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A Thousand Artists: Presidential Inauguration 2013

A Thousand Artists: A Public Art Making Installation at the Washington Mall was an intervention designed to instigate a conversation about the power of art making and to inspire everybody to make art.

On Inauguration Day, Jon Bailiff was up and out by 5:30 AM so he could make his ink drawings and get new Inauguration participants to create as close as possible to the event.

Kevynn Joseph rode his bike through the crowds and sketched right from the seat of his bike. “I learned there are still surprises. One never knows what to expect, but when it happens- it’s like magic! People have always come up to me when I’m working on a piece. I do not feel any pressure as they watch because I’m able to focus on the task at hand.


My last piece was created on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Spectators gathered around a Jumbo-tron to witness the Inauguration proceedings, and that is exactly the picture I drew. … Everyone was in good spirits despite the audio and visual mishaps with the technical equipment.  God willing if I am still in the area, I would be honored to participate again at the next Inauguration in 2017 or any other event.”

What would happen if everybody had an art making practice of some kind or other? 

Everyone is creative and has the ability to make art.  It is a basic need and a fundamental human drive.  Art-making is a language that vastly improves our ability to communicate with one another, through the practice of learning how to see, reflect and innovate.  So many of us give up on art making when we are young, yet we don’t have to be good at it or call ourselves “Artists” to create.

In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln who took the first inaugural train, a group of us traveled via Amtrak, we gasped at the beauty of this great country enjoying everybody’s expressions and drew, painted, played guitar, wrote and even made rubber stamps.  In Chicago we switched trains for the last leg to DC and met up with hundreds of constituents of Representative Danny K. Davis who were also taking the train to D.C. I spoke with them about why we chose the Inauguration as the perfect place and time to create en-masse.

The Inauguration is a well known national public ceremony that marks the peaceful transition of power and sets the agenda for the next four years.  There we could directly compare, contrast and think about democracy and art-making  together.  If someday, everybody had an art-making practice, would our inner voices be able to speak out in new nuanced and innovative ways?  Would the quality of our listening be  more fine tuned so that we are more empathetic and less defensive?  Would our political discourse be more civil?  Would our democracy improve?

Artist, M Fitzgerald says, “Tommy Condenzio (a fellow member of my sketching group) and I met up around 9:30AM on Sunday, to get our stylish and festive jumpsuits and beanies.” “…We were both so excited to be taking part in this artistic adventure!”

As the security barriers were being erected on the day before the Inauguration, many of us were out on the streets creating.

M Fitzgerald: “While we were sitting in the brilliant sun, in our comfortable chairs, and looking across at the sparkling marble of the Capitol building, we began to hear music. Specifically, James Taylor. We at first assumed it was recorded and they were just testing the sound equipment. It soon became apparent that he was actually there, rehearsing “America the Beautiful,” right there in front of us! I was practically in tears with the overwhelming sensory impact of this entire scene; the light bouncing off those majestic columns, the gentle breeze, the warmth of the sun on my face, painting my little watercolor in my sketchbook, sharing this experience with a fellow artist, and listening to that pure voice of JT; I don’t think I will ever forget that moment for the rest of my life. We both said the word, “magic,” almost simultaneously (and repeatedly).

M. Fitzgerald

Can everybody make art and thus reflect and innovate?  “You  don’t want to see my art,” said a passerby.  “Yes we do,” I say.  I want to see your vulnerable lines, the way in which you find your voice, the way in which only your hands can move a pencil across space and reflect what you see and feel.  The ability to create is unique to us human beings.

Scotty Brookie collected small objects rocks, twigs, shells— from his trek across the United States via train and from his explorations on the Washington Mall and he created small sculptures.  Scotty reflects,  ”I elevate stuff I find on the ground.”

David Everitt-Carlson found out about A Thousand Artists and was on the streets of NYC raising money so he can bring his ITOMB I Think Outside My Box portable community painting studio so that the crowds could create at the inauguration.  “I thought that would be fun. What better way to spread the benefits of creativity than to plant it down right in the middle of over a million Americans and see what happens.”

Leslie Byrne, “Even though my husband is dying he felt is was necessary in spite of his pain and limitations to attend the inauguration. It was quite a hike for my husband.  Thanks to your group, we had another compelling reason.”


A group of us huffed around the White House to get to the Washington Monument while the rest of us scattered throughout the crowds.

Over the course of the two days we gave out over a hundred orange beanies to people making art.

Sardar Aziz, a Pakistani American artist who resides in Washington DC painted a portrait of President Obama entitled, “Making History.”  He believes that there will be peace when every American has an art making practice.

Throughout the Inauguration and a long time after it there was a line of people who wanted to witness Oscar Moreno’s silk screen printing process and to receive a free print.  Oscar gave out Elephonky prints with the phrase, “Whatever you are, we’re in this together.”

People helped Oscar tear fabric and when he ran out of fabric, Inauguration goers provided flags and other fabric…

“While it was impossible for me to set up during the inauguration speech itself,” said David “…the minute that was over, it was nearly a feeding frenzy when people found out that I Think Outside My Box was not just about watching people paint but about giving them an avenue to create as well. We were swamped.”

David Coyne and his son Liden happened upon Jon Bailiff making and sharing his ink drawings.  “My son Liden really enjoyed himself and left his print with the artist.”  Jon reflects, “I was so impressed by Liden’s concentration, energy and courage to try. He watched me very closely for some time. I felt that I was aware of him dissecting my process and technique, he was that focused.”   “…For him to return to hand his efforts back to me to have and show made me the proudest of A Thousand and ONE artists that day. He had taken in the whole of what I was doing, reflected it, and made it his own.“

Kathryn Smith, in a story she wrote for the Independent Mail (Anderson South Carolina) reported: “There were several artists capturing the event on canvas, part of a group called A Thousand Artists. The movement began with one artist who painted at the 2009 inaugural, and then invited others to join him. “We are a legion of artists quietly making art of all kinds at the Presidential Inauguration” read a postcard the artists handed out to the curious. “If every American makes art of some kind for at least five minutes a day, we will become more reflective and innovative, and our society will be changed for the better… Art making is a language that vastly improves our ability to communicate with one another…The more we make art, the more we become active, creative and engaged citizens.”

They were wearing white coveralls and bright orange caps, painting the crowd, the monument, the sky or whatever inspired them at the moment. At the close of the ceremony, a young woman was delighted to find herself in one of the artist’s crowd scenes and posed for pictures with the painting and its creator.”

Cynthia Strauss and David Lakein, C & D Performance Troupe wanted to explore time travel in all it’s glory by way of an epic daylong scooter ride through The Nation’s Capital ( the Razor kind you borrow from your 10 year old daughter and stuff into the overhead compartment without angering any of your fellow airplane passengers). Over the course of 15 hours, they traversed the side walks of varying neighborhoods, rode Metro platforms, explored in and around Union Station, mingled with the masses at the MLK Memorial, created body sculpture in The National Portrait Gallery’s inside courtyard, and scooted with military regiments.  During the Inaugural Spectacle, they provided an interpretive narrative to the people’s individual and collective experience and conversed with fellow witness-participants about what art is for them, and what role it plays in their lives.

It is the individual’s touch that is behind the statement, “The Making of Art is the Ultimate Democracy”.  For example, Cynthia de Lorenzi’s paint brush textured the monuments with a bright warm feeling that was truly hers.  Pamela Kogan used oil pastels texturing the event with a warmth that only she could express.  Stephanie Wirt went from the literal to the experimental finding spirals and swirls in the abstraction of the buildings and the people.  Each of us is a creator listening and speaking – reflecting and innovating.

Thanks for the help of so many— from the two hundred and more people who contributed time and money to this project, from major donors like Golden and Williamsburg Paints who stepped in at last minute to help defray the costs of the jumpsuits and hats to art educators and activists like Stephanie Wirt and Cynthia de Lorenzi, poets like Christopher Campbell, our graphic designer Michael Duffy and Linda a minister from Oklahoma who found her calling volunteering for A Thousand Artists.

As we were checking out of the hotel, the desk clerk said, “Who is the best artist?  Jon and I pointed to one another and laughed.

Desk Clerk:  Could one of us make a drawing from his photo?

Jon:  You could do that by making a grid and copying the shapes.

Desk Clerk:  Really?

Andrew:  Yes, and it’s even easier if you turn the original photo upside down.

Desk clerk: (smiles) “OK”

Second Desk Clerk:  I used to make eyes like this. (she draws on a tourist map)

Andrew: Look your doing it now too and it’s beautiful to see!

A Call:

Tell everybody to join you and make art of any kind at or near your polling place at all of the next elections.  And then, no matter who is president, come to DC in 2017 at make art in public and encourage others to create with you.  We can discover the power of art making when everybody participates and we can have that more perfect union!

Day Before the Inauguration 2013, Andrew Purchin

The People Creating at the Inauguration, 2013  Andrew Purchin

Cheryl Bearss

Amanda Frayer

These dancers just showed up!

A Thousand Artists recieved great press.  For example, Pat Yollin wrote an excellent article in the San Francisco Chronicle

Susie Bright included us in her blog: “I never dreamed I’d be at this event, I would’ve thought it preposterous. I am too much of a principled radical/leftist dilettante (you pick). The last time I believed in Democratic Party campaigns I was fourteen, and 1972 wiped that innocence away.

So… when my painter friends, A Thousand Artists, invited me here to make plein-air art on the Mall, it was such an unorthodox Burning-Man approach to the whole thing, it made me re-consider. We decided to go, regardless of who won, to be artists/witnesses/realists. I loved that.  We’re all going to be in white jumpsuits with our brushes and easels on The Mall, for the swearing-in and the Parade.



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