SANTA FE, N.M. — If the Yes Men can be a catalyst for a chain reaction toward social justice, the Santa Fe Art Institute hopes to be the beaker where it takes place.
Sanjit Sethi, who came from the San Francisco Bay area to take over as executive director less than a year ago, said he’s looking to move the Institute towards taking the creativity fostered there and directing it toward pressing social issues in the local community.
Beginning this fall, artists who come for one- to three-month residencies over a nine-month period will work under a common theme: food justice. The next theme is likely to concern immigration and identity, said Sethi.
And on Friday the 13th at 6 p.m., SFAI is bringing the Yes Men to the Lensic to help raise money for that residency program. Tickets are $15.
Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably heard about some of the Yes Men’s exploits. They’re the guys who pose as corporate and government spokesmen to satirize the statements coming from such sources.
As far as we know, they’re coming to Santa Fe as themselves.
Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno have gained international fame by posing as representatives of Dow Chemi cal and announcing the clean-up of the Bhopal, India, site, or getting on the agenda of the World Trade Organization to suggest banning the siesta in Spain in order to boost economic output.
During their appearance here, “There will be commentary on current events; we will in particular talk about climate change,” said Bonanno via email. The two also will talk about their recent actions and a new action switchboard/online platform they have put together to mentor other activists on how to get media attention for their causes, he said.
Bonanno said the Yes Men connection with SFAI started with Diane Karp, former executive director. “Even though she is no longer at SFAI, she brought us there before and has been a huge help to us in the intervening years, now serving on our advisory board,” he wrote.
Nina Elder, SFAI’s residency program manager, said she believes the Yes Men have been involved via its online platform with the anti-fracking movement in Mora County.
The duo also are conducting a workshop at SFAI while they’re in town for some 30 to 40 people from local nonprofits on creative ways to get media attention, she said.
Sethi said some people have suggested that the Yes Men are passé, that they no longer serve a role, but he disagrees.
“As long as multi-national corporations exist and media exist in kind of rigid structures, the Yes Men will continue to be relevant,” he said, saying their role reaches beyond acting as agitators or provocateurs.
“My sense is it’s really about also including a larger group of individuals to really think through their role either as passive consumers of information or their role in perpetuating the systemic myths that larger entities area trying to perpetuate,” he said.
“I don’t think (the Yes Men) is a one-trick pony,” Sethi added.
As for how art can address community problems, he offered examples elsewhere of designers who developed a cook stove with efficient combustion that reduced pollutants and associated health risks in Third World countries, or a group in Pittsburgh that set up storefront eateries specializing in cuisines of countries with whom the U.S. is in conflict, such as Afghanistan, and giving information on the food wrappers that offers a broader view of the culture and the conflict there.
Or something as simple as a project planned for SFAI’s Summer Design Workshop for high-schoolers. They will be working on a trail on Kewa Pueblo (also known as Santo Domingo) to take people safely the two-plus miles between the Rail Runner station and the village.
“Residents now walk alongside the road, which has a couple of blind turns,” Sethi said. “It’s a dangerous walk. Some residents have been hit by vehicles.”
Students will design benches and resting structures along the trail, he said.
“We’re looking at what we mean by creativity and social change,” Sethi said, adding that community members from northern New Mexico increasingly will be drawn into the conversation. The food justice theme already has tapped local people who do permaculture, heritage seed banks, and more.
“There is a synergy with the work we and local creative practitioners are doing,” he said.