Seattle Nonprofit Fuels the Resistance With Art
A local arts advocacy group sets up headquarters in Pioneer Square, ground zero for its message heard—and seen—around the world.
By Niki Stojnic
December 22, 2017
“Seattle is stepping up as a city of resistance,” says Tamara Power-Drutis, chief of staff of Amplifier, an organization that knows all about the idea. The nonprofit, which was begun in 2014 by Aaron Huey, a Seattle-based National Geographic photographer, drives social change through artwork; in October, it unveiled a new gathering space in Pioneer Square, intended as both a showcase for exhibiting artists and a place to organize around current events and controversies.
You may not have heard of Amplifier, but you’ve likely seen its work. Through partnerships with artists such as Los Angeles–based Shepard Fairey (the internationally acclaimed street artist who created Obama’s iconic “Hope” signage), Amplifier spotlights issues such as voting and indigenous people’s rights, gender equity, gun control, the refugee crisis, climate change and more. In one of its most visible campaigns, the organization worked with artists around the country on an effort called “We the People,” which produced some of the most recognizable images for last January’s Women’s March on Washington. The fundraising campaign to support it was also the most successful arts-based Kickstarter effort in history, raising more than $1 million in six days. The artwork for that campaign—a series of posters depiciting a diverse group of individuals with slogans like “We are Resilient” and “We Will Defend Dignity”—was seen that day around the world.
Power-Drutis came from the journalism world, most recently as executive director of Crosscut. She joined Amplifier in March. “Like many people, I woke up on November 9 [2016, the morning after election day] and knew I needed to change something, I needed to be more invested.” She was drawn to Amplifier because, she says, it publicly—and in an innovative way—pushes back on hate and intolerance.
Part of her role is to help refine the direction of an organization that has been involved in many different causes, “to help transition us from campaigns and movements to becoming a long-term, sustainable organization.”
The Pioneer Square space, part studio, part “design lab,” is a piece of that strategy. Art focusing on current issues will be on display, but visitors are encouraged to share their ideas and connect with the community of change makers during volunteer orientations and open studio days. “We want people to come in and share what their vision of the future is,” says Power-Drutis.
While the gallery helps anchor Amplifier’s home base in Seattle, Power-Drutis says the organization will continue to have a presence in places like LA and Washington, D.C., working with partners in those communities with a national presence, and in target locations, including Detroit, Michigan and Florida, on specific issues like women’s rights and voting access.
Voter equity, especially as the country careens toward midterm elections in 2018, is one of Amplifier’s two biggest upcoming campaigns. In at least 31 states, says Power-Drutis, there is proposed legislation that would limit voting rights, and could affect everyone from the incarcerated to people of color, women and millennial voters. Similar obstacles exist even in progressive Seattle and elsewhere in Washington state, where at-large voting systems present “significant barriers to representation,” she says.
Education is Amplifier’s other big focal point. Amplifier partnered with Maribel Valdez Gonzalez, a Mexican-American educator who was depicted on the “Defend Dignity” poster from Fairey’s trio of “We the People” Women’s March posters. Gonzalez is helping develop K–12 lesson plans for which teachers can sign up to use in their classrooms. The plans include webinars and free “art packs” with works by a handful of artists (including Fairey).
Topics are evolving as teachers provide their input, but they include headliner subjects such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, the Charlottesville protests, voter rights and anti-Muslim bigotry. Thus far, over 1000 teachers have registered to receive the art packs, from all over the state and country, from rural to metropolitan areas; Power-Drutis notes that Amplifier is compiling information onto a map that shows where participating schools are located.
Seattle is the ideal place to have a headquarters, says Power-Drutis. From here, Amplifier’s small team can get great community input and partner with organizations and artists who are doing important work on a local level that can be scaled nationally.
“One of the reasons we wanted to have a studio space in Seattle is so we could be a host to a lot of great discussions, be able to provide a space where people can have critical discussions, and brainstorm and collaborate and build collective action surrounded by, wrapped in, this artwork that expresses the values that they’re working towards.”
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