While Artist Campaign School aims to assist politically inclined artists in reaching whatever office they aspire to, the short-term goal of the boot camp is to produce a few dozen candidates to run for lower-level posts and create a pipeline of candidates. These positions are often hugely important when it comes to issues that impact artists (like affordable housing) and society at large.
Imagine artists being elected to a local zoning board, contesting often unopposed sheriffs in small-town races; or serving as magistrates who adjudicate seemingly minor offenses like parking tickets (such tickets, Ruffin notes, can turn into warrants being issued to poor families that are unable to pay the fines).
The school’s website only launched last Friday and the programming is still taking shape. But Ruffin said she is looking to invite artists who have served as politicians to the camp to speak with artists and help with training. She is also working with Anu Rangappa, a political strategist who previously served as senior advisor for general election strategies at the Democratic National Committee, to bring the school to fruition.
As of Tuesday, Ruffin had received 27 applications—including one from an artist who already holds a political office. Those ultimately selected to attend will also work together to create a campaign plank on a subject to be decided by the group—like housing, health care, or arts in schools. “Above and beyond that, there isn’t a particular political ideology you have to be a part of,” said Ruffin.
Recently, there have been a few high-profile examples of artists trying their hand at the ballot box. Just this week, it was reported that spoken word poet Nikkita Oliver may still make the runoff election for Seattle mayor, running on the People’s Party ticket pending a potential recount. And artist and curator Ingrid Lafleur announced her candidacy for Detroit mayor as a write-in candidate, though she didn’t make it to the final ballot, after failing to be one of the top two candidates in Tuesday’s primary.
“As curator and artist I’ve learned how to bring people together, to solve problems creatively, to be a good organizer, a good researcher,” Lafleur told
the New York Times
when announcing her candidacy in March,
citing the arts network in the city as a major asset. “We plan to tap into the huge art and creative community that has taken root in this city, to reach voters through them.”
A significant challenge Lafleur and other artist candidates face is fundraising. Ruffin noted that artists’ politics predominantly skew left, and they typically maintain an anti-money stance. Even if they occasionally move through circles of high wealth, the vast majority of artists are not rich, and some live in poverty. Ruffin said that those who need money the most often have trouble asking for it. It’s a hurdle that artists-turned-candidates will need to learn to jump, in order to compete in ever-expensive campaigns.
“Fundraising will be the biggest lift” for artists, said Ruffin. “But I think they’ll knock everything else out of the park.”