Their survival and growth prove that a business can make money while promoting social justice, even in these tough times. Perhaps current events—government wiretaps, terrorist plots, unpopular wars, crashing stock markets, the world climate going south—have boosted sales. SCW tells the story of its first quarter-century with an exhibition titled InsideOUT: A Behind the Scenes Look at Art & Activism at their new ArtRage Gallery.
It all began with the Peace Calendar, a fund-raiser that failed to raise funds for the Syracuse Peace Council. SCW is the small business Dik Cool, an SPC member, started to keep the project going. About 700 copies of the first peace calendar were sold back in 1972. These days about 30,000 are sold each year.
The calendar marks important dates for those with progressive values, like the birthdays of Che Guevara (June 14), Allen Ginsberg (June 3) and Nelson Mandela (July 18). Mainstays of standard calendars appear as well, often with a parenthetical twist. For example, Feb. 22 reads, “1732—Birth of George Washington, first President of US (slave owner & hemp grower).” The entry for Mother’s Day informs us that Julia Ward Howe devised the holiday in 1872 as an antiwar celebration. Instead of simply labeling Oct. 12 as “Columbus Day,” they jot a note observing that in 1492 indigenous people discovered Christopher Columbus. Almost every day of the year holds a mini-lesson along these lines.
As art director at SCW, Karen Kerney works with more than 100 artists to generate the imagery used in all the posters, bumper stickers, buttons, greeting cards, T-shirts and other materials now in production, plus she creates original works herself. Kerney seeks work that is powerful but also beautiful. “There were years when it seemed every poster I saw had a mushroom cloud in it,” Kerney remembered. She emphasized the power of positive imagery. “As much as we’re going to be against things, our job is to inspire change.”
in September: “Rhizome Collective,” the image for the month of
September in the 2009 Syracuse Cultural Workers Peace Calendar, also
graces the collective’s current exhibit.
For InsideOUT, the walls of the gallery have been plastered with old and new works sorted roughly by theme: the labor movement, pacifism, feminism, etc. Some are abstractions of a brighter future, like Jennifer Hewitson’s stylized farm worker who reaches past orchard fruit to pick the sun itself or Eric Drooker’s whimsical four-story brass band that stops a tank in its tracks. There are also artistic interpretations of inspirational figures like Rosa Parks. Some works simply add a bit of style and color to dry but important documents like the United Nations Declaration On The Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All of these printings, regardless of medium or message, are referred to at SCW as “Tools for Change.”
Politicians have talked a lot of late about battles for hearts and minds. Cool and his cohorts are engaged in just such a battle; but where military strategists dream of performing culturectomies and culture transplants, the SCW hopes to free minds, rehabilitate lost and marginalized cultures, and encourage the independent initiative of grass-roots organizations. “Our job is excavating stories that validate peoples’ culture—to try to correct the record a little bit,” explained associate publisher Donna Tarbania. “People can be dominated politically and militarily but the more fundamental domination is of people’s minds.”
Added Cool: “There’s an unfortunate amnesia about our own history. Throughout history people have struggled to create freedom, justice and equality.” Cool was interviewed while at a National Association for the Education of Young Children conference in Dallas, where he hopes to get his lessons and messages into as many hands as possible.
InsideOUT: A Behind the Scenes Look at Art & Activism opens Wednesday, Nov. 12, at the ArtRAGE Gallery, 505 Hawley Ave., and runs until Dec. 20. An opening reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 15, 7 to 9 p.m. The gallery is open Wednesdays to Fridays, 2 to 7 p.m., and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. Call 218-5711 or browse www.artragegallery.org for more information.