Art for a Democratic Society
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Art for a Democratic Society is a collaborative arts organization that combines aspects of social practice and conceptual performance art with traditional grassroots political organizing techniques. Our emphasis is on public, participatory artworks dealing with social issues.
Founded in 2007, Art for a Democratic Society (A4DS) is a participatory performance art collective that encourages public discourse on contemporary political issues. We declare the need for a creative community that actively engages with its audience and seeks to encourage wider popular discussion of issues of art and society in Bay Area communities.
Though draped in irony, our projects are earnest at heart. A4DS offers non-neutral, humorously pointed critiques of such modern crises as the War on Terror, the housing market collapse, bank bailouts, gentrification, class warfare, misinformation in the media, and marriage inequality. Our members work in various media, including self-publication, photography, film, carpentry, theater, illustration, poetry, and graphic design. We produce both tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious agitprop, sidestepping the pedantic in favor of interpersonal interaction.
A4DS aims to simultaneously edify and entertain our audience. We operate autonomously, and encourage collaboration with any individual or organization willing to not just continue a conversation, but also to become motivated and demand long-term progress. Inspired and emboldened by protest movements worldwide, we challenge ourselves and all artists to evaluate existing social hierarchies, be it the nation's growing wealth disparity or urban spaces and local cultural events slowly being overtaken by consumerism.
As emerging artists, A4DS hopes to establish a greater presence in the Bay Area and bring more ambitious projects to a wider audience.
Statement of Purpose:
From the inception of Art for a Democratic Society, our primary orientation has been towards public engagement on questions of politics, culture, and art. Our various projects have sought to provoke pointed exchanges that are neither pedantic and leading, nor vague. Instead, we attempt engagements focused on bringing social and cultural topics that are generally discussed in private into the open with a particular interest in the perspectives of misrepresented or marginalized identities and communities.
Through the adoption of faux-bureaucratic personas such as pollsters, public and corporate entities, we attempt to create a disassociation with perceptions of the mainstream and the marginalized and create an atmosphere in which utopian, unconventional, or critical ideas are treated with the seriousness usually reserved for the expressions of specialists and authorities.
We use social relationships as our medium in creative participatory performance in communities and public spaces. By creating art in the public sphere we hope to not only increase access to artistic performance for communities who may not have access to art institutions, but also to open up discussion of artistic and social questions to broader layers of people.
Celeste Christie earned a BA in Theater from UCLA in 2000, where she was on the Dean’s Honor List, and a BFA with Distinction in Jewelry/Metal Arts from CCA in 2006. She was selected by faculty at CCA for Best of Junior Review and the American Craft Council Searchlight Award. Her solo work focuses on economics, inequality, and preciousness. She has been included in shows at Velvet da Vinci Gallery, 18 Reasons Gallery, CELLSpace, and Rock Paper Scissors Gallery.
Steven Damewood graduated from UCLA in 2000 with a BA in English Literature. His writing has appeared in literary journals, and his illustration work has been featured in the Huffington Post. He has been a grassroots activist in Oakland since 2006, where he is currently a member of the Lift Up Oakland campaign to raise the minimum wage.
Francois Hughes earned a BFA in Sculpture from CCA in 2007. He became a member of A4DS in 2011. He has shown his work at The Spare Room Project and CSAW Gallery. He is currently an activist recently involved in anti-police-brutality and minimum wage organizing.
Sean Morris joined A4DS in 2011. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, and a contributing writer to music blog The Owl Mag. A native San Franciscan with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture, Sean contributes his performance background to organizations that promote diversity and social justice.
Ethan Rafal is an artist and photographer whose work deals with the individual and collective experience of violence, and the ways in which subsequent efforts toward representation inform personal and national mythologies. He graduated from Reed College in 2007, and has been based in the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest. He is currently releasing Shock and Awe, a ten-year project examining the relationship between protracted war and homeland decay. This edition takes the form of a journal, and succeeded through community funding and support. He shows at alternative art spaces, mentors through Southern Exposure, and is working on a new project dealing with suffocation. He joined A4DS in 2011.