The Indivisible movement is founded on the idea that democracy is not a spectator sport. That spirit was brought to life in a special way at ResistFest, an interactive art festival put on by Santa Cruz Indivisible this September. Held in the streets of Santa Cruz, ResistFest featured a myriad of interactive art projects that invited members of the community to be a player, a protagonist, and a partner. This art festival was not designed with passive spectators in mind. After all, it was a celebration of democracy..
ResistFest took place in three different yet connected locations in downtown Santa Cruz, including inside the Museum of Art and History (MAH). Eleven of the group’s issue groups took over parking spaces along Cooper Street, an idea modelled after PARK(ing) Day, which is an annual global event where artists and activists temporarily transform metered parking spaces into public spaces. Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase spoke at the event and was a partner throughout.
We spoke with Amanda Altice and Rebecca Goldman, two of the SCI members who led the organizing of ResistFest, about some of their favorite art pieces from the event, and about how they brought it all together.
In the atrium of Santa Cruz’s Museum of Art and History, “Citizen-ship/USS DREAMER,” an ocean liner with chains of paper “life boats” fastened to its gigantic cardboard hull, stirred up a buzz. The “life boats” served as a medium for people to tell stories about how their families came to America.
Citizenship was one of the big themes featured in the museum. “We tried to bring in the idea of how people that are undocumented can represent themselves, as well as other ways that people with citizenship can be involved,” Amanda said.
The huge ship was constructed by artist Sara Friedlander with help from her husband and three other local artists.
Right beside the “Citizen-ship” was artist Lidia Hasenauer’s interactive assemblage — “Hope is the Anchor of Our Lives”. She created it to share her family’s story and encourage others to do the same. People were invited to fill the shipping labels tied to the chain with their family’s stories. The artist conveyed through this piece that “a common ‘link’ with many Americans is that our families came from somewhere else.”
There were also poets and spoken word artists performing beside the “Citizen-ship” many of them focusing on the Hispanic community’s experience. In the week when the Trump administration announced that it was ending the DACA program, such performances struck a chord with the audiences at the exhibition.
“We got a lot of positive feedback about the combination of spoken words and the sculpture in that space. It activated that space really well, in a really positive way,” said Rebecca, who is herself an artist and the art curator for ResistFest.
Voting Room is another interactive art project about citizenship featured in the museum.
Amanda and Sara created several voting booths where people can “vote” — writing postcards to their Members of Congress. In order to walk to the voting booth, people had to go through a few checkpoints with barriers. They rolled a dice to decide which state they were from and learned about the voting law in that state, with members of the voting rights team at each checkpoint. People experienced the frustration from voter suppression through playing these games. In the same room there was also a fast track entry where people could pay their way to the voting booth and completely circumvent all the barriers.
The Voting Room lives on: one of the participants was a local high school teacher, and he decided to bring this art project to his classroom.
On Cooper street, the booth led by the women’s rights issue team raised over $600 for Planned Parenthood by selling products like candles with pictures of Supreme Court women judges, pink “pussy hat” finger puppets and pouches with cats printed on them. They also hosted a table with ceramic art pieces representing different kinds of birth control, which sparked conversations throughout the weekend. At one point, a young woman who was a freshman at University of California – Santa Cruz came up and talked to the crew about the art and they ended up talking about birth control and practicing safe sex. When she was walking away the crew noticed there was another woman behind her who they realized was her mother, mouthing “thank you” to them.
The Environmental and Science issue team created a “campfire”, where people were invited to sit on the logs and have “campfire” talks about environmental issues.
“You created an interaction when you do that. You have a thing to spark conversation. It’s not just walking up and say let me tell you about my organization. It’s like, what do you think about whatever the question is. It’s like there is a question we are posing and that created a more meaningful interaction,” Rebecca said.
Apparently some of the most active “campfire” talkers were littles kids wearing “A Roof Over My Head” hats. There was also a “Hopes For The Future” tree with paper leaves for people to write their hopes on.
Rebecca sees the “stickiness” of dialogs as the success of ResistFest. “People don’t just go in and walk out. People on the street enter these parklets and spend time learning and having conversations about these issues.”
Amanda’s favorite art project was “The Emperor’s Clothes” by artist Hildy Bernstein. It was a series of magnetic paper Trump dolls for which people can change the outfits. Amanda particularly liked the Pinocchio costume with noses of different lengths.
Rebecca thought this was a great example of how art could be an effective way of expressing emotions. The artist herself told Rebecca that she could sit there for hours playing with those dolls.
“I met a lot of artist who were creating art because they had to. I kept hearing that. That’s how they deal with their emotions. They were in their studios creating art about all the things they care about, things that matter to them, ” Rebecca said.
The ResistFest team was never sure whether they could pull this off in just two months. But they did it. The planners ran their team like a start-up, taking a chance at being creative. When things didn’t work out, they simply tried something else until it worked out. People on different sub-teams were empowered to do what they wanted to do with whatever resources there were, and took ownership.
Rebecca also had an analogy. “We just had a really good team. We continued to say ‘yes’ to things. That’s the law of doing improv. You just have to continue to say ‘yes, and…’”
Of course, Ressistfest was also a huge lift: its producers ultimately put in it took produced by 40+ hours of volunteering hours each week for a month straight, in addition to aside from their own full-time jobs.
They are already working on a ResistFest Step-by-Step Guide, hoping there will be more ResistFests burgeoning across the country.
“It was just a handful of us who had the idea and put it together. So a handful of other people in other cities can do this too. We hope they will, ” Rebecca said.
“Sometimes I still can’t believe we did all that. I really don’t know how it happened. When you just do it step by step, somehow it just comes out in the end, ” Amanda added.