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Turning Dollars In to a Wealth of Ideas on Politics in ‘The Dollar Show’

Sometimes creating the consciousness for social change begins in unexpected places, like with ice-cream and visual art. For Diane Hause of 2TEN HAUSTUDIO in Ivanhoe, NC, learning about a project by Ben Cohen (yep, that Ben of Ben and Jerry’s fame) to bring attention to the issues surrounding Citizens United and the overwhelming influence of money in politics. For a visual artist like Hause it was inspirational. Currently, she is curating a group show of dollar bill art to hang at her studio. Titled “Dollar Show!” Hause is accepting submissions through August 15th; the show will open on Sunday, October 18th, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Diane was kind enough to share with encore the path to this show and what it will accomplish.

encore (e): How did you learn about this project?
Diane Hause (DH): In 2009, due to the plunging economy, I was trying to come up with a group exhibit for the gallery I owned and operated in Atlanta. This was the first I had thought of using a dollar bill as the surface for the work. I was thinking of the show in relation to that of a dollar being worth so little then but if it was turned into an Art piece, it could be worth more. I thought of the show being titled “Worthless/Worth More.” As things happen, I moved to NC and this idea was put on the back burner.

Almost exactly a year ago, I saw something on the internet about Ben Cohen’s “Stampede” movement of stamping dollar bills with messages concerning getting money out of politics and a campaign focused on overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Courts ruling that basically states that corporations are people and therefore can contribute obscene amounts of money, via super pacs, to politicians of their choice. Just on a hunch, I wrote to an e-mail addresses I found for the “Stampede Campaign” and told them about my idea to resurrect using a dollar, not unlike their stamping, but as a surface that people could express their ideas about money in politics. I suggested that perhaps this could be a collaboration where I have this exhibit and their stamping combined.

At this point, I had seen photos of the wacky “Stamping Machine” a huge truck with a gambit of mazes where people put a dollar in it and it goes throughout the mazes and comes out a politician’s mouth with the stamp on it. I wanted to see if we could also get this truck at the opening. I heard back from one of the Team members to my e-mail saying they had just held a meeting and were interested in my idea. As I said, we have been putting this collaborative idea together now for about a year.

e: How did you get Ben Cohen to come for the opening?
DH: When I mentioned my idea of getting the Stamp Mobile at the Opening Reception, James, my contact with the Stampede Team, tried to see if it was feasible to get it down here. We’re not 100% sure yet it won’t happen, but in the meantime “The Team” tried to come up with some other component if it wasn’t possible. They are sending me a stamping station for people to use at the opening reception, a place where people can stamp their dollars, but then they approached Ben Cohen with the idea and he liked it and said he’d fly down to attend. Of course I immediately looked into finding a caterer that will serve Ben & Jerry’s Ice-cream at the reception as my gesture of gratitude to Ben for deciding to make this trip to Ivanhoe!

e: Have you received any submissions yet?
DH: Yes, I have been receiving submissions for a few weeks now, even one from Switzerland, but as most group exhibits go, most are coming in now that the deadline is looming in 2 weeks. It always seems people like to wait until the last minute, I guess like writing your school book report-ha! The reception won’t be until October 18th so I have given myself enough time to receive them all, install them and try to get the fine tuning underway as the logistics of getting Ben from the ILM airport to the opening, the stamping equipment sent to me and still hopefully, the Stamp Mobile here!

e: What interested you about this movement?
DH: As far as themed group art exhibitions, I can’t say I have ever put together one that has a political nature to it. This is one of the first. And yet, even though I mentioned it was born out of the horrendous economic collapse with the Banks, Fannie Mae, Wall Street (which gave birth to the Occupy Movement) it seemed this was also a very timely and pertinent moment for this exhibit. Here we are in the midst of campaigning for a new President and much of what is being discussed and focused on is the obscene amounts of money being spent to fund these campaigns. There is a very corrupting side to a democracy when it feels it is being bought by the deepest and richest pockets and those most connected to lobbyists. Not to mention when you think of the millions and millions of dollars being spent and what could be done, for the good of so many people suffering, with just a tiny portion of campaign money. It’s heartbreaking actually.

e: Are you planning a piece for the show?
DH: Most definitely. I have already created one and may do more as I find it quite fun…it’s such a great surface to work on and I encourage others to create more than one if they are so inclined.

e: What can participants expect for this experience?
DH: I can tell from some of the comments and questions from those participating or those thinking of participating, that this is harder than they thought it would be. I also wanted this to be an “open call” to people other than only artists, for the general public to participate if they wanted. But even artists seem to have struggled with this. I think not only because the surface of a dollar has it’s own constraints as far as size and not being a blank surface, but you have to really think about political issues and how can you represent it on a 2 1/2 by 6 inch space. It’s a challenge but from those that have sent in their submissions, most have commented that it was initially difficult but then they really enjoyed the process.

e: What do you hope the audience takes away from it?
DH: I think it will be a visually stunning exhibit, sometimes smaller can be bigger. I find it visually interesting to see the same format treated so differently and individually. And each participant gets to come to the topic-at-hand with their own perspective. This leaves the audience with the ability to look at each individual piece and decide what the participant is expressing and whether or not they agree with their dollar. This mirrors a great concept between a piece of art work and the viewer, one usually brings yourself and personal ideas to what you are viewing. In this case, you may only like the pieces that speak and agree with your own perspective in politics today and dislike those that you feel do not support your views. It is an “Open Call” so it is intended to be a bipartisan show! Either way, it’s a dialogue and a dialogue is always great, even if it’s with yourself! And, I hope on some level, politics aside, it’s just simply fun! That’s why I planned it to be an afternoon reception, an afternoon out in the country, hopefully Fall will be in the air and a little cooler weather, people eating ice-cream, a show that is engaging and yet thought provoking!

e: What sort of action do you hope people take as a result of this show?
DH: I think having the stamping booth set up will have people feel, that even if they didn’t participate in creating an altered dollar bill hanging in the gallery, they can still participate in the conversation and movement. They will even be able to purchase their own stamps to take home if they want to keep the momentum going after they leave the show. Hopefully people will become more aware in political issues as they crop up and will find it much more interesting and engaging, even resonating, that as the elections loom nearer, some of the very issues expressed on these dollars are being discussed during the debates and news. Like I said, it seems a very timely show and I’m glad I waited until now to host it and that Ben Cohen and “The Stampede Team” decided a collaboration was a great idea!

— Gwenyfar Rohler for
August 5, 2015

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