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“Blood and Tears” by Ellen Bronstein.

The Arts

Art as activism

‘Raised Voices’ gathers together some pointed work from local artists

For questions and more information about “Raised Voices: Local Artists Resist,” email

BRATTLEBORO—When fiber artist Jackie Abrams found herself becoming depressed because of the current political climate in America, she decided to do something about it.

“Like millions, I was upset and was feeling bad about what would happen to our country,” Abrams says.

But she quickly realized that rather than moping about the situation, she needed to act.

“Since the only things I found myself capable of doing were making art and organizing,” she says, “I soon enough figured out a way to use those very skills to gather together a community of people who could raise their voice in resistance to these events.”

Joining forces with four other artists in the area — Petria Mitchell, Kris McDermet, Kay Curtis, and Arlene Distler — Abrams organized “Raised Voices: Local Artists Resist,” on display at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden at 157 Main St., from May 4 through 26.

This exhibit features the work of area artists who, as the open call for entries for the show expressed it, were willing to “stand up and express your hopes, your outrage, your vision in the face of the current political climate in our country today.”

“This show was conceived of as a gathering, a safe place for people to express and share their outrage with each other and the community,” Abrams says.

Fellow artist-organizer, and co-owner of Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts in Brattleboro, Petria Mitchell adds, “Responding creatively offers a myriad of avenues for healing and solace during this time of rapid change and deep questioning.”

Diverse participants

The exhibit presents unique pieces from some of the most prominent artists and artisans in the area and others whose work is less well known.

All the work on display is for sale with either 50 percent or 100 percent of proceeds going to three organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Vermont, the Brattleboro clinic of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and the Vermont Workers’ Center.

Artists showing work, in some cases made specifically for this show, include Jackie Abrams, Sue Aldridge, Monserrat Archbald, Barbara Baribeau, Karen Becker, Ellen Bronstein, Stuart Copans, Kay Curtis, Sloan Dawson, John Dimick, Arlene Distler, Wayne Estey, Suzanne Flynt, Kathleen Harwood, Laura Kaye, Dolores Klaich, Isabel Lenssen, Lodiza LePore, Steve Lloyd, Naomi Lindenfeld, Mel Martin, Kris McDermet, Barbara Milot, Petria Mitchell, Greg Moschetti, Sharon Myers, Gene Parulis, Leonard Ragouzeos, Deidra Razzaque, Susan Rosano, Nina Rossi, Deidre Scherer, Helen Schmidt, Lori Schreiner, Kathleen Sims, Walter Slowinski, Jorika Stockwell, and Toby Welch.

“Raised Voices,” will open with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on May 4 at the River Garden during Brattleboro’s monthly Gallery Walk. There will be refreshments, interactive sculptures, and performances by Silky Caterwaul and Cyrus Shaoul.

Although not confirmed yet, the event may include a visit by Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and area legislators.

Distler believes that “Raised Voices” can be explained in three words: resist, reclaim, and reimagine.

Abrams says, “I got the idea for ’Raised Voices’ when I saw Kay Curtis’s work, ’Resist.’ Here was someone who was taking an active stance about the disturbing events engulfing us these days.”

Labor of love

Abrams reached out to Curtis and asked if she would like to work with her on an art show about resistance. She also wondered if Curtis could suggest other artists and activists who would be willing to volunteer their time and energy to make the event happen. Soon, five dedicated artists were working on “Raised Voices,” a process that took months.

Curtis admits that she joined the endeavor less out of dismay at today’s political climate than from a love of the arts and a desire for a means to express herself and a community to share with.

“This show became a welcome opportunity to have a platform to exhibit my work locally,” says Curtis, who lives in Brattleboro, where she divides her time between art, children, and advocacy.

“Our call for entries put what we were looking for pretty simply,” Abrams says. “We wanted people to respond to the current political climate, our only stipulation being that it had to be works that were 2D-ish, that could be put on the wall.”

The show’s organizers found a lot of enthusiasm for the idea, and the works that made it into the show are diverse. These include large oil paintings, ceramics, collages, photography — even works made from plastic bags and torn paper.

“Raised Voices” also includes nontraditional gallery items such as writing and performance pieces that will be presented at the opening reception.

Arlene Distler, who is both a visual artist and writer, campaigned for writing to be part of the show.

“Our only stipulation for writing was that it could be hangable,” she says. “The writing in the show is often presented in imaginative ways. For instance, writing may be superimposed on a photograph, or a poem may be foregrounded with an image looming in the background.”

Even though many people responded to the call for art, because of limited space in the River Garden, the organizers could choose only 38 artists to be represented. But the potential of the show isn’t limited to that number. These works of art are for sale; if a piece sells it goes, and if it does, there are other submitted works waiting in the wings to replace it.

“Since the call for art was pretty open ended, the issues these works address are numerous, including greed, environmentalism, immigration,Trump’s presidency, women’s rights and war,” Abrams says. “People responded in so many ways, some that we did not initially expect.

“However, in their artist statements these artists often convinced us of the viability of what they were doing in relation to our theme. You often hear how artists are inarticulate about their art. These artists proved to be quite eloquent.”

Exciting discoveries

All the submissions were submitted digitally. The works were judged blind, so organizers had no idea who did what until after they were selected for the show.

“Even still, many of the names are unfamiliar to us, and we hope to meet these artists at the opening reception,” Curtis says.

Although the show may have arisen out of unease over the current state of affairs in America, the organizers hardly find the exhibit downbeat.

“I think this show helps us get past the bad stuff,” Distler says. “What we need now is a catalyst like Raised Voices to override bad things. Or to put it another way, I believe this show will prove to be cathartic for these times.”

“Did you ever hear the expression ‘1 plus 1 equals 3?’” asks Curtis. “That’s true for now. People who alone did not know how to deal with these times, here come together and feel empowered.”

Abrams, like Curtis and Distler, believes that “together we are creatively strong and powerful.”

“There is so much exuberance around now,” Curtis says. “I have great hope for our next generation. They will no longer be lost in their cell phones, but rather actively engaged in the world around them. I truly think that this moment, however bad it seems now, is a turning point in our culture, and we will soon be on the upswing. This is a moment for change.”

As Distler sums it up, “Putting together a show like ‘Raised Voices’ is a lot better than stewing in your own misery.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #456 (Wednesday, April 25, 2018). This story appeared on page B1.

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