NORTH ADAMS -- One of the side effects of the Occupy Wall Street -- and the wider movement it inspired -- was the culture that grew around it, with representative artwork that followed.
Curator Emily Breunig has gathered together examples from her own experiences in the movement and put them alongside some local creative efforts -- including works by Lodiza LePore, Justin Atkins, Joshua Field and Jana Christy -- to show the breadth of what was made by the effort. More than marches and protests, Occupy birthed a common language for creativity and communication between its participants and the wider public.
"Transcend: Art as Activism in the Occupy Movement" is on display at the Branch Gallery, 18 Holden St.
Like the protest movement itself, the Occupy artists were spontaneous and not necessarily connected, springing up in various locations and not always centering their work around the Occupy encampments or actions. Breunig herself came to the movement on her own and not as part of any Occupy connection.
"I started doing artists books because it was a project of sorts for my arts management class, a project proposal, grant writing thing, and that was the project hypothetical," Breunig said. "Once I dropped out of school, I thought, ‘I can actually make those books if I want.' So that's what I did."
Breunig was attending MCLA last fall when Occupy became big news, and her concern for what was happening in New
"I had seen all the videos of peaceful assemblies of people marching down the street and the cops pepper spraying them and was freaking out," she said.
"I just thought, ‘I can't really go down there, I can't really afford it,' but that thought made me think that was all the more reason why I should go down there. I was so stressed out with school and I had a crazy summer -- an internship and a summer class and work. It was just crazy busy. So, I was like, ‘no, I'm going to go down there. I need to check it out. Let's do it.' "
She went down on Columbus Day, 2011, for a 24-hour stay, and from that point, became regularly involved with the movement, even staying in Zucotti Park for a period of time.
"I decided to drop out of school and that it was okay to take a break," Breunig said. "I admitted that to myself."
Breunig was less involved in the marches than the day-to-day discussions and organizing at the camp, as well as participation with general assemblies. In early November, though, she chose to take part in a Bank Transfer Day march in Foley Square, which went sour quickly and turned Breunig into yet another protester arrested under questionable circumstances.
"They were giving a dispersal order saying ‘If you don't leave and go to the center of the square, you will be arrested,'" Breunig said. "I was in the process of leaving and going to a crosswalk, and I was arrested anyway. A white shirt was on the megaphone saying ‘If you don't leave, you'll get arrested,' and then two seconds later, ‘Arrest her.'"
"I said, ‘Officer, I'm trying to leave, why are you arresting me?' I just went with it, but I'm still fighting it. I have my trial the end of October. That was another reason that kept me involved, because I was going back there for court visits and that sort of thing."
That was in November, and a couple weeks later the protesters were evicted. Breunig went to the Occupy Boston camp after that, shortly before they got evicted, and also with Occupy protesters to New Hampshire during the primaries.
"I went to Albany during their eviction," she said. "That was two days before Christmas. That was really sad. We took the tent to the street, that carport. We were trying to hold the info tent down to at least have some space, and they were trying to tear it down, and so everybody just picked it up and started walking. They took it to town hall and took it to Lark Street and around. That was pretty interesting."
In January, Breunig traveled to Washington, D.C., to be part of the Screen Printer's Guild there. This group printed protest graphics on t-shirts, bags and more on the spot at the Occupy gathering. Emily had gotten involved through a friend of a friend -- it was a total coincidence that the effort was spearheaded by North Adams resident and artist, Joshua Field.
During her time on the road with Occupy, Breunig gathered up fliers and handouts and signs. The smaller works she put together in collages in her artists books, which will be on display in the gallery. She's also displayed these in Occupy-oriented art shows in Albany and the Catskills.
While Breunig has sought out area artists to share their reactions to and documentation of the Occupy movement, she's also showing work by those she met in her travels, including the People's Puppets and graphic artist Rachel Schragis, who took Occupy's declaration and fashioned it into complex bubble chart.
"There will also be a people's library of 300 used books," Breunig said. "I just want to have a nice little sitting area, discussion area, resource center, even put all the pamphlets I've received, like from We've Got a new World in our hearts, they do a lot of Anarchy pamphlets. Magazines, I have spare copies of the Occupied Wall Street Journal that I'll put those out."
Breunig is also arranging some free events, including a yoga one, as well as documentary screenings and screen printing workshop, as well as possibly some more public action.
Breunig admits that it's more difficult to be involved in the wider movement for a variety of reasons. One is that with the passing of encampments, protesters have to rely on people to offer them a couch or a floor to sleep on. Also, the calls to action have become more random and focused on big marches, so there is less to beyond the sort of grass-roots level activism that the gallery show is certainly a part of, but the movement still understands that it's still important to come together once in awhile.
"Everything's quieted down a bit and it's hard for them to sustain when there aren't donations and funds, or even a place to have traffic of people who are interested or want to get involved," Breunig said.
Occupy is more on track to becoming a permanent force of political and social protest and advocacy, and Breunig is in it for the long haul, continuing to contribute through gestures such as the gallery show to spread awareness, as well as other actions as they come.
"I'm hoping that's how it will be. Martin Luther King Jr.'s movement took eight years," she said. "You have to be prepared for a long haul, and ups and downs, and hope for the best and keep trying and doing something. It's not going to be overnight."
"Transcend" can be found online at ls6503.wix.com/transcendart.