Message from the Artist: Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020

Constance Hockaday

Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020 is a creative project directed by Constance Hockaday that recasts the presidency as a multi-vocal entourage. With the support from UCLA’s Center for the Art of performance, she has invited fifty artists to assume authority over our collective future. Alongside the 2020 presidential campaign, artists, including Lewis Hyde, Eiko Otake, Ishmael Reed, Ann Hamilton and Natalie Diaz, will write and deliver national addresses that will roll out over radio, podcast and social media. 

Like every American president, we have offered participating artists access to professional speechwriters who will support them in finding their presidential voice. Each artist will also create a presidential portrait of themselves for social media and future gallery exhibition. 

The project is inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era Fireside Chats. Today, Americans are faced with the crippling social and economic fallout of a global pandemic that has brought the existing disparities in our communities into stark relief. Many parallels have been drawn between both the upheavals and the possibilities of the present moment with those of the 1930s. Similar to Depression Era FDR, we have arrived at a moment of crisis and possibility.   We are not calling for a Fireside Chat re-do, but rather an acknowledgement that many of the national narratives of liberation have erased the voices of women and people of color. It is time for an update. We are expanding the vernacular and aesthetics of power with the bodies and voices of the most brilliant thinkers of our times– calling on artists, writers, performers and musicians to assume authority over our collective future. 

Artist-In-Presidents is directed by artist Constance Hockaday and produced in partnership with UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and also with support from The Kenneth Rainin Foundation and TED.

What is the Fireside Chat? 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took presidential office during the Great Depression, when the nation’s economy was decimated and trust in government was at an all-time low. Under these conditions, Roosevelt began to speak directly to the public via a series of radio broadcasts dubbed “the Fireside Chats.” His aim was to address Americans’ greatest concerns.  The Fireside Chats were the first time that a US president’s voice entered the living rooms of everyday Americans. Never before had an American president spoken so frankly and intimately with the citizens of their country.   In intricate poetic detail, Roosevelt unfurled an accessible vision of a unified American public and called upon citizens to participate in democracy as an act of faith.

Future of the project text:

Pending the results of the 2020 election and the pandemic Artists-In-Presidents will take the form of print publication, a gallery exhibition, and ultimately a live performance – bringing people together for a joyous event aboard FDR’s retired presidential yacht in the San Francisco Bay.