The 27-year-old Brooklyn artist Matt Starr recently became politically aware in a way that some religious people are born again, and the object of Starr's ardor is the 74-year-old senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.
Starr, along with his friend/producer Brittany Natale, decided to host an arts-focused event to raise funds for Sanders's campaign, and — in just 30 short days, they created the two-day event taking place this weekend in Brooklyn; they dubbed it "Weekend with Bernie."
"Untitled," by Johnny Smith.
How was Starr — an artist known for his weirdly awesome Babycore series — inspired to collect the works of his artist friends for the events?
"I was offered a show, and I thought that instead of yet another Brooklyn pop-up artist show, I want to do something that would really inspire people," Starr explains. "I had never been at all interested in politics, but I'd been following the Bernie phenomenon, and I wanted to get involved. I started watching his old speeches, some from 30 years ago, and his message has not wavered one bit. He has always been able to see through the bullshit."
Starr says that Sanders's positions on student-loan debt and universal health care, in particular, drew him to the candidate, and he decided to tap all of his art-world connections to raise money for the campaign. "I am a conceptual artist. I don't make a lot of money and I have tons of student loans," says Starr, "but one thing I am rich in is amazing, creative people, a lot of them whom I first met through my Walm.Art Instagram page." The artist may be new to politics, but he is canny about one thing: "Social media wins elections," says Starr. "In fact, Snapchat has been super-supportive of the events, and they are tagging all of the posts related to it."
The artist was shocked at how receptive people were to the idea. "Surprisingly, it was so easy to get people to participate," Starr says. Through my Instagram account, I had connected with a lot of artists whose work I admire, some of whom I have never even met. Within a few hours of sending out a request for art, I heard back from almost everyone, and the majority of them responded positively. It's a super-diverse show, half of the artists are women, and 40 percent are people of color — that's the way it should be, anyway, but it just happened."
Indeed, the roster of the artists and groups involved in the events — more than 50 in all — are a young art-world who's who, including Neil Harbisson, Grace Miceli, Judith Supine, and Killer Acid. As well, Ryder Ripps, mydaywithleo, and Liberty Leben will be there to represent.
"Kevlar Bear," by Dee and Ricky.
The "Weekend with Bernie" events are chock-full of awesomeness. Some of the featured performers include a gospel choir, the Soul Tigers Marching Band, and free checkups by a doctor on-site. Speakers will include the leaders of African-Americans and Latinos for Bernie, as well as a young woman who goes to high schools to register kids to vote as soon as they turn 18. There is also a "Bernie's Bodega" stocked with cool donated products from small-business sponsors including Justin's Nut Butter, Bearded Bros. Co., Fat and the Moon — and there will also be kombucha kegs provided by GT's Kombucha. One of the best interactive pieces will be an eight-full-tall Bernie head, complete with a paper shredder in its mouth, in which attendees are encouraged to destroy their student-loan bills (see below).
"Bernie Sanders Student Loan Shredder," by Clio Sage x Matt Starr x Liberty Leben x Brittany Natale.
In addition to inspiring Starr politically, the way Sanders is funding his campaign helped to inform the events. "I wanted to run these events just like Bernie's campaign: The total budget was $54, $27 each from my producer Brittany and myself, the same as the average individual donation to Bernie's campaign; all of the proceeds will go to the Sanders for President fund."
When asked why a 74-year-old politician inspired him so much, Starr was quick to answer. "I am a just a little Jew in Brooklyn, and, though he might be an old Jew from Brooklyn, he has more energy than most of the people my age! And now we have some of the best young artists in the city and beyond participating."
"Big Bucks" by Jon Burgerman.
When asked if he had contacted the Sanders campaign for their blessing, Starr said they were thrilled about the show. There was only one — perhaps unsurprising — caveat from the candidate. "Bernie only had one request, he said 'Don't make it all about me,' " Starr said.
Wrapping up his admiration for the Sanders, Starr says, "To me, politics was once a dirty word, but Bernie changed all that through his transparency, authenticity, and accessibility. Politics was once a locked door and Bernie is standing in front of it with an infinite amount of keys."
The final "Weekend with Bernie" event will be held today, Saturday, February 13, and will last to 11 p.m. (and likely beyond) at Wayfarers Gallery in Brooklyn: 1109 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11221; www.
Text Laura Vogel
Images courtesy of artists