Corcoran School to Host Public Art Project That Reimagines Presidential Politics

Public reading of "I Want a President" text
August 23, 2016

What do you want in a president? What experiences should be reflected? What do you wish to see in government that seems impossible from where we stand now?

These are some of the questions being posed as part of the public art project I want a president … (a collective reading—DC) that will take place, in part, at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. 

Inspired by a 1992 text by artist and activity Zoe Leonard listing demands for a new president, this participatory project will encourage a radical rethinking of political possibilities within and beyond the electoral system.

Spaces for Dialogue

The first collective reading of I want a president… was initiated by Swedish artists Malin Arnell, Kajsa Dahlberg, Johanna Gustavsson and Fia-Stina Sandlund in 2010. Faced with a general election that brought an explicitly fascist, racist and homophobic party into the Swedish parliament, the artists turned to Leonard’s 1992 battlecry against American political indifference to the AIDS crisis and systemic inequality. In collaboration with Leonard, they adapted her text into Swedish, and on the day before the election, gathered over a hundred concerned citizens in a square in Stockholm to read the two texts together. This first action inspired a series of invitations from other countries facing critical elections, from Estonia to Puerto Rico to the United Kingdom, where readings have been organized. 

"What's amazing about this project is that it began when four Swedish artists re-discovered Zoe Leonard's 1992 artist text after it was reprinted in a 2006 issue of LTTR, a queer feminist art journal in the U.S.," says one of the project's curators Natalie Campbell, who has taught contemporary and 20th century art history at the Corcoran. "The project has continued to grow and evolve through finding new ways to engage with past artworks. It's quite literally an example of animating art history through practice."

The D.C. reading will be the eleventh in this series and returns Leonard’s text to the U.S. context at a time of increasing disillusionment with electoral politics. 

"Within the din of 24-hour news and combative campaigning, there are few opportunities for people to think outside of the given system and candidates and share alternative visions and values we might want to work towards together," co-curator Saisha Grayson says.

Workshops and Collective Reading

The Corcoran School will host two workshops, on Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, to focus on adapting the text for a new moment, asking what has changed and what has stayed the same since Leonard first listed her demands. The project will culminate with a collective reading on Oct .16 at 5:30 p.m. in front of the White House 

"The final reading echoes the form of a protest, but instead of decrying what we don't want or making policy demands, we will be affirming principles, like empathy and inclusivity, that we want to see more of in our political future," Grayson says.

Workshops: Sept. 21 and Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. in Hammer Auditorium
Collective reading: Oct. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in front of the White House

The D.C. iteration of I want a president ... is being produced in collaboration with Furthermore, Creative Time Summit, The Coven DC, the D.C. Public Library Foundation, Pleasant Plains Workshop, Potter’s House, Transformer, the Corcoran School and a growing list of community partners.

For more information on the workshops and to join in, please visit the project’s website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.