We the People is a new exhibit at Skidmore’s Tang Museum that celebrates the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, and it appears to be living up to its title. Not only does the exhibit allow visitors to contemplate the basis of the nation’s government, it provides opportunities for them to participate as well.
Skidmore Government Professor and current Dean of Faculty Beau Breslin initially proposed that the Tang create an exhibit on the American Constitution in 2010. Co-curators Rachel Seligman and Ian Berry have brought his idea to life with a group of Skidmore faculty members not only by creating an exhibit but by coordinating a series of events throughout the fall that encourage active engagement with democracy.
Thursday there are two events – a voter registration drive co-sponsored by The League of Women Voters from 2pm to 7pm, followed immediately by an open forum on the City Charter.
Skidmore students trained by the League hope to register new voters living on campus as well from the wider community.
The League of Women Voters will also be displaying information on campaign finance reform in New York State. “The League is trying to educate people on what the issues are and some options” says Saratoga County League of Women Voters President Patricia Nugent. “In many ways, the big money takes the power away from ‘We the People.’”
Starting at 7:30pm an open forum on the proposed City Charter will be moderated by Skidmore Assistant Professor of Government Robert Turner. The forum will include former Saratoga Springs Mayor Ken Klotz and recent Finance Commissioner candidate Jane Weihe speaking on behalf of the current form of government, with Saratoga Citizen founder Pat Kane and Finance Commissioner candidate Peter Martin advocating for change.
Turner has moderated 2 other City Charter debates in the past 10 years. He calls the decision “as important a vote as a Saratoga Springs voter will ever make. It’s changing the city’s constitution.”
It seems the debate has found the perfect home in We the People.
“This is a poster child event for this show” says co-curator Rachel Seligman. “The Constitution is this living document that can be shaped and reshaped. It will be a really wonderful crystallization and visualization between the works of art and the business at hand in the space. They’ll really play off each other and energize each other.”
We the People will host 5 more local democracy-building events throughout the fall, including live coverage of the election returns with a discussion led by Skidmore Government Professor Ron Seyb on November 6.
Envisioned as a creative examination of the American Constitution, the exhibition is meant to be interactive even when events are not occurring. Visitors are encouraged to write their answers to the question, “What would you add to the American Constitution?” take home free copies of the Constitution, and even sit on the central piece, a series of twenty-one poplar benches modeled after designs used in Utopian societies.
From Many, One, From Anyone
The show includes 3 installation pieces by three different American artists. Allison Smith’s “From Many, One, From Anyone,” a series of silk curtains digitally imprinted with 19th-century quilt patterns, hangs over a line of windows. Francis Cape’s “Utopian Benches” welcome viewers in seven parallel rows in the center of the room. Nari Ward’s eye-catching piece, “We the People,” spells out the famous first three words of the Constitution in letters more than eight feet high using thousands of shoelaces.
We the People
The exhibit’s room-sized works were carefully selected to illustrate the collective nature of democracy and to create an atmosphere that encourages visitors to meditate on the country’s foundational principle of self-governance. The events were organized to bring that vision of the Constitution to life.
“All of us will come up against the Constitution at some point in our lives in very meaningful ways” says Beau Breslin. “It’s that big anchor to everything we do.”
Thursday’s events also remind viewers that the power to amend the government lies in their hands. Bob Turner thinks of it this way. “The audience for the debate are in essence getting to play a similar role that the founding fathers did when they wrote the constitution.”
Hannah Sherman reports for Saratoga Wire
Photo Credits: Hannah Sherman
ON THE WIRE