In 1943, artist Norman Rockwell completed a series of four oil paintings inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 “Four Freedoms Speech.” In his State of the Union address, FDR articulated the four universal freedoms that he believed were worth fighting for: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Rockwell’s paintings encompassed the ideals of FDR’s speech and they became popular icons for the Four Freedoms. Rockwell’s paintings stood as a testament to the artist’s technique and more importantly, they highlighted the power that art has to educate and sway public opinion of political systems and ideals. Today, over 75 years later, Rockwell’s paintings continue to inspire artists to fuse art and politics.
In 2016, artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman co-founded For Freedoms. The organization aimed to create a platform for civic engagement, discourse and direct action for artists.mAs stated in their mission, For Freedoms believes that “citizenship is defined by participation, not by ideology…that art can be a vehicle that broadens participation and deepens public discussions of civic issues and core values.” The organization is “a hub for other artists and arts institutions who want to be more engaged in public life.” Thomas and Gottesman achieved their goals through the use of art exhibits, but also by expanding into other forms of media such as billboards, lawn signs and town halls. The For Freedoms initiative has quickly grown into a nationwide campaign that uses art to deepen public discussions and civic issues, partnering with some of the leading artists and institutions in America.
For Freedoms began campaigns and projects with artists, leaders, and intellectuals asking, “What factors of society craft the artistic infrastructure of the USA?” By viewing the U.S. political system through the lens of an artist, one can liken politics to art materials, such as clay. If artists continue to reshape the future of our nation, perhaps they could make the most beautiful piece of artwork one can imagine, connecting us all under a common theme.
To further unite the nation, in 2018 For Freedoms launched a 50 state initiative in which multiple organizations and events embodied an array of voices and sparked a national dialogue about art, education, commerce, and politics. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture is proud to be one of many institutions nationwide and the only one in Charlotte to partner with For Freedoms.