When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016 I heard numerous accounts of people weeping, going into depression, and cutting ties with friends and family who had voted for Trump. It was during this climate that I conceived of the idea of putting on a giant community art event that would involve hundreds of people coming together to create a unified statement.
Five monumental murals later we have a new president and the nation appears to me to be more divided than ever. Furthermore, any attempts at building community are made more challenging as we can’t see each other’s faces or be in close physical proximity to one another. Both people and events are now frequently cancelled.
In past years all the mural painting has been done over a 3 day period in the midst of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day street festival. It’s been fun, but often chaotic and cold!
This year, though the street festival was cancelled, the city still wanted to celebrate the Valentine season by going forward with a new community mural. For subject matter in past years I had parodied a famous painting. This year the city requested that I base the mural on the US Postal Service’s new Forever Stamp.
This year the painting took place over a 3 week period inside the warmer and quieter Beet Center, the Loveland Museum-Gallery’s expanded space. In order to comply with state restrictions around COVID, we had people sign up for 20-minute increments and limit the number of people per room. While I missed the energy of the street festival, I have to admit I enjoyed the slower pace and I was actually able to enjoy extended conversations with several people.
But about this business of unifying the nation…
I’m happy to announce that everyone who participated in painting this year’s mural is now at peace with their neighbor, and has become committed to treating their political opponents with love and respect.
If only it were that easy. During an interview this year I was asked, “How have you seen art bring people together since the start of the pandemic? I replied:
Honestly, it’s been difficult bringing people together for any reason since the pandemic season started. I initially wondered if the pandemic might unite the country, but unfortunately it became politicized and has divided our nation even further. I think it’s important for human beings to continue to create, but the arts can only do so much. I think the only thing that will truly bring people together is if we as individuals do the hard work of getting to know our neighbor again, and seeking to understand those who view things differently than we do. I regularly engage in respectful dialogue with people “on the other side,” and it has been very healing. Politicians can’t fix this.
If that sounds like a buzzkill of an answer to you, I would plead to differ. I think it empowers the individual to care constructively, as opposed to hoping and waiting for politicians to get it right. We may not be like-minded in our opinions, but we can choose to be like-minded in approaching each other with understanding and respect as fellow human beings who bear the image of God.
In future posts I’ll share some of my adventures in reaching out to “the other side.” Until then, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts as to what you believe has caused the polarization in our culture. Please share in the comments below.