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In The Wake Of Trump’s Election, Liberal Artists In Boston Create With A New Urgency

Resistioke, a band that performs protest songs sing-along style, performed at J.P. Licks in early January. The performance was part of a new collaboration, ResistARTS, that sprung up after Trump's election to build community across cultural divides. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Resistioke, a band that performs protest songs sing-along style, performed at J.P. Licks in early January. The performance was part of a new collaboration, ResistARTS, that sprung up after Trump's election to build community across cultural divides. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

“The election went hard,” playwright David Valdes Greenwood says. “As the gay son of an immigrant, dad to a mixed-race, African-American daughter, so much of the language was directed at every aspect of my life.”

Valdes Greenwood is the lead organizer of “Pinning Our Hopes,” at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion on Jan. 14, an evening of monologues, poems and excerpts from plays presented in resistance to the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

In the wake of Trump’s election, liberal artists, writers and performers around Boston are creating political art with an urgency not seen in years — from visual art exhibitions to a counter-inaugural night of music and performances to a ukulele flash mob for those “heartsick by the election.” More than a dozen art events are planned in the week leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration alone.

“The real focus,” Valdes Greenwood says, “is what can come out of it.”

A Rude Awakening

For many of these artists, Trump’s election victory came as a rude awakening.

“I expected a very different outcome, and felt somewhat personally responsible for not being as engaged during the election as I would like,” says author Daniel Johnson, who is helping organize “Together We Rise: A Counter-Inaugural Celebration of Resistance” in Boston on Jan. 19. It will begin with a procession from Mary Hannon Park to the Strand Theatre. There they will present a "mobilization fair" of activist groups, an art exhibit and a performance of music, poetry, comedy and testimonials. “When so much of the campaign rhetoric has been so divisive and hateful,” the aim, Johnson says, is “to have a really diverse group of artists to say this is what community looks like.”

Poet Alistar Allen performing at J.P. Licks in early January as part of ResistARTS, a collaboration created to build community post-election. (Joe Difazio for WBUR.)
Poet Alistar Allen performing at J.P. Licks in early January as part of ResistARTS, a collaboration created to build community post-election. (Joe Difazio for WBUR.)

Musician Chelsea Spear says, “When I was finally in a position to do anything more than mourn, I decided to do a [ukulele] flash mob.” The group plans to perform inside Boston’s South Station on Jan. 19. “I wanted to do something that would respond to the fears a lot of people have about what’s going to happen in the next few years.

“We’re not holding signs. We’re not going to mention the name of the president-elect. I chose a song from ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” Spear says. She hopes to have 15 ukuleleists play “The Hanging Tree.” “I chose a song with imagery of lynching and hate crimes in a way to remind people of the dangers of what could be happening in the next four years.”

“Under the Trump administration people are going to need to get active,” says actor Daniel Boudreau, who in the wake of the election has launched a new theater company, Praxis Stage, to perform political plays. Their first production will be “Incident at Vichy” at Inner Sanctum in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood from Jan. 19 to 26. Arthur Miller’s 1964 play is about Nazis rounding up Jews in occupied France during World War II. Boudreau says, “The actors have been struck by how much of the language, how much of the ideas are apropos to our times.”

For Boudreau, Trump’s talk of a registry for Muslims and sending immigrants back, as well as the spike in hate crimes since the election, “really brings to mind the rise of fascism in different parts of the world.”

“Incident at Vichy,” he says, asks the audience: “How do we respond to the unfathomable, the inconceivable as it breaks out, as we are faced with existential threats to ourselves, when we are threatened? How do we find the courage not to stand by when the world is becoming inconceivable? … It’s about finding courage in inconceivable times, finding collective action, taking a stand against the rise of fascism.”

'A Social Emergency No Matter Who Won'

Wee The People was founded by Francie Latour and Tanya Nixon-Silberg, two moms who aim to teach children about protest, racism, class, xenophobia, gentrification, gender and difference through visual and performing arts so "that kids can engage on their level." Their first event — a family march for social justice — was last spring.

“It came out of us wanting to go to a protest and realizing they’re not really family friendly,” Nixon-Silberg says.

Tanya Nixon-Silberg, storyteller and co-founder of Wee The People, reads at a ResistARTS event in early January. (Joe Difazio for WBUR.)
Tanya Nixon-Silberg, storyteller and co-founder of Wee The People, reads at a ResistARTS event in early January. (Joe Difazio for WBUR.)

Trump’s election came as a shock to them, and prompted them to do more. So they launched ResistARTS in collaboration with Mindy Fried and Marie Ghitman, the founders of the annual Jamaica Plain Porchfest. Their Jan. 5 event in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood offered “Resistioke,” a group karaoke sing-a-long backed with a live brass band of “Everyday People,” “Hey Jude,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Born This Way.” The night also included "Re-Read Me A Story: Socially Conscious Storytime for Adults" and music by violinist and singer-songwriter Aisha Burns. The performances raised money for English for New Bostonians, City Life/Vida Urbana and Bikes Not Bombs.

“A lot of people don’t know what to do. We provide an opportunity to do something,” Nixon-Silberg says. They want “to give people an outlet to effect change, to do it by being on the ground floor of these really amazing organizations, to resist all these things that are coming down the pike. It’s really scary. You see the cabinet picks, you see the Twitter. … You see people are emboldened to say what they’ve been thinking for a long time. People are emboldened to be racist. … That’s scary.”

Boston’s Design Studio for Social Intervention sees the situation as so dire that it’s been developing plans for pop-up “Social Emergency Response Centers.” Facilitated by artists and activists, they see the events as helping forge “a set of procedures for when a social emergency breaks out,” orienting people, help them recuperate, and then remaking “a society in line with our values,” Design Studio founder Kenneth Bailey says.

“It’s a response to the election, but it’s also a response to all the stuff leading up to the election,” Bailey says. Problems were piling up: the Wall Street bailout; the Flint water crisis; the Dakota Access Pipeline project; gentrification; and the number of black people killed by police, he says.

The Design Studio actually initiated the project after white Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for his fatal shooting of the unarmed African-American 18-year-old Michael Brown that summer, one of the killings that kicked off the early Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “We could see the evidence of a chasm growing in the United States across race and across politics and the understanding of what it means to be and live and feel safe in the United States,” Bailey says.

“We knew we’d be in a social emergency no matter who won” the election, Bailey says. “After Trump won, now all of a sudden everybody could see what a lot of us were talking about seeing for quite some time. We’re in an eroding social society and we’ve got to get in the business of building again.”

Aisha Burns and Jake Woodruff perform at On Centre to benefit Bikes Not Bombs. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
Aisha Burns and Jake Woodruff perform at On Centre to benefit Bikes Not Bombs. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

'What It Is We Believe'

“I think people are looking for something to help them think through what they’re feeling, to put a name to a thing,” writer Daniel Pritchard says.

He’s helping organize “Greater Boston Writers Resist” at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Jan. 15. More than two dozen writers, students and civic leaders will read classic texts by the likes of James Baldwin as well as original works “to voice our concerns and reaffirm our commonly held values.” It’s one of more than 90 readings happening across the U.S., Europe and Asia under the “Writers Resist” banner — including events at Boston Sculptors Gallery and Gloucester’s Rocky Neck Cultural Center.

“I think people are looking for an opportunity to articulate what it is we believe. We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about what we’re against, what we’re facing. We are for a multiracial, open, just, pluralistic society,” Pritchard says. “And that’s a form of resistance. Asserting what you’re for is the best form of resistance. We don’t want these values to erode.”

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Greg Cook Twitter Arts Reporter
Greg Cook was an arts reporter and critic for WBUR's The ARTery.

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