Even as federal sponsorship of the National Endowment for the Arts hangs in the balance, people are responding to the Trump administration by turning to the arts more and more as a means of resistance. From the energy behind the Pussyhat Project to feminist punk anthems, art is at the forefront of the public’s defiance.
If the past few weeks have been any indication, the progressive agenda over next four years will be hard-won—and heavily illustrated. While the Trump administration makes its way through its first 100 days, a grassroots coalition of designers called the Creative Action Network (CAN) is illustrating its own version of what makes America great in a collection of 100 posters called “What Makes America Great.” CAN is releasing one poster a day as a direct counter to President Trump’s campaign slogan.
“Right after the election, we started hearing from lots of our artists: ‘What are we going to do?’” said Max Slavkin, CAN co-founder and CEO. “Everyone was so shocked and upset by what had happened, for a while we weren’t totally sure. We knew we didn’t want to do something as simple as anti-Donald Trump art because it felt like there was a unique opportunity for art to go a little deeper than that.”
Slavkin helped found CAN in 2008 as a way for artists to support themselves while producing work for causes they care about. CAN puts out a call for art around a cause, then licenses work from artists to sell as merchandise. After the illustrators take their cut, a portion of the profit is contributed to a charity relevant to the campaign.
Launched on Inauguration Day, CAN’S “What Makes America Great” campaign highlights traits like religious freedom, immigration, and resilience as hallmarks of American values.
“When times get hard, we persevere,” illustrator Emily Kelley said about her poster. “Our resilience is what makes us come back stronger than ever. It’s what makes us keep going, and it’s what will keep us from never giving up. Resilience is what makes America great.”
“America was built by immigrants and their descendants,” artist Chris Lozos said. “Those who came here had the spirit to overcome great obstacles and the ambition to fulfill their dreams in a new world. Without this steady stream of pioneers during all eras, we would not be the proud nation we are today.”
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating,” David Hays said about his design. “This insight is at least four centuries old, formulated by philosopher Francis Bacon during the Enlightenment. Though we now head into a new Dark Age in which Republicans intend to unwind eight years of hard-fought social and economic progress, the statement has lost nothing in terms of relevance and significance: Knowledge is more powerful than ever … and education is the fundamental precondition for political development, democracy, and social justice.”
Each poster is for sale through CAN’s online platform, with 10 percent of proceeds supporting Dream Corps, a social justice accelerator working to cut the American prison population, create opportunities for a more diverse tech industry, and build a green economy that works for everyone. The group, founded by social justice activist Van Jones, connects leaders in relevant disciplines with the resources, partners, and platforms to generate solutions.
Jennifer Luxton wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Jennifer is a journalist by training, graphic designer by profession, illustrator by passion, and amateur taxidermist by moonlight. She is the lead designer at YES! Follow her visual endeavors at www.jenniferluxton.com.