Innovative Seattle Nonprofit Commissions Social Change Art and a Pop-up Studio

July 25, 2017; LA Weekly

The new Seattle-based organization Amplifier is leveraging art to amplify social change messages. Its goal: to help save democracy. With the support of artist Shepard Fairey, it recently “staked out a pop-up studio” that also hosts meetings and showcases “the politically charged art posters” it has commissioned.

For example, Amplifier received 5,000 submissions in eight days when it put out a public call for posters for the Women’s March. Amplifier’s executive director, Aaron Huey, and program director Cleo Barnett curated 150 of these to tour nationally; 45 are on display at the Silver Lake gallery, and five were printed and distributed to be carried by the “tens of thousands at the historic Washington March.”

It all started last year when the Annenberg Foundation awarded Amplifier a $300,000 grant, deposited the day after Trump’s election. The money was going to be used for a prison reform campaign, but after the election, “a more imminent cause” was at hand: “We the People.”

Barnet said, “If you look at the #wethepeople hashtag on Instagram, it’s guns and girls and beer and flags. We wanted to take something that was actually really inclusive and actually is the foundation of our democracy…It was about our American values and capturing the media attention away from the spectacle and pointing it towards the direction that we want to move to, as American people.”

Amplifier spent all the grant money on the launch of the new campaign. When it hosted a Kickstarter campaign to recoup the money, it raised a million dollars in six days. To promote the campaign, it took out ads in the Washington Post, dropped off posters at businesses that wanted to support the campaign, and distributed at the Women’s March, as protest posters weren’t allowed at the inauguration.

Barnett feels good about the work they’ve done. “Our goal for ‘We the People’ was to capture the whole world’s attention and point them toward a compass of our American values, and we did that…we obviously don’t think we’re heroes and that we can do it alone. It’s always with a community of people.”

The pop up space is at 3333 Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, California, and it will be up through August 4th.—Cyndi Suarez