A SIZABLE GROUP OF ARTISTS has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for President of the United States, issuing an open letter of support outlining the reasons why they think the he is the best candidate in the Democratic field. More than 2,500 artists have endorsed the online letter, including Kader Attia, Kevin Beasley, Nicole Eisenman, Aaron Fowler, Nan Goldin, Christine Sun Kim, Cameron Rowland, Wu Tsang, Anicka Yi, and Kara Walker.

Generated by Artists4Bernie (a campaign founded by Mohammed Salemy, Jennifer Teets, and the collective DIS), the letter begins with the following statement: “We are an international network of people that work within art and culture, and with this letter, we would like to declare our support for Senator Bernie Sanders and endorse his 2020 presidential campaign. By endorsing Bernie Sanders we hope to reach out to our American colleagues, friends, and families, and express our enthusiasm in supporting, and voting for, the only candidate we believe can unseat Donald Trump.”

The letter cites several reasons why the artists are backing Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist. They embrace his foreign policy perspectives, describing them as “progressive” and calling him a “peace candidate” who will redirect American resources toward domestic issues, “rather than military and pressure diplomacy on behalf of American business interests around the globe.” The artists also agree with his views on climate change and the environment and applaud his support of the Green New Deal legislation introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.).

Posted online Feb. 24, the letter gathered more than 600 signatures, from artists and cultural figures. The list grew to 1,200 on Feb. 25. The morning of Feb. 26, following the Democratic debate in South Carolina, 1,600 artists had signed on to the statement. By the end of the day the count was 2,579.

Scanning the incredibly lengthy list, the names of at least 15 relatively prominent black artists stood out. In addition to Beasley, Fowler, Rowland, and Walker, the letter has also been endorsed by Hannah Black, Aria Dean, Janiva Ellis, EJ Hill, Jibade Khalil Huffman, Juliana Huxtable, M.I.A., Sondra Perry, Jacolby Satterwhite, Diamond Stingley, and Torey Thornton.

THE SIGNATORIES are particularly motivated by Sanders’s commitment to the working class and funding for the arts. The letter states:

    Bernie Sanders is leading a working class movement that transcends ethnicities, generations, and geographies. Artists and cultural producers are largely precarity laborers–often struggling without benefits, financial security, at the whim of the market. These fields are therefore more inclined to attract people who are already privileged, at the expense of the less privileged—and, often, more talented. Medicare for all, universal childcare, canceling student debt, and free public college, are just a few of the progressive changes that we support for their soundness and logic, that will spill over into a more equal cultural sphere.

Several years ago, Sanders said, “I will be an arts President.” The quote appears on his website on a page where artist-made merch is for sale. It’s also cited in the letter of support.

Sanders made the statement in a 2015 video for the Arts Action Fund, a bipartisan arts advocacy organization. He said he is proud of his long history of support for the arts, which dates back nearly 40 years. He was serving as mayor of Burlington, Vt., at the time and helped create the city’s first arts council.

“When I look back on my eight years as mayor, founding the Burlington Arts Council was one of my proudest achievements. I am even more proud that the effort not only continues today, but has grown in ways we could not have even imagined in the early 1980s,” he said. “I have continued my longstanding commitment to the arts and arts education during my time in Congress, in spite of terrible attacks on the arts from conservative ideologues.

Sanders continued: “You have my promise that as president, I will be an arts president. I will continue to advocate strongly for robust funding of the arts in our cities, schools, and public spaces. Art is speech. Art is what life is about.”

“You have my promise that as president, I will be an arts president. I will continue to advocate strongly for robust funding of the arts in our cities, schools, and public spaces. Art is speech. Art is what life is about.”
— Bernie Sanders

THREE STATES HAVE VOTED in the Democratic primary election thus far—Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Currently, Sanders is ahead in the delegate count with 45. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has 25 delegates. Vice President Joe Biden is at 15. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have 8 and 7, respectively. Sanders is also leading in national polls. South Carolina votes on Saturday (Feb. 29). In that state, Biden is in the lead, polling at 31.1 percent, with Sanders in second (21.4 percent) and Tom Steyer in third (14.6 percent).

According to a recent Post-ABC News poll, about 30 percent of respondents thought Sanders had the best chance of beating Trump. Biden ranked second (about 19 percent) and Mayor Mike Bloomberg was third (about 18 percent). Of course, polls and surveys are unreliable.

In the open letter, the artists address concerns that a Sanders nomination would not be viable in a match up against Trump:

    Many pundits, journalists, and skeptics have wondered if Bernie Sanders has the mettle to stand up against Trump in the general election. We believe he does for two simple reasons: his unshakeable ethics which have guided his career for decades, and his dedicated and invigorated base of supporters—the largest donor base of any candidate in the democratic primary. He has both the moral authority to confront Trump better than his challengers on the left, and the forthright nature to knock him off his game. Some have questioned Sanders’s age as a deterrent, which we feel is an asset.

THERE ARE A VARIETY OF WAYS to support a candidate, including voting, volunteering, signing an open letter, and campaign contributions, which must be disclosed publicly.

The Federal Election Commission maintains a database of individual donations to candidates for public office. Like many other federal agencies under the current administration, the FEC is not fully staffed. The FEC is an independent regulatory agency with more than 300 employees. Six commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate lead the agency. Only three commissioners are currently serving. Three seats are vacant.

Last September, the FEC issued a press release announcing the agency was open for business, but working without a quorum, which requires four commissioners to make decisions in a variety of key areas of operations.

Given this, assuming the contribution database is accurate and up-to-date, FEC records show none of the African American artists mentioned above have made a contribution to the Sanders campaign.

Brooklyn-based Walker is the lone artist who did make a campaign contribution. She’s donated to ActBlue, MoveOn.org, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In addition, she made 15 contributions to one individual candidate, dating from July 10 to Dec. 28, 2019. The amounts range from $10 to $75 each, and total $380. Every one of the contributions was made to “Warren for President.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Feb. 10, 2020 – Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, at a rally in Durham, N.H. | Photo by Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images


“Kara Walker: Hyundai Commission” documents Kara Walker’s monumental installation at the Tate Modern in London. The small-scale, fully illustrated volume includes writings by Zadie Smith, Clara Kim, and Walker.


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