Image courtesy of Paul Weston.
This past Sunday, artist Paul Weston vowed to mail one piece of art to Donald Trump every day for the next four years of his presidency. Why? “I’m not his biggest fan,” says Weston. “But I thought, ‘If he keeps taking things away—arts funding, basic rights—I’m going to keep giving.’”
Like many artists and members of the cultural community across the U.S., Weston didn’t take kindly to the news last week that a proposed budget includes axing the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—along with the funding the organizations provide to artists and arts organizations across the country.
Weston wasn’t immediately sure where to direct his anger, or how to help effect change. “I’m not a political person. I really just know a few jokes and how to make art,” Weston confides. “And I do have tons of art. So I thought, ‘maybe that’s my ammunition.’”
Photos courtesy of Paul Weston.
For the past 20-some years of his adult life, Weston’s work has looked at the influence of consumerism and media on contemporary culture. He’s forged artworks, zines, buttons, and stickers. Often, they’re disseminated through Weston’s alter-ego, the not-so-subtly dubbed “Instigator.” But, indeed, his mail art campaign—called #148milliondollars, after the amount of funding the NEA will lose if Trump’s proposed budget is approved—takes a decidedly more political tack.
To date, Weston has mailed six works of art to the new President. Some have gone to the White House itself and some to Trump Tower. They aren’t text-heavy or overtly aggressive. But they are bold expressions of creativity. One shows a drawing of an igloo topped with a TV antenna—it could be read as a statement against global warming by a concerned artist, or simply the pastime of a man on his Sunday morning.
Another work, which he hasn’t mailed yet, shows the word “NO” with a heart embedded in the middle of its second letter. For Weston, the heart conveys numerous meanings, among them his own resilience: “My heart isn’t broken yet by this new administration, but pumping like Hell,” he says.
The artist hopes others will join him in his campaign to help expand its impact—and he’s begun to spread the word. “This isn’t a me thing, it’s a we thing. Everywhere I’m going I tell whoever I see—at openings, at lectures, in the streets. I’m not someone who usually asks for help, but I am now.”
Photos courtesy of Paul Weston.
Weston began speaking about the project and broadcasting it through his Instagram account on Monday. And he says a number of other artists including Brock Enright, T.R. Ericsson, and DB Burkeman, have already agreed to join up and send their own art to the White House and Trump Tower, albeit not everyday for the next four years as Weston himself has pledged.
But it’s not just professional artists who Weston aims to engage. “My five-year-old niece Ellis is my most vocal spokesperson,” he says. “She is really angry that Big Bird could be going into the deep fryer,” he continues, referencing the fact that Sesame Street, his niece’s favorite TV show, is hosted on PBS, which also loses funding under the proposed cuts. Ellis will be sending art to Trump too, and Weston hopes other children will follow suit.
Weston has budgeted to spend $178.85 in stamps over the next year into order to fulfill his mission, a small price to voice his support for the NEA’s important work on behalf of creatives. And next month, he plans to use his presence at the L.A. Art Book Fair to bring the #148milliondollars campaign to an even wider audience. If enough artists and average citizens take part in the project, Weston hopes that “it will show [Trump] the talent and creativity that is here in the United States.” Whether that will be enough to save the agency remains to be seen.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory