Art Show Takes on Money in Politics with Real dollars

Typically, when we talk about dollars, we use verbs like earn, spend and save.

But then again the 108 dollar bills hanging on the walls of 2TEN HAUSTUDIO – artist Diane Hause’s studio and gallery in Ivanhoe, Bladen County, near the Pender County line – aren’t your typical dollars. These dollars are ripped, dyed, painted, penciled, inked, marked, glittered, bedazzled, pierced, hole-punched, collaged, slightly burned, adorned with seashells and tiny toy dinosaurs, and stamped.

They’re part of the “The Dollar $how,” an exhibition in which over 100 participants mailed in artistically customized one dollar bills to be displayed at a public reception Sunday.

Mostly, the dollars in the show contain political messages regarding the impact of big money on government. That’s because the one-day exhibition is inspired by the Stamp Stampede movement, a grassroots effort founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in 2012 in which thousands of people are stamping phrases like “not to be used for bribing politicians” on dollar bills and then spending them, sending them into circulation to bring attention to the proliferation of money in politics following the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

While planning “The Dollar $how,” Hause contacted Stamp Stampede, and word got around to Cohen.

“I love ‘The Dollar $how’ idea,” Cohen wrote in an email.

Cohen said it was a no-brainer to fly in to Wilmington and ride out to Ivanhoe to visit the opening reception, which is catered with a bar of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, perhaps reason enough for Wilmingtonians to make the 45-minute trek. There, Cohen will deliver a demonstration to illustrate the reason for the cause.

“We see this as the next step in getting the creative community involved in the movement,” Cohen said. “We’ve already worked with (street artist) Shepard Fairey, a whirligig artist from Vermont and another artist who did a painting of a dollar bill with Ben Franklin looking sad and embarrassed. So the next natural step is a gallery show. My experience is that, many times, innovation starts in smaller towns around the margins. I live in a smaller town, so I’m happy to travel to Ivanhoe to celebrate and support what Diane is doing.”

For the most part, and to Hause’s satisfaction, the submissions contain messages that are in line with the Stamp Stampede movement.

“To be honest,” Hause said as the Pink Floyd song “Money” wafted down from her studio’s speakers, “I was surprised (some of them weren’t) as political.”

Two of the few non-political dollars were submitted by Hause’s 85-year-old mother, Rita Hause. Hause and her mother have opposing political views — Hause on the left, her mother on right — but “The Dollar $how” has led them to openly discuss the topic of money in politics.

“We’ve been having dialogue about it,” Hause said, “which is great, to be able to talk about it. … Say what you want to say. It’s hanging. And then people will be drawn to it, or not, and it’ll open up a dialogue.”

After a few phone calls on the topic, Rita Hause submitted a third dollar, this one titled “The Lobbyist Tree.”

Republican businessmen the Koch brothers probably make the most appearances in “The Dollar $how.” Calvin Ogden drew in a Hong Kong skyline and covered George Washington with a “Made In China” sticker. Richard Hankins used the show as a soapbox to lampoon such North Carolina issues as the defunding of the film industry.

And, of course, there are frequent cameos from the ubiquitous presidential hopefuls of this election season: Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump (who’s been spotted autographing currency for his fans on the campaign trail) and a slightly frightening likeness of Hillary Clinton.

Stamp Stampede and its lawyers say it’s legal to stamp and otherwise decorate dollar bills, and that illegal defacement only occurs when paper currency is no longer recognizable and has to be taken out of circulation. Some of the submissions in “The Dollar $how” might not be recognizable from the front, but they’re supposed to be unscathed on the back.

Like trying to navigate a Facebook newsfeed during election season, all of this political satire can be a little overwhelming. The show definitely leans to the left, but Hause said she feels Citizens United should be a bipartisan issue because in her view “your average Joe can’t run” for office now. “It could be you’re Honest Abe, but he’s not going to be able to get in.”

The actual impact of “The Dollar $how” and Stamp Stampede remains to be seen, but the exhibiit does prove that there’s a lot you can do with a dollar.

Contact StarNews arts and culture at 910-343-2343.


What: The Dollar $how, a one-night reception featuring 108 artistically enhanced dollar bills and a demonstration from Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Where: 2TEN HAUSTUDIO, 15930 N.C. 210 E in Ivanhoe.

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18

Details: 910-874-3535

— Justin Lacy for
October 14, 2015

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