Arts & Culture News

The North Texas Creative Class Lends Some Artful Support to Beto O’Rourke’s Campaign

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke will be at Erin Cluley Gallery on Sept. 20, where Dallas artists are raising funds for his campaign.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke will be at Erin Cluley Gallery on Sept. 20, where Dallas artists are raising funds for his campaign. Carly May
It all started with artist Georgeanne Deen. Currently living in Joshua Tree, California, the 71-year-old painter and poet has maintained deep ties to her native state. And the way the political winds weren't blowing was distressing to her.

“I grew up in Fort Worth and lived there for 23 years, starting in 1951,” Deen says. “So, I saw how ugly and unfair the system was before I graduated high school. Horrible events shaped my earliest years there. Before (Governor) Abbott was elected, I still hoped things would swing in another direction, but he established a new low standard for Texas. I never thought my nieces and grandnieces would have to fight for the right to make their own decisions about their bodies.”

A Beto O'Rourke fan since his previous run for Senate, Deen was already contributing to the candidate. But the one-two punch of the Uvalde massacre and the criminalization of abortion prompted her to post a request on social media to pull together an art auction to benefit O'Rourke's campaign. Gallerist-turned-activist Dina Light-McNeely immediately stepped up to the challenge.

“I called her and said, ‘Why don’t we turn this into an event?’” Light-McNeely recalls. “I (told her) I’m really good at facilitating, so I’ll do some research. Give me two weeks, and I’ll figure this out. I had a good list of artists and heard they all wanted to do something but didn’t have the means to give a big donation. But they could use their work to elevate the campaign. I made a list of spaces, and Erin Cluley was at the top of my list.”

Cluley had also been previously involved with the O'Rourke campaign and was looking for ways to contribute. According to Light-McNeely the co-organizers and co-hosts had “great energy,” so the partnership was effortless from the start. Putting their heads together quickly, they made sure there wasn’t another arts fundraiser in the works and began approaching a stellar stable of artists to donate work.

“Very early on, I thought we had to cap this at 25 artists, and we ended up with 39,” says Cluley. “All are in Texas or have some strong ties to Texas, and it came together as a really nice group — everything from newer emerging local artists to a drawing from Nic Nicosia. The highest-price piece is valued at $10,000, and the lowest is $350, so there’s something for everyone.”

Artists were selected by Cluley and Light-McNeely with an eye for diversity — in their backgrounds and in their chosen methodology.

“We were trying to be representative of artists that are active in Texas, but also artists who aren’t here anymore but care what is happening in the state. We brought a really good mix, and the list is reflective of that. We did have a wish list, and frankly, no one said no,” says Light-McNeely.

Cluley also connected with O'Rourke’s head of campaign finance, Sharon Young, who had an even bigger win for the evening. If they held the event on Tuesday, Sept. 20, O’Rourke could be there in person, as he was already traveling to Dallas for a prior event.

“Sharon Young connected us and — bing bang boom — it’s an official campaign event,” says Light-McNeely. “Through the campaign, we were able to get Lucy Wrubel as a DJ; she DJ’d Gwen Stefani’s wedding.”

The rally will take place in the parking lot of the Erin Cluley Gallery, 150 Manufacturing St., No. 210, from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sept. 20. Food truck refreshments will be available while the bidding wraps up. Collectors can donate whatever they choose to attend or bid remotely via an auction link. Registrants will be on-site to sign up new voters, and those who aren’t interested in bidding can still buy a T-shirt to benefit the campaign. The event will wrap up by 7 p.m., with auction winners taking home their new pieces that evening.

Cluley and McNeely didn’t explicitly choose the 44 featured works to mirror the issues in O’Rourke's platform, but it’s not difficult to see how the political influence permeates each brushstroke.

Artist Cynthia Mulcahy, who focuses on themes such as militarism and modern warfare, contributed a drawing from her “War Garden" series exploring the use of yellow fever-infected mosquitos as a tool in combat. She's the maker of an impactful “Abortion Seed Library” piece that displays glass vials of seeds used historically to terminate a pregnancy, so signing on was a no-brainer.
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Artists such as Cynthia Mulcahy are donating pieces to raise funds for Beto O'Rourke's campaign.
Cynthia Mulcahy

“I can’t give tons of money, but I can make some calls and make art about some issues of our day,” she says. “The fact I was delivering (“Library”) to Talley Dunn Gallery the day that Roe v. Wade was being overturned was crazy. The policies Abbott is backing in Texas are just so radical; it’s a complete assault on so many different things. It’s why we’ve got to elect a new governor and why the arts community in Dallas needed to bring awareness of that fact.”

Deen contributed a painting titled “Minister of Women’s Reproductive Organs,” chosen from her 2016–2019 series “Psychic Violence in America.” Created in response to (predominately Southern) men “making idiotic pronouncements about how women’s reproductive organs functioned,” the piece pushes back against corrupt politicians and corporations “from inflicting mental, physical emotional or financial harm on the people,” according to the artist.

With participants such as Camp Bosworth, JooYoung Choi, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Earlie Hudnall, Robyn O’Neil and Gary Panter, @TXArtistsforBeto is already off to a successful start. The organizers and the artists couldn’t be more excited.

"With Beto’s campaign this time around, it reminds me more of when I volunteered for Obama’s campaign," says Mulcahy. "There’s a lot of energy and a lot of strategy. And if Texas will change, we can change everything, so this is important for Dallas to be leading the way.”

“Beto is very impressive, the way he’s been doing these grassroots events and the way he drives himself to events,” says Light-McNeely. “I’ve been fighting for rights since I was 12 years old, so this has been something that’s super important to me. This state is slipping into the dark ages, and it’s very scary, but I’d love to stay and fight with a candidate like Beto.”

Judging from the reformed Republicans stepping up for O’Rourke on social media and the nice chunk of funds raised by Texas’ best talent, the road to this year’s gubernatorial finish could merit a real celebration for many.
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