Anger can be a powerful motivator.
In artist Amy Scheidegger's case, it was a group of obnoxious undergrads on the subway in West Philadelphia who spurred her to action. They were discussing college majors, and one made the highly educated observation "Art is, like, the most worthless degree anyone can get. Like, haha, they have a degree in making shit with popsicle sticks." As general hilarity ensued and Scheidegger's blood boiled, she made a quick exit from the subway car with a new determination: To rebut, decisively, the popular notion that art is worthless, especially among young people who in theory should be exhibiting a more enlightened attitude than that of their elders.
The product of Scheideggers's angry determination, begun on a nano-grassroots level but now rapidly spinning into a real movement, is the Artistic Rebuttal Book Project, a collection of individual "take that" messages that will be reproduced in book form and, in the best case scenario, distributed widely across the country to reach those who need to get the message most.
As an alumna of Drexel University's graduate program in Arts Administration, she is armed with the network and the know-how to pull off a project of this scale. Using social media to spread the word initially, Scheidegger put out a call to artists and art lovers to contribute 7" x 9" "rebuttals" addressing the importance of art; the contributions have ranged from pictorial works to quotes and statistical citations. So far she's collected over a hundred contributions -- including a number produced by elementary school students who produced their works as part of class projects -- and commitments for several hundred more to be submitted by the May 15 deadline.
So far, Scheidegger has already put together copies of a preliminary book of rebuttals from Pennsylvania contributors, which she distributed to state representatives in Washington during the recent Arts Advocacy Day, and has been delivering the message, and call for participation, to as many people as possible nationwide (she has been sending information packages on the project to ultra-VIPs like President Obama and Wynton Marsalis, and just returned from a trip to Baton Rouge, where she spread the word to, and collected rebuttals from, a number of LSU students).
Artistic Rebuttal has gained so much traction that Scheidegger found it necessary to take on a Deputy Director, jazz vocalist and nonprofit development professional Meg Mitchell, who is also an alumna of Drexel's Arts Administration program. Mitchell is now managing organizational details and the business end of the project on a full time basis -- volunteer, of course.
The ultimate goal is to collect as many as 1,000 rebuttals (the maximum book size is 500 pages), and to raise enough money to produce and freely distribute the book to locations nationwide where it has the promise of making the biggest impact, including classrooms and libraries (there is now a Kickstarter campaign in place toward that end).
Although currently the project is known mostly among those who are already within the art community, Scheidegger emphasizes that the end product distribution focus will be on "places where artists don't necessarily go." She is not interested in preaching to the choir here, but in building appreciation among non-believers and "disproving the myth that art is elite and too complex for the public." The project especially aims to reach the hard-core non-believers, "those who need to see numbers," and convince them of the critical role art plays not only in every facet of daily life, but in its contribution to the economy. (Sound familiar? It's the very same message that seems to be going over the heads of those who espouse elimination of government funding for the arts.)
Where does the project go from here? Scheidegger and Mitchell consider Artistic Rebuttal as a long-term project, part of a lifetime dedication to art, and both voice a determination to stick with promoting it beyond the initial printing of the book. "Once a finished project is in hand, I see it as open ended mission," Scheidegger says. "Meg and I have put so much of ourselves into it, we can't see stopping."
"Rebuttal" contributions will be accepted through May 15; guidelines for submissions, as well as a selection of collected rebuttals received to date, are at the Artistic Rebuttal blog site.
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