Trevor Paglen for For Freedoms


NATIONWIDE THE ENERGY AND URGENCY surrounding the midterm elections is translating into record voter turnout. More than 31.5 million early and absentee votes have been been cast thus far. Days remain before Election Day and advanced balloting in 22 states and the District of Columbia has already exceeded total early vote counts for the 2014 midterm elections.

Historically, the creative community has been civically active, but this cycle participation is measurably amplified, particularly for a midterm election. Artists and museums have been engaged in the discourse throughout the political season, mounting exhibitions and public art projects, hosting public discussions and voter registration drives.

Engagement is up because the stakes are high. Voters are concerned about losing their healthcare, keeping their jobs, and upholding democratic norms. Although he is not on the ballot, the election is widely viewed as a referendum on the President, whose tenure has been defined by division, nationalism, isolationism, and ethics-free and fact-free leadership. Control of the House and Senate is up for grabs. The outcome in Congress will signal the direction of the country.

The state races are highly competitive and consequential, too. Voter suppression tactics are an issue in many states, from controversial voter ID laws to voter roll purges. At the end of last week, courts ruled on complaints about voter purges in Georgia, that disproportionately affected African Americans, and a remote polling location in Kansas assigned nearly exclusively to Latino voters.


ZOE BUCKMAN’s “Grab ‘Em By the Ballots” For Freedoms billboard was on view in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2016 (shown) and Syracuse, N.Y. earlier this fall. | Courtesy For Freedoms


FOR FREEDOMS, the first artist-run super PAC was co-founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman in advance of the 2016 Presidential election and has since amplified its efforts and expanded its reach. Last summer, For Freedoms established its headquarters in the Meatpacking District in New York.

Launched in September, the For Freedoms 50 State Initiative is being billed as “the largest public art campaign” in the United States. In collaboratioin with 175 artists and 200 museums, universities, cultural organizations, and the 21c Museum Hotels, in the lead up to the midterms For Freedoms has been putting up billboards, displaying lawn signs, hosting town hall-style forums, projects, and exhibitions throughout the United States, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Collaborating with 175 artists and 200 museums, universities and cultural organizations, For Freedoms is putting up billboards, displaying lawn signs, hosting town hall-style forums, projects, and exhibitions throughout the United States.

The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla., has been a venue for nonpartisan voter education, handing out sample ballots and information about issues and candidates. On Nov. 4, Philbrook is hosting a town hall. New York Live Arts is facilitating a conversation on gun ownership on Nov. 5. (The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland had a town hall on the issue of gun violence on Nov. 2.) On Election Night, 100 Days Action is throwing a “Blue Wave/Red Tide” election night party and exhibition viewing in San Francisco.



THE AMERICAN ALLIANCE OF MUSEUMS (AAM) provides its institutional members with Nonprofit Voter Resources, guidelines about how they can participate in advocacy and nonpartisan election activities. Serving as a national partner, AAM promoted National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25.

Following the Presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles hosted a forum titled, “Show Up, Dive In, Stay at It.” The community gathering on Feb. 6 was so popular, the venue had to be moved from the museum to Royce Hall on the nearby campus of UCLA.

The museum has indeed kept at it. In the lead up to the midterm election, the museum has facilitated voter registration. Visitors could update their registrations or sign up anew, and also see Adrian Piper’s five-decade survey “Concepts and Intuitions, 1965-2016.” On Election Day (Nov. 6), the Hammer is serving as a polling site.

Los Angeles is energized. Last Thursday, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) organized a Vote For Your Lives rally in collaboration with the For Freedoms 50 State Initiative. A mural by Njideka Akunyili Crosby is installed on the facade of MOCA Grand Avenue.

Another mural was recently reinstalled at MOCA. Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (Questions)” (1990/2018). The expansive 191 foot-long work raises a series of questions to “point to issues of patriotism, civic engagement, and power relations.” First on view three decades ago, it is currently installed on the north facade of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, through 2020.

The Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, where Nina Chanel Abney’s exhibition “Royal Flush” is on view, is ordinarily closed on Tuesday. On election night, however, it’s hosting an election results viewing party and giving away free t-shirts by artists Tremaine Emory and Brendan Fowler.

Post-election, the Hammer will continue to stay at it, hosting another forum on Nov. 18. This one is titled “We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century,” emphasizing the power and promise of the Constitution and the importance of democratic rule and effective government.



MANY CANDIDATES HAVE MOUNTED historic campaigns. Women are running for elective office in record numbers. Some candidates may become the first woman to represent their state in Congress. Firsts across age, race, religion, and LGBTQ status are also possible.

Stacey Abrams is the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia. Democrats Andrew Gillum in Florida and Ben Jealous in Maryland are also campaigning to lead their states. If either of them were to win, they would be the first African American governor in their state. Abrams would be the first black woman elected governor of any state in the history of the United States.

Ayanna Pressley is poised to become the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Meanwhile, if Jahana Hayes, who was National Teacher of the Year in 2017, wins her race, she will be the first black woman (and first black democrat) elected to Congress from Connecticut.

In addition to the candidates for office, a number of ballot measures are being decided in the election, about Medicare expansion and energy issues, among other matters. Florida is weighing a measure that would restore voting rights to former felons.

Last Thursday, Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Abrams in Georgia. In her remarks, she drove home the obligation voters have given the grave sacrifices African American made to get the vote. She also noted that it had been less than 100 years since women were granted the right to vote. Riffing on the car giveaway she did years ago on her syndicated talk show, Winfrey said, “You get a vote, you get a vote… Everybody gets a vote.”

Ten years ago today, Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. During the past two years there has been a concerted effort to reverse his accomplishments over two terms in the White House. On Friday, President Obama spoke at a rally in Miami in support of Gillum and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is seeking re-election. It was one of those speeches where Obama’s delivery and cadence was sermon like. He stressed action.

“If you don’t like what’s going on, don’t just complain, don’t get anxious and freaked out , don’t throw up your hands in despair, don’t ‘boo.’ don’t hashtag, VOTE!” CT


TOP IMAGE: This For Freedoms billboard by TREVOR PAGLEN in Hartford, Conn., US-6 and Pope Park Highway, was inspired by On Kawara’s Date Paintings. | Photo by Eric Gottesman via Twitter


FIND MORE about why museums should serve as polling sites

FIND MORE about Everything You Need to Know for the Midterm Elections


Recently published, “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms” is not directly related to the For Freedoms initiative, but it does explore the tenets that inspired it. “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal” is a new volume exploring the arc of Hank Willis Thomas’s practice.

Exploring Democracy, Freedom, and Civic Engagement

“Capturing the Flag” follows a group of lawyers who go to North Carolina for the 2016 election to help ensure voters are able to cast their ballots when faced with challenges. Screenings are currently underway this month in New York City, Raleigh, N.C., and St. Louis, Mo. | Video by Anne de Mare, Director




EBONY G. PATTERSON, “I am a Promise” on view at the 21c Museum Hotel in Lexington, Ky. (Oct. 1 – Nov. 7, 2018). | Courtesy 21c Museum and For Freedoms






RASHID JOHNSON’s “Untitled” billboard is on view at 111 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles (Oct. 2-Nov. 30, 2018).






Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.