Sonoma County artists joining protests over President Trump

'Art is there to start conversation and dialog... Once you start seeing communities coming together to enrich the dialog, that's when art is really working,' says Brent Lindsay, co-founder of The Imaginists theater group.|

If the mission of artists is to reflect and respond to the world around them, then how can they ignore the dominant current event in American life - the unexpected rise and election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States?

The answer is that they haven’t overlooked Trump at all. In fact, some are almost obsessed with him, while some local arts leaders take a broader view.

“Art is there to start conversation and dialog,” said Brent Lindsay, co-founder of The Imaginists theater group in Santa Rosa. “Once you start seeing communities coming together to enrich the dialog, that’s when art is really working.”

Since practitioners of the arts often tend to be liberal, particularly in Northern California, their reactions to the new administration range from alarm to outrage. Mostly, they say, they fear repression of free expression.

On the national level, singer and actress Jennifer Holliday backed out of performing at Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration gala under pressure from fans and activist groups, followed by the B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute group.

Live theaters nationwide, including the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, participated in “The Ghostlight Project” Jan. 19, on the eve of the inauguration, drawing some 60 people to a parking lot vigil, with participants pledging to protect and promote compassion and inclusion in a ceremony illuminated by flashlights and cell phone lights. Theaters in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Sonoma also held “Ghostlight” ceremonies, said Craig Miller, artistic director of the 6th Street Playhouse.

“As a nonprofit, our theater needs to be nonpartisan,” Miller said, “but we can provide a safe place for artists to express themselves.”

In Santa Rosa, at the “Poets Against the Trump Agenda” forum, eight local poets read their work to a packed house Jan. 22 at the Gaia’s Garden restaurant in Santa Rosa. That was followed by a lively open mic session.

“It was definitely a protest sort of a event,” said Santa Rosa poet Ed Coletti, who participated in the reading. Coletti, 73, served as an army officer in the Vietnam War and said he took part in the Women’s March in Santa Rosa the day before, one of many similar marches scattered across the country.

“I had really good feelings about the march,” he said. “I had the same feeling at the poetry reading. I had the feeling of unity and of people appreciating what was being done. It’s not what I normally do, but I’ve become involved, and I’m going to do everything I can.”

Trump’s election prompted artist and curator Suzanne Edminster to reach out to local artists for an exhibit she has titled “The Art of Resistance,” opening Feb. 3 at the Backstreet Gallery in Santa Rosa’s A Street arts district. The response was enthusiastic, with 30 local artists contributing artwork to the show. ?“So many artists are alarmed about a ‘cultural climate change’ that comes with the Trump administration,” Edminster said. “It’s not just that Trump is attacking the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and PBS (Public Broadcasting System). It is about the elevation of lies, screaming and crudity as a national norm.”

By contrast, the “Art of Resistance” show is at least as whimsical as it is strident. Graton artist Tony Spiers, who integrates pop culture icons into his work, drew a picture of Batman wearing one of the pink knit “pussycat” hats seen in the Women’s March.

“There are almost no Trump images in the show,” Edminster said. “Instead, artists are making beautiful metaphors they believe in. It’s not just Trump we respond to, but a pendulum swing toward ugliness in the world.”

The Santa Rosa-based Imaginists theater group has reached out to Sonoma County’s Latino community since 2008, bringing its free, bilingual “Art is Medicine” shows to parks, community gardens and food bank lunch sites. Imaginists is the recipient of three NEA grants and two grants from the California Arts Council.

“Those grants have been incredibly helpful. That’s ironic isn’t it?” said Lindsay of the Imaginists, since NEA is one of the programs threatened by the Trump administration and immigration is one of Trump’s key campaign issues.

“One of the things about art is that it’s the model of democracy,” Lindsay said. “Art demands diversity. I think that’s really the direction the country wants to go in, and that makes better art.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or On Twitter @danarts.

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