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Artists team up to draw line on war spending

By Seth Koenig, The Times Record, Bath

Dozens of Maine artists are expected to turn out Saturday for a "draw-a-thon," where they will spend the day illustrating other ways the country could be spending the money it currently uses to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After a day of creating the artworks, participants will host an evening community potluck dinner to display the works and host poetry readings and music. The public potluck event, part of the Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home, will begin at 5:00 p.m. at the United Church of Christ, 150 Congress Ave., in Bath. Artists are scheduled to arrive for the draw-a-thon at 9:30 a.m.

"I think it's important to have a lot of joy and happiness about such a serious subject," said Monroe artist Kenny Cole, one of the event's organizers. "It's a hard issue to tackle. There's a lot of disagreement about this subject. Some people don't think we're spending enough on the military - we're just posing the question. I think the bottom line is that we have finite resources, and the question remains, how much do we want to spend on the military? Do we want to spend all of our resources on the military at the expense of our lifestyles, and all the other human needs we have?"

Fellow event organizer Natasha Mayers, an artist from Whitefield, said residents of her small town spend more than $560,000 annually in tax dollars to support the country's two major wars. Since the wars began more than eight years ago, organizers claim, Mainers have spent nearly $2.5 billion to support them.

"All of us are seeing our towns suffering," Mayers said. "We're seeing individuals in our towns suffering, we're seeing people we work with suffering because of the recession, and it's very clear to us that all the money we need is locked up at the Pentagon. More than 44 percent of our economy is tied up in the military, but nobody questions it.

"For the same amount of money that taxpayers in Maine have paid for Afghanistan and Iraq, you could have 456,486 Pell grants for Maine students, or health care for one year for almost a million people in Maine," she continued. "You could hire 46,000 elementary school teachers for a year. It's mind boggling how much better the quality of our lives could be if we weren't paying so much money for warmaking."

At least 30 artists are expected to turn out for Saturday's event, including Marji Greenhut, Emily Posner, Corliss Chastain and Joan Braun, according to the Web site

"I think people might be more willing to look at art or experience art than to turn on the news or do research on a subject," said Cole. "Hopefully, it will inspire people and it will catch their attention. There's a certain joy, too. One of the things on our lists of alternatives to spend money on is more art programs for children and adults.

"They say pictures are worth 1,000 words, and there's a lot of truth to that," he continued. "Art is disarming in some ways. When you hear things on the radio, you hear facts and figures and talking heads talking about this and that, but that evaporates after a bit. Art stays there and resonates a little more. When you look at art or a painting, the message is more digestible."

The artworks, said Mayers, will run the gamut between "seriously silly to deadly serious" as organizers aim to illustrate other examples of how $2.5 billion in Maine tax dollars could be distributed. Mayers said she drew a sketch showing "free range chicken in every pot" as well as more park benches - and more parks.

She listed big projects like solar panels and public transportation, as well as small ones, like new ice skates for every child and free swimming lessons.

"It's a way for us to stretch our imaginations and, in doing that, help other people envision how they want their tax dollars spent," Mayers said. "I think we have ways that are creative and non-threatening. I think, as artists, we have ways to captivate people's attention, to catch it in a way that won't put them off.

"As artists, I also don't think we're just talking about money," she continued. "We're talking about what (military spending) does to our souls and spirits. Our good will is spent in ways that are on the side of war, our values are misspent, our sense of justice is skewed, our decency in the world is questioned."

As an encore, many of the artists associated with Saturday's event will take their cause to Augusta on Feb. 18, when they will create artwork and hold a press conference in the Capitol's Hall of Flags.

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