New Website Lets You Fax Art to Congress to Save the NEA
In the months since President Donald Trump took office, members of Congress have watched their phone lines reach capacity and their email inboxes overflow as constituents voice their displeasure with the administration’s policies and appointees. One Utah women, unable to reach her senator by phone, went so far as to order a pizza and have it delivered to his office with a note reading “vote NO on Betsy DeVos.”
Now, a new website is giving citizens a way to get artistic with their political grievances. Artifax allows constituents to fax a work of art to their elected officials, in protest of Trump’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
Artifax is the brainchild of Los Angeles design studio Use All Five, which has worked with clients ranging from UCLA to the Guggenheim. Levi Brooks, who co-founded the studio in 2006, noted that the NEA’s precarious future felt particularly relevant because “a lot of our clients, friends, even some of our employees, are artists.”
The agency’s funding comprises a miniscule slice of the total federal budget—just 0.004% in 2016. But studies have shown that those dollars have an outsized impact, going to arts organizations in rural communities across America, not just those in coastal cities. And NEA funds are often crucial in soliciting additional private grants.
For Brooks and Use All Five, the question was: “Can we use our skill sets to do two things—educate the general public, as well as bring awareness to Congress and the Senate about the NEA?”
Use All Five began work on Artifax in early February. At that point, although there were rumors that the NEA was on the chopping block, there had been no official confirmation from the administration. But when Trump released his first budget blueprint on March 16th, sure enough, the agency was slotted for elimination. “Towards the end it was a mad dash, because we really wanted to release it about a week after Trump had submitted his budget,” Brooks explained.
The site launched last week and currently features work by 20 artists, designers, and studios. Visitors to the website first select a work of art and enter their zip code. Artifax then pulls up a list of elected officials for that district, and users can send a custom or auto-generated message to the representative of their choice. (You don’t have to print anything—the message is faxed digitally.)
In the eight days since launch, Brooks said people have sent some 800 faxes in total; he’s optimistic they’ll hit the thousand mark by the end of the week. For his part, he has already sent several faxes to his local representatives in California.
Although many of the artists who have donated work thus far are friends of the studio, Brooks said, “We also tried to get an eclectic group that represented all walks of life in America, be it different ethnicities, different genders, or different points of views. We even included some designer friends of ours as well, creatives in different fields as well. I think that helps in diversifying the work as well.”
The artworks available on Artifax range from dreamy abstractions to straightforward infographics. New York design studio Open, for example, offers a stark reminder of how the NEA’s minuscule budget compares to that of the federal government at large. “There’s something nice about giving the viewer the ability to choose,” Brooks said. “Maybe they want to send something that’s a little bit more on the emotional side versus something that’s a little bit more on the utilitarian side.”
Brooks has also been impressed by the notes accompanying many of the faxed artworks. “The most gratifying part is the actual messages that people have written paired with the companion piece they selected,” he said. “They are really thoughtful, powerful messages.”
And using a fax machine—an antiquated mode of communication that many of Brooks’s younger employees had never actually used before—carries a certain weight.
“Its heyday was definitely the ’80s and ’90s, but I find it fascinating that it still hasn’t completely died,” Brooks explained. “I think the ability to actually see the artwork as it comes out of the fax machine, grainy with this interesting toner smell—it’s like, ‘Whoa what is this?’”