Local Creatives Gain Inspiration and More from Women’s March

Left to right, Marie Sinkhorn, Mitzi Gordon, Courtney Walker, Alison Bowen, Mary Williams Messenkopf, Sara Norine James, Carrie Boucher, and Jen Thorpe.
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Local Artists and Writers Who Participated in the Marches Discuss the Role of Creative Expression and Collaboration in Shaping the Historic Event and Our Social Consciousness in the Months to Come.

An estimated 3 million citizens participated in the Women’s March on January 21, and the higher-than-expected numbers included four Pinellas County-based artists  and writers who voiced their disapproval of the new Presidential administration and its proposed legislative changes.

Writer and arts advocate Mitzi Gordon, author Lynn Waddell, artist and NOMAD Art Bus founder Carrie Boucher traveled 900-plus miles to march on the Capitol.

Locally, artist/Dunedin Fine Art Center Curator Catherine Bergmann hoofed it alongside some 20,000 Tampa Bay residents in St. Petersburg’s sister march, which sprawled along the City’s downtown bayfront.

Left to right, Susan Waddell, Lynn Waddell, Wendy Damon, Alicia Spangler and JoJo Lewis.

Some traveled in groups and reunited with sisters along the way to make the trip — both biological and otherwise. Others found a new tribe on arrival.

The Pinellas creatives said they were impressed with the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie they experienced — even amid the frenzied hustle of an event that mushroomed in size well beyond initial expectations.

In the thick of the D.C. march, Gordon found herself pleasantly surprised and impressed that the peaceful mood didn’t let up while marchers contended with being rerouted, visual obstructions and other challenges. Nothing dampened the mood.

Warming stations throughout D.C. allowed demonstrators to warm-up and recharge. Gordon, Boucher and their posse visited Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, where they were welcomed with complimentary snacks and bottles of water. One woman in Gordon’s group didn’t pack the right winter clothing for the event and was offered a coat from the church’s lost and found.

“It wasn’t seamless yet it was perfectly seamless,” Gordon said. “People were rolling with the changes. They made space for each other. There was an attitude of calm and peaceful sisterhood and just being present.”

Art was indeed ever-present at the protests, whether in the form of ingenious, comical and urgently worded posters — Waddell’s group gathered last-minute supplies and created a poster that read “Think Outside my Box” — or through costumes, giant paper-mache figures or music from performers like Madonna or Alicia Keys or the iconic posters of Shepard Fairey.

“For me, the experience read entirely as a creative act — individually and collectively,” wrote Bergmann in an email to Creative Pinellas. “Between the personal manifestos presented (signs), the get-ups (chosen garb), and get-downs (shared chants), our humanity took the spotlight and it was powerfully affirmed. The creative energy generated that day around the world was exponential and continues to sustain.”

Catherine Bergmann (right) with her daughter, Ava MacGregor-Bergmann.

The most unlikely arts movement encompassed the efforts of daughters, moms and grandmothers all ages across the country — the wool pussycat hats, which went from hand-knitted craft to a world-known icon. Aerial photos of the D.C. march are awash in the pink blur of the thousands wearing the feline-inspired winter hats.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important a common symbol — a pussy cat — was to the movement,” said Waddell. The author of Fringe Florida has witnessed all manner of outrageous behavior by groups and noticed  the power of the pink hat.

“When I walked around wearing my pussyhat, people literally pulled over in their car to tell me they liked and supported the cause,” she shared. “Many others shouted they would see me the next day. It was so empowering and uplifting to know that many other Americans also feel as I do.”

Without the push of a major advertising or marketing agency, the pink hat entered our cultural vocabulary in a relatively short amount of time.

The juncture of creative breakthrough and experimentation by seasoned creatives and untrained artists alike has fascinated Boucher, whose entire mission, with her NOMAD Art Bus, involves bringing out the inner master in all children and adults, not just the gifted or educated.

Singer-songwriters Laura Lee and Theresa Sareo.

“When people come together for a common cause, they often let go of their inhibitions about art,” she said. The academically trained artist and instructor thought she had seen it all but claimed to be amazed at the level of creativity that went into the protest’s signs and iconography.

“I saw so many creative signs,” Waddell said. “They captured everything from the bromance of Putin and Trump to the the simple lines, which I think work better, like ‘Make America Think Again,’ ‘Save America’s Public Schools’  and even a mere cardboard cutout of a kitty cat head.”

“It’s super easy to get kids to make art,” Boucher added, “but at some point, people start to think they are not an artist and not good at it and not allowed to do it. … For many, making art to express something and the process of creating motivated people to go out and buy art supplies and make something for the first time in a long time. I love it when art allows empowerment.”

Gordon and Boucher, friends and frequent collaborators, both say they feel energized to participate in activities that further the initiatives of the Women’s March. They discussed organizing postcard parties  letter-writing sessions with arts supplies and blank postcards provided with information about issues, names and addresses  of U.S. senators, representatives, the White House and other legislative bodies.

“I think that any arts organization can get support by bringing people together,” Gordon said, adding that there has been discussion of book clubs focused on works about politics and activism, “Snacks and Act” events and an increased availability of books from the Little Free Library network related to timely subjects.

Nonprofits across the nation are offering tips for arts communities. Boucher commended the efforts of Deborah Fisher, a professor at Valparaiso University, who is working to expand the roles art and artists play within communities through her non-profit organization A Blade of Grass.

Even with the threat of cuts in federal funding to the arts looming — particularly to the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities — Gordon is confident in our ability to overcome obstacles and energize the arts scene around causes and events of social consciousness.  Even the larger, more prestigious institutions with wealthy donors — many of a more conservative mind set — could stand to benefit from community organizing, she said.

“They could mobilize their constituencies to retain federal funding for the arts,” Gordon added. “Imagine if a voice as powerful as the Dalí, which has an impact on the arts locally and nationally spoke out. It may take an act of bravery on their part, but it will be worth it.”

Some related events and information …

Postcard Party Pinellas! 10 Actions/100 Days gathers concerned citizens from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 1, at Pair O’ Dice Brewing, 4400 118th Ave N, Ste 208, Clearwater.

Lynn Waddell has a short story featured on the web blog donaldtrumptales.com. She will also read her work at Story Brothel at 7 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 15, at  Cigar City Cider & Mead, 1812 N. 15th St., Tampa, and Alternative Facts: A Memoir Writing Game, Friday, Feb 24, at 7 p.m at Sawgrass Teahouse & Performance Venue, 2436 Emerson Ave. S., St. Petersburg.

Catherine Bergmann curated works in Dunedin Fine Art Center’s current exhibitions, which celebrate interconnectedness and our renewed relationship with Cuba. One show reveals the island through the lens of four photographers, another displays works by contemporary Cuban artists, and an all-media juried exhibition titled We Are Family” takes up the fourth gallery. Visit dfac.org for details.

Carrie Boucher and her NOMAD Art Bus and Mitzi Gordon and her Bluebird Book Bus will be at Localtopia in Williams Park on Sat., Feb. 4, a few feet away from the the Bloom Collective, which will be presenting a unique 3-D installation. Visit nomadartbus.org or thebluebirdbus.com/bluebirdbooks for more info.

Boucher and artist John Gascot will be leading a five-week youth LGBT self-portraiture project at Gascot’s studio in the Pinellas Park Arts Village, 5663 Park Blvd., Studio 4, Pinellas Park. The project comprises four weeks of creating and will culminate in a gallery show at the Pinellas Arts Village at the COVE gallery. Gascot will lead the workshop, partner and a co-lead with NOMAD. Classes will take place March and April with the exhibit opening on April 22 for Pinellas Park art walk. Gascot and Boucher are currently looking for 10 LGBTQ youth to participate. Email jgascot@gascot.com or click here for further details.

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