Art & Equity
Mar 12, 2019 09:31PM
“Art isn’t just about beauty; it provides a public space for people to talk about things that matter,” explains Humboldt County visual artist Jonathan Desoto. As one of the co-founders of Artists Dismantling Capitalism (ADC) the second annual conference was held in Arcata this February Desoto wants to bring attention to the market value of art in a capitalist economy. Rather than trying to separate artmaking from capitalism, the conference is actually designed to help artists gain recognition within the current economic system. And no, not with certifi cates and likes on Instagram, but with good old-fashioned dolla dolla bills the kind you can exchange for dinner and rent. Locally, it’s a matter of pride that more artists (per capita) call Humboldt County home than anywhere else in California. The frequently published statistic is a feather in the cap of large companies trying to attract employees to the Emerald Triangle and retailers who benefi t from upticks in tourism and the local arts scene. But for the artists actually putting Humboldt on the map as a cultural hub? They’d like their cut too, please.
Fellow ADC organizer and Humboldt theatrical artist Ruthi Engelke uses a participatory model known as the Theater of the Oppressed to create performances that address power relationships head-on. A spirited former public-school teacher, Engelke wants to motivate artists to get vocal about their needs and rights. “It’s about unrecognized labor,” says Engelke. She explains that while capitalism is “a giant monster,” it’s the only monster we have to serve artists. In order for art undeniably, essential to receive appropriate equity within a capitalist system, the leaders of ADC are working to shift public perceptions of art on the marketplace.
As a result of the inaugural ADC conference in 2018, Societies for Poetic Action, a co-founder of ADC, presented a critique of the City of Eureka’s strategic arts plan to city council, including ideas for artists and studio subsidies. (In the past year, two out of four of Eureka’s art galleries have closed and a third is scheduled to close this summer). ADC members have also formed the Humboldt Artists Guild, a networking group for professional artists. Desoto explains that artists have always maintained unique and complex relationships to support one another it’s nearly impossible to create art alone. He believes that along with formalizing such networks, other industries can also learn from the resourcefulness of artists, who have lived with less for years. “Now we want people’s time and work and labor to be honored,” explains Desoto. In his own art practice, Desoto uses woodworking techniques to create harmonic tableaus of shape and color. As a politically conscious artist and an entrepreneur, Desoto strives for a balance of beauty and content throughout his work.
While working to inspire social change and policy reform, Humboldt artists are going to keep making art. It’s a way of life, without compare, for many living in the Emerald Triangle. But through Artists Dismantling Capitalism, Humboldt artists are gathering their voices, knowing that only art has the power to change the conversation.