For Freedoms public forum celebrates art as political expression


Darcy Martinez

For Freedoms is an artist-run Super PAC that was founded to encourage art-based dialogue about politics and to facilitate greater engagement with the 2016 presidential election. On Nov. 5, it hosted a town hall meeting at MOCA to discuss the election.

“Freedom from small mindedness. Freedom from hunger. Freedom from judgment.” These are just some of the messages scrawled across the red, white and blue yard signs decorating the pavilion near the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

The signs are a small part of an initiative spearheaded by For Freedoms, an artist-run super PAC that was founded to encourage art-based dialogue about politics and facilitate greater engagement with the 2016 presidential election. It’s purpose is to foster conversation about political agency, activism, conceptualizations of freedom and the role of art and artists in the modern political landscape.  

Inspired by the four freedoms described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address, which identifies the four freedoms as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, For Freedoms is meant to be a nonpartisan effort to celebrate art as a form of political action and engagement and encourage meaningful collective discussion.

Founded by renowned artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms uses performances, exhibitions, programs, discussions and forms of inclusive activism to initiate open dialogue about politics. For Freedoms has had projects in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Houston, New Orleans, Kansas City, and now, Cleveland.

For Freedoms held a Town Hall-style public discussion at MOCA on Nov. 5. Leading up to the event, the PAC organized yard sign activation and voter registration activities to engage members of the University Circle community.

The discussion featured panelists Rev. Dr. Bennett Guess, the Vice President of the Council for Health and Human Services Ministries; Amanda King, the founder and creative director of Shooting Without Bullets; Jane M. Saks, the founding president and artistic director of Project&; and Hank Willis Thomas, artist and co-founder of For Freedoms. The discussion was moderated by Dan Moulthrop, the CEO of The City Club of Cleveland.

At the beginning of the Town Hall, attendees were encouraged to play Musical Chairs and move their seats to form a large circle to create a more inclusive atmosphere. After a brief introduction to each of the panelists, the moderator went on to pose a general question: How is everyone feeling?

From there, the discussion took off and went on to address a wide range of topics, including the current presidential candidates, the political climate, racism, identity construction, civic engagement and art. All the while, a slideshow projected onto the front wall flipped through art prints and artwork featured in For Freedoms exhibitions.

King, who is currently a student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said that she hopes that politics will gradually shift its emphasis towards “young students, the poor, the forgotten [and] the incarcerated.”

She went on to describe, in a later portion of the discussion, how she felt that “art is the best way” to use energy to create positive movement in times of negativity.

The PAC’s emphasis on open dialogue was apparent throughout the event—while panelists did contribute some thoughts and direction, the majority of the conversation was guided by audience input, with microphones circulating through the crowd.

While some of the topics that were broached could be considered uncomfortable, the collective nature of the discussion made respect and inclusivity a priority, ending with the moderator encouraging everyone to verbally appreciate their neighbors’ attendance.