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AND THROUGHOUT THE FALL, visitors gathered in it to hear speakers or ventured in quietly and alone to read copies of the Constitution and contemplate ideas of collective government. The “it” is We the People, a Tang Museum exhibition to be entered into both physically and in the spirit of citizenship renewal. It opened in September and quickly offered a bit of respite from politics as usual, helping visitors re-engage with the Constitution and with their local and national govern- ments. We the People is art at the intersection of American history and contemporary politics. Artworks have transformed the Tang’s Payne Room into a living lab for participatory citizenship. Nari Ward’s wall piece We the People, depicting those iconic words in thousands of shoelaces, evokes “the relationship between the individual and the collective—that sense of government of, by, and for the people,” says the Tang’s associate curator Rachel Selig- man ’91. Allison Smith draws on images from American quilt-making—a populist activity epitomizing working to- gether for a common good—in her From Many, One, From Anyone, a work created for this exhibit that drapes a bank of windows with sheer curtains digitally imprinted with tradi- tional patriotic patterns. And setting the scene for town-hall dialogue and debate are Francis Cape’s Utopian Benches (2011), with their accom- panying brochure “We sit on the same bench.” Since each is a replica of seating used by communal societies such as the Shakers, they function both as furniture and as conceptual art invoking American traditions of free speech and egalitarian discourse.


Co-curators Seligman and Ian Berry (the longtime Malloy Curator recently named to the Tang’s Dayton Directorship) hope that visitors find the setting conducive to contempla- tion and perhaps a reconsideration of what it means to be a citizen. The show, which runs through April 7, also provides pocket-sized copies of the US Constitution.


WHAT WOULD YOU ADD TO THE CONSTITUTION? That question, posed inside the gallery, is inspiring visitors to embrace their right to free speech in spirited and thoughtful written responses, which gained added resonance during the fall election campaigns. Entries included “Get rid of the elec- toral college,” “Repeal the Second Amendment,” “Automatic voter registry on one’s 18th birthday,” “Marriage equality in all 50 states,” “Abolish lobbying,” “Only public funds can be used in elections,” and “Constitutional amendment on the right to vote—a notable omission.”


Indeed, says government professor Beau Breslin, who in- spired and consulted on the exhibition, “The right to vote is not affirmatively granted in the Constitution.” It is, however, “guaranteed, especially in the 15th Amendment,” he ex- plains, adding that “ours is the only constitution where pro- tections of liberty are expressed in the negative—‘Congress


shall make no law’—because the founding fathers saw rights as endowed by their creator” and therefore not needing to be granted by a government.


JEFERSON FAMOUSLY SUGGESTED PERHAPS EVERY GENERATION SHOULD WRITE ITS OWN CONSTI TUTION. “IN OUR CROWDSOURCING WE ARE BASICALLY DOING WHAT JEFFERSON WANTED.”


Breslin is delighted with any opportunity to help US citi- zens reconnect with their Constitution, a document that he says “animates and regulates our lives in very meaningful ways on a daily basis.” He notes that while the vast majority of Americans think the Constitution is important, few are able to name a single thing it says—a sad commentary on what he notes is “the longest enduring constitution in histo- ry.” He says, “Our relationship with the Constitution is di- rect, but unfortunately we tend to look at it through a prism of political institutions.” Rather than approaching it through “the Supreme Court or what Congress or the President says the Constitution is,” he advocates “engaging with it in a creative way, directly, one-on-one.” In March he’ll nurture that one-on-one engagement in an event he describes as crowdsourcing a constitution—tapping into the collective intelligence of many citizens to write a document for our times. “You can change it any way you want,” he says, and points out that while Madison wanted it to endure over time, Jefferson famously opined about the lack of a sunset clause and suggested perhaps every generation should write its own constitution. “In our crowd- sourcing moment we are basically doing what Jefferson wanted,” says Breslin. “Let’s find a way to reflect 21st-century values. Our results may be very similar to the original text, but I doubt it.” David Goroff ’14, a government


major working with Breslin on the event, embraces the op - portunity to heighten awareness of the Constitution. Yes, there are parts he would revise—currently “the legislative process breeds inefficiency and inaction”—and he notes that the document has endured precisely because of “the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow it to be interpreted elastically so as to change with society.”


NOT YOUR FOREFATHERS’ POLITICS With Facebook and Twitter and 24-hour TV, the political landscape seems dramatically different from that of previous generations. But what hasn’t changed is the excitement of those participating in the process for the first time. A lot of students came to fall election events inside We the People. In October faculty offered an “informed voter” panel on a broad range of issues. The student Spanish Club followed with a panel on issues important to the Latino community. On the other side of the election was “The Return on the Returns: Two Different Views” by Erica Seifert ’02, a senior associate with the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner consultancy, and Ben- jamin Clarke ’01, a political consultant and freelance writer. In the middle, the election-night gathering bore a seriousness that belied the balloons and pizza and presidents-head Pez g


WINTER 2013 SCOPE 13


ARTHUR EVANS


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