Artist Collective Celebrates America's Parks
Posted February 26, 2014
This new project is attractive, inventive, and productive. It throws back to the New Deal idea of putting artists to work in service of the country. See America is a collection of posters celebrating the National Parks. Because America needs its parks, the world needs more art, and artists need to eat.
I interviewed Max Slavkin, one of the founders of The Creative Action Network, the startup design collective behind See America, so that you could hear about it straight from the source. My favorite things he says are italicized so I can comment on them below.
I am so impressed by the great diversity of styles represented by this project. Where do you find all these talented designers?
We’ve been growing our Creative Action Network (CAN)’s community of designers since our first campaign in 2008, Design For Obama. It’s a diverse community, ranging from students looking to get their name out, to retired professionals looking for a way to give back, and everyone in between. There are artists with deep connections to the places they’ve illustrated, and there are some who have never even been. It’s been fun to see that diversity reflected in their work.
I love how democratic it is! Print design-publishing for the social network generation.
I had never actually heard of the original “See America” campaign before this. Where did this idea to re-create it come from?
The idea behind See America is to recreate the New Deal arts projects of the 1930’s. There are so many parallels between what was going on in the country then and now - record unemployment, increasing income inequality, corrupting relationships between congress & corporations, and a young president, who was elected to affect change, and put America back to work. As part of FDR's larger Works Progress Administration effort to hire the unemployed to build roads, schools, post offices, and more, the government also hired artists to make posters to share important messages with the country. The project gave thousands of artists jobs, influenced our national behaviors, and the artwork lives on as iconic pieces of American culture nearly 100 years later.
That parallel has been drawn before, and I know that Obama admires FDR. IT’s amazing to see that this particular stimulus aimed at artists is gaining traction and growing organically.
NPCA has really embraced the project and they are getting a ton of great publicity from it. How did that relationship come together?
We had wanted to do See America for a while, and reached out to a number of organizations about partnership. I actually reached out to NPCA on twitter without any relationship, shared our proposal for the project, and the rest is history! It was a very new sort of undertaking for them, as one of the oldest & largest organizations fighting for our parks, they do a lot of good work, but they don’t traditionally run crowdsourced art projects. Early on they understood the potential to engage a new generation of activists, both in the artists themselves, and in the wide audience that we could reach online with new social technologies. I don’t think we or they expected, however, just how many posters would come in so fast, or how good they’d be.
What an amazing Twitter success story! I use Twitter a lot for scanning news headlines, and I've scored free concert tickets too, but that's a real business relationship, begun in 140 characters. Cool.
What kind of threats are National Parks facing as they near their century anniversary?
Far too many, and of two distinct types. There are ecological threats, like climate change, here in California that includes things like drought and wildfire, and more that require resources and attention to grapple with. Even more sad is the other type, the man-made threats, like government shut downs and congressional budget cuts, that strip away the very resources needed to protect and preserve our parks. Our goal with these posters is to remind people of the beauty of what we’re fighting for, and inspire new generations to get involved in preserving it for the future.
Why should the parks pay for our financial mismanagement? They were here first.
Ken Burns called National Parks “America’s Best Idea”. What’s so great about it?
Haha. I think he had it right. There’s obviously the natural beauty of the parks themselves - I can’t think of anywhere or anything better and more wonderful than those landscapes. But more fundamental is what they represent, the American idea that our best belongs to all of us, and not to the privileged few. The idea that we’re better together is what drove America to designate those lands, and what today, for me, makes the full crowdsourced collection so much more beautiful than any one individual image.
Parks for the people! Not just for this generation but all following. Yes. Let’s expand this idea to marine sanctuaries and protected areas, and hey, why not clean water and air resources, mineral resources… You get it. Natural resources belong to everyone, and they are ours to protect.
What’s next in art and advocacy for the Creative Action Network?
Good question! We’re working now to amplify See America and get these designs in gift shops at the parks on new products like t-shirts and calendars. As for our next campaign, we’re considering a few options, and would love to hear your ideas!
Rock on Max.