Art & the Protection of Democracy

Ward show w Fran

Schumaker with the writer

Ward Schumaker and Vivienne Flesher, two San Francisco-based, nationally recognized artists whom this writer is proud to call friends, have been fighting depression – to put it mildly – since last November. It is of course political – everything’s political these days – but for Schumaker and Flesher (who are in fact married to each other,) it’s about much more than politics. It’s about  human rights, the future of the planet their 9-year-old grandson will inherit, and protection of our democracy.

I met Schumaker shortly before the closing of his latest show at San Francisco’s Jack Fischer Gallery, for a brief talk about art and activism. (Sorry if you missed the show. You can still see his work at Fischer’s Potrero Street Gallery.) Does creating art help them deal with depression, I wondered?

Ward show 1“No. It’s just hard. But it’s what we do: get up in the morning, every day, and go to work at 8 AM.” Some extraordinary examples of Schumaker’s work were assembled for the latest show – creating them took about a year and a half, not all of which time was clouded in depression. My personal favorite is a piece titled “The cloud of unknowing.” Schumaker conceived the piece as a meditation, referencing the ancient (late 14th century) work of mysticism which suggests that contemplative prayer might lead to an understanding of the nature of God.

To mitigate their depression, however, Schumaker and Flesher are doing a little more than painting. They have created an assortment of postcards, some with messages on the front and some just featuring their original artwork. After printing out a stack of cards, they also printed out the names and addresses of every member of Congress, both Senate and House. (You can do the same, by following the links.) They keep these, along with a supply of 34-cent stamps, on their breakfast table, where every morning they enjoy coffee and The New York Times. When they find someone in Congress has done something positive, they send a thank-you postcard. Others get a card expressing disapproval.

Ward show 2Postcards take a little more time than a phone call or email, but are a powerful way to make one’s voice heard. Especially if one is worried about human rights, the future of the planet one’s grandchildren will inherit, and the protection of our democracy.

Plus: this is how democracy is protected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you happen to be in Omaha

This is going on in Omaha? Omaha Nebraska? Indeed.

No one should really be surprised. My friend Ward Schumaker, a gifted artist and not exactly your run-of-the-mill conformist, comes from Omaha. He and the similarly-describable Vivienne were visiting family there once when they up and married, sending word of the event with a notation in tiny print at the bottom that read ‘Forgive us.’ I think his mother was in her eighties when she started an innovative Midnight Basketball program to help keep Omaha kids off the streets. Innovation happens in Omaha.

This morning a notice arrived in my Inbox about an open position for an intern with Project Interfaith in Omaha. Project Interfaith is, as explained below the job description, a non-profit organization dedicated to growing understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures. You might want to apply.

Project Interfaith, started in 2004, is one of the younger such groups around the country with these goals. (I would be in big trouble if I failed to single out the San Francisco Interfaith Council, on whose board I serve.) There’s even an organization of organizations, the North American Interfaith Network which covers organizations and agencies in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.  Some of the others might be looking for interns too, but don’t go there if you want to get rich, other than in spirit.

Is this news, even in Omaha? Probably not. But it is worth noting, at a time when the need for understanding and respect among people of different beliefs and cultures is at an all-time high.