grown up from the
grassroots during the supposedly silent
1970s. As more artists begin to take
responsibility for the dissemination of
images and ideas, the connections be-
tween culture and social action become
clearer and the arts become more ef-
fective.
The substantial international networks
being formed by ARTISTS CALL will
permit artists to continue to think, to
grow and to organize around political
concerns-to create and to expand
communications with other artists as
well as with the new audiences. These
networks are cross-cultural, and cross-
disciplinary (as well as "cross-political"
in the sense that liberal and Left do not
find themselves at cross-purposes).
In many cities, a new kind of arts
community is possible, combining ele-
ments from the conventional art and
intellectual worlds and the various His-
panic groups. Working so closely with
Latin Americans has expanded the
North American vision of creative
power. As writer Charles Frederick put
it on his return from Nicaragua, "Cul-
ture is human beings creating their own
reality in a specific location. Self-ex-
pression is a prerequisite for self-em-
powerment. There is no greater collec-
tive effort, no greater participatory
performance, no more significant art
work, than the project of freedom."
Real Avenue of the Americas
ARTISTS CALL has varied in each
city, depending on the character of the
cultural, Hispanic and political com-
munities. The Chicago, San Francisco
and Philadelphia calendars were multi-
paged and multi-faceted. In Burling-
ton, Vermont, a storefront was rented
for a paint-in and performances were
held at the local shopping mall. In
Philadelphia a portable photography
show was mounted in the streets; a
"Rice, Beans and Well Wishes" sculp-
tural installation gathered sustenance
for refugees. In Chicago, "Big Pine
Two" was an evening vigil at Federal
Plaza, complete with pine trees. In San
Francisco, events ranged from Angela
Davis speaking on Grenada to "famous
artists" shows, to breakdancers work-
ing the streets. There was a peace vigil
in Raleigh, North Carolina, major
shows in Seattle, Houston and Detroit.
In New York on January 21, West
Broadway, in the heart of the SoHo art
scene, was transformed into La Ver-
dadera Avenida de las Americas with
guerrilla theater and rows of banner
portraits of Latin cultural heroes. A
huge rusty chain was cut with an
acetylene torch by Peruvian artist Car-
men Sanchez, in a symbolic gesture for
freedom.
ARTISTS CALL was formed as an
organizing committee rather than an
ongoing organization. Because it rep-
resents a broad spectrum of ages, poli-
tics, esthetics and nationalities, its
"line" has been simple: No U.S. in-
tervention; cultural autonomy for Cen-
tral American peoples. Although events
wound down in March (and in New
York, wind back up again with a music
festival in May), ARTISTS CALL is
finding it hard to dissolve. So many
people still want to participate, or or-
ganize new cities, that we seem to have
a responsibility to continue, at least
through the elections. Right now it
looks as though the best artists or any-
one else can do to improve the situation
in Central America is defeat Ronald
Reagan in November.
Whatever its life span, ARTISTS
CALL will remain a cultural campaign,
encouraging Central American artists
to create the sketches, the scores, the
new monuments and images with which
to frame the issues and color public
opinion.

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