Freedom to Marry
This is a print that I did for the Minnesota Marriage Equality Poster Project in 2013
2 color screenprint
This is an article that describes the project that I worked on with Kate Mohn
The MCAD Minnesota Marriage Equality Poster Project
by Kate Mohn and Diana Eicher
For the past eighteen months, Minnesota (like multiple other states in the nation) has been having a spirited debate about marriage equality for its GLBT citizens. In November of 2012, a ballot initiative that would have created a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was narrowly defeated at the polls. Two months later, with both the state house and senate having flipped from a republican majority to a democratic one, marriage equality bills were introduced in both houses of the state legislature. What followed was an intense four months in which both pro- and anti-equality forces lobbied lawmakers hard.
During this time, the bill was a hot topic of conversation among the faculty, staff, and students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Early in the session, when the bill’s passage still seemed doubtful, MCAD staffer and grad student Kate Mohn had an idea. Through her work in MCAD’s office of the president, she had been helping the college launch a major new initiative called MCADWorks, which would serve as an umbrella for the work MCAD does in collaboration with community partners. The potential of Minnesota taking a major step forward for gay rights seemed like a ripe opportunity for the college to undertake a related design-for-good project. But what kind?
Kate had long been a fan of the printed ephemera of the early 20th century--such as early movie posters, playbills, vaudeville promotions--and its ability to evoke specific times and places. At the same time, working at MCAD had piqued her interest in the processes used to make fine art prints in limited editions. She wondered if, in the unlikely circumstances that the bill passed, it would be possible to combine the concepts of ephemera and fine art to produce a run of serigraphs to celebrate the civil rights victory. To be able to do so seemed to exemplify the college’s mission of combining creativity with purpose.
Not being an artist herself, Kate knew that if she wanted to make her idea into a reality, she’d need a team of skilled collaborators who would be as passionate about the project as she was. She began thinking about who at the college would be willing to help her try to get the idea off the ground. Her first stop was MCAD staff and adjunct faculty member Diana Eicher. As an artist, Diana had for years been fascinated by the ubiquity of bridal imagery in popular culture and the exclusion of gay couples from mainstream portrayals of weddings. Diana also had a longstanding commitment to combining her art with social practice; her work had been distributed for free at marriage equality events in the past and featured by Minnesota’s Family Equality Council. Diana, in addition to being a respected teacher and printmaker in her own right, oversees the operations of MCAD’s 5,000 square foot printmaking studio. She was on board with the project immediately.
Thus began the process of trying to hustle up enough funding to make the project happen. Kate, who works in the president’s office, convinced MCAD president Jay Coogan to allot up to $1,500 in discretionary funds to hire artists, pay them a modest stipend, and cover logistical costs. The college’s Fine Arts department offered to cover the cost of paper for the prints, and the campus bookstore (the Art Cellar) discounted paper for the project. The Printshop scraped together several hundred dollars to cover supplies. By mid-April, they knew they had enough funding to potentially produce a run of prints, but the future of the bill in the state legislature remained uncertain.
Meanwhile, across the state, the ground-level efforts on behalf of marriage equality were slowly starting to have a noticeable effect. The political scuttlebutt surrounding the fate of the bill began switching from open skepticism to a sense that it might be possible to pass the bill through the Minnesota house on the narrowest of margins. Both the pro- and anti-marriage forces kicked into overdrive as the legislative session entered its home stretch. On May 9, the Minnesota House managed to pass the marriage equality bill on a wider margin than anyone expected, clearing the way for its passage in the senate (where it had been confirmed there were the votes necessary) and signing by the governor.
The day after the house vote, the MCAD team called the office of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and asked if there were plans brewing for an event at City Hall upon the bill going into effect on August 1. Unbeknownst to MCAD, Mayor Rybak had been at the state capitol the day before. Upon the bill’s passage through the House, the mayor (much to his staff’s consternation) impulsively began shouting to the assembled crowd that he would officiate any weddings for same-sex couples interested in getting married as soon as it became legal. As a result of the mayor’s outburst, the groundwork was laid for a massive celebratory marriage event at City Hall, starting at midnight on August 1.
Almost immediately, local businesses and organizations began offering donations of good and services to help make the event a celebration to remember. In addition to MCAD offering to donate roughly 550 prints, local florists donated arrangements for the City Hall rotunda, local musicians offered their services for free, and even Betty Crocker (a division of Minneapolis-based General Mills) joined the fun by donating wedding cake for all the couples to be married.
With only two-and-a-half-months until the big night, there was no time to be lost in hiring artists and beginning to explore design concepts for the prints. It was decided that three prints would be produced; each with a run of 175 hand signed and numbered prints plus ten artists’ proofs. Diana set about recruiting artists who would be willing to sign on the project for the small amount of pay the college could afford to underwrite. The first artist was easy--she volunteered herself to create one of the three designs.
With no time to put out an official call for artists to fill the remaining slots, Diana began tapping into the network of students she had worked with the in the past. Two students in the college’s Print,Paper, Book major, Kara Gregory and Christopher Alday, had a history of collaborating together with impressive results. When Diana first asked them how they would feel about creating a print for the project, they were both excited and enthused by the idea. A third student artist named Ben Proell from the graphic design program rounded out the crew of students. With the team assembled, designs were drafted, revised, and approved, and by late June the artists were in the shop engrossed in the meticulous work of making their designs a reality.
Meanwhile, Kate was wondering if there was a way to further increase the design-for-good aspects of the project. As part of her studies in MCAD’s Master of Sustainable Design program, she had just enrolled in a summer class focused on designing for global change. It struck her that while giving the posters away to the happy couples and well-wishers at City Hall on the night of the event was a lovely gesture, it didn’t address the continuing issues the GLBT community faces, especially in areas of the country that still actively discriminate against same-sex couples. Eventually, she hit on the simple solution of setting aside a certain number of prints to be donated to local and national GLBT advocacy organizations. Since each print was hand-signed and numbered by the artist, they were easily worth $100 apiece and would be great items to be used in silent-auction fundraisers. Kate began calling around to gauge interest; in advance of the August 1 event, the college distributed sets of prints to Twin Cities Pride, OutFront Minnesota, The Minnesota AIDS Project, Lavender Magazine, and the Human Rights Campaign.
With August 1 rapidly approaching and the artists hard at work producing the prints, MCAD’s communications team began publicizing the project. Primarily through social media and word-of-mouth, the marriage equality print project slowly started garnering public attention in advance of the big night. The week prior to the weddings, MCAD received a call from the Tretter Collection of GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota. The archives, which are among the largest collection of items related to queer history in the country, specifically requested a set of prints to include in its permanent collection.
By the time the day of the event arrived, Diana and her crew of artists had produced 550 truly gorgeous prints and city hall was being descend upon by a legion of florists, musicians, members of the press, and roughly a thousand friends, family, and well-wishers of the soon-to-be newlywed couples. In addition to each couple receiving a commemorative print as well as all the volunteers that helped make the evening possible, a crew from MCAD began distributing the remaining prints to guests just after the doors opened for the event at 10:30. By 11:00 the prints were gone. The first couple walked down the aisle at roughly 11:45 and was pronounced legally wed by Mayor Rybak just after the stroke of midnight made the enactment of marriage equality official. Over the next seven hours, a total of 62 couples exchanged vows.
The media coverage of the event was tremendous, and photos of the event appeared in both local media as well as national entities such as Buzzfeed and The Boston Globe. But for the MCAD crew, the most poignant image of the evening was a simple snapshot caught by a local photographer. In the early hours of the morning, two men in matching tuxedos exchanged vows while standing under a chuppa, surrounded by their family and friends. Just afterwards, they unwrapped the print given to them as a wedding present by MCAD and grinned at its simple message. After 38 years together, Harvey Zuckman and Philip Oxman were legally married. Finally.