Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020 has shared six transmissions to the nation with hopes, dreams and fears for our collective future from 42 different artists, with more to come. Directed by visual artist Constance Hockaday, this project is not a fireside chat re-do, but rather an acknowledgement that many of the national narratives of liberation have erased Indigenous voices and the voices of people that make up the majority of this country— Black, LGBTQIA, people of color, persons with disabilities, and womxn.
Alongside the 2020 presidential election, the invited artists, including United States Artists President and CEO Deana Haggag, wrote and delivered national addresses. Hockaday offered participating artists access to professional speechwriters, like every American president has, to support them in finding their presidential voice. Haggag worked with speechwriter Allison Ehrich Bernstein.
Bernstein has handled communications and written speeches, opinion pieces, and digital content for local and global leaders, including at the U.S. State Department, Accion International, Hilltop Public Solutions, and Hillary for America. We asked her a few questions about participating in Artists-In-Presidents and how to speak to all of the American people.
“As a speechwriter, I focus not on writing for ‘everyone’ but rather asking what this speaker has to say to this audience. Many speakers can work off a generic script written in natural language well enough, but it won’t necessarily sound like it’s their own words—and it won’t necessarily be their message to the people they’re addressing. In a technical sense, speechwriters bridge this gap through conversations with and exposure to their speakers; that is, talking with them, reading about their work, and immersing ourselves in their perspective. Some of the best writing material comes from long conversations with smart, interesting people who have something to say, and it’s our job to distill their ideas and call to action into a strong and personal piece of rhetoric.
What made this project special was working with a speaker who not only had a clear idea of what she wanted to tell listeners all over the country but who also had a uniquely genuine and thoughtful voice that was a joy to write in. I think that’s where good leadership—and surely good presidential leadership in particular—originates: in caring deeply about who you’re speaking to, what they hear, and how your perspective can affect them. So her speech focuses on the power of connection and collaboration—between speaker and audience, artist and viewer, and among any of us who call ourselves Americans—and calls on listeners to leverage creativity toward a better vision of the United States and its future, together.”