The Pen and Ink Brigade is a group of artists/activists, all women, many of whom are award-winning picture book creators. We have joined forces to use our work to create progressive change. To that end P+I came up with a plan to do three fundraising art events in the lead up to the 2020 election. The first, the BLUE WAVE project, took place before the 2018 mid-term elections and raised money for the GOTV group, VoteRiders. The PINK shows were a bi-coastal effort that raised $20,000 to support Stacey Abrams’s voting rights initiative, FAIR FIGHT ACTION. Our plan had been to do a GREEN NEW DEAL project before the critical November presidential election. But the pandemic hit and the world turned upside down. We were not sure if we had the bandwidth to generate a new project. Given the array of pressing issues that we, as a country, and as a world, are facing right now, with the global pandemic, economic hardship, Black Lives Matter, civil rights, as well as climate change, focusing exclusively on the Green New Deal felt wrong. The beauty of this particular moment is the way that people are joining forces and standing up. That is inspiring, empowering, and hopeful. People were getting into “Good Trouble” as John Lewis famously put it. It became clear what the next project needed to be about. STANDING UP. The complexity of the moment also informed how we structured the show. We deliberately came up with a concept that allowed flexibility, in which each artist could create a piece with which they actively took a stand for a cause that they cared about.
STAND UP! is an online auction of original artwork. 100 artists have each contributed a piece on the theme, STAND UP. Contributing artists include Caldecott honorees, New Yorker cartoonists, renowned illustrators, and picture book artists. We have two featured artists which we are especially honored to include: Faith Ringgold and Lauren Greenfield. 100% of the proceeds go directly to EMILY’s List, to help get diverse, progressive, pro-choice, Democratic women elected all down the ticket. The auction will be held August 21st-28th and is accessible via penandinkbrigade.com/standup.
Two of the organizers of the STAND UP! project, Kristen Balouch and Carin Berger, are here to talk a bit about this moment, picture books, and their work on the STAND UP! project.
Kristen Balouch: There is so much suffering and loss from this pandemic. I am trying to think about what we might learn from it. My hope is that we learn how to work together and consider the needs of our community before our own needs. Each time we put on a mask, we are protecting everyone around us. If the pandemic teaches us to act in conscientious ways as individuals we will make conscientious communities and then we will make conscientious countries. I hope we can use those ideas of cooperation and working together to tackle problems like climate change, equality, and other big issues.
Carin Berger: It is true. These are daunting times that we are facing. It is easy to feel diminished and insignificant in the face of these enormous and overwhelming problems. But each of us has something important and valuable to offer. I was remembering Stone Soup, a picture book from my childhood that I loved. Somehow that story feels pertinent today. It was about a community, where when each person, individually contributed the little that they had to offer, and together, with each small contribution, they manage to make a magnificent soup. This moment in history calls for that kind of collective effort. The STAND UP! project, also feels a bit like that, with everyone bringing what they can. Individually, it may not seem significant, but collectively, these contributions become a powerful tool for change. I have also found that working as a team, collaborating, has been personally empowering and has brought me a lot of comfort. It has been a valuable way to channel my sadness and worry.
KB: Yes. I am also thinking about our kids. How are our kids dealing with this moment? Kids are so open and ready to absorb everything in the world around them. What do we have to offer them to help them manage these times? The worlds that we present in books and our classrooms are places where our society affords more idealism. Kids grapple with a sense of what’s fair and just. They can also be a powerful source of change. Kids motivate us to be our best selves.
CB: They really do. I realize that picture books can play an important role in reaching our kids, and in helping them. Books define our priorities as a society and help shape our future. They pose moral questions for kids to think about. They help kids figure out how to navigate friendships and new experiences and challenging times…how to be in the world. Books are also a good tool for starting difficult conversations with our children and can offer them hope and make them feel empowered. Ideally, they honor our kid’s capacity to think and create and to make the world a fairer, better place. The book that you are working on now seems to do that beautifully. Can you tell us a little about it?
KB: I am working on an autobiographical book where a small group of people come together and work together to create a magical outcome of planting trees. Trees are the perfect role model for behaving in community. They share resources, communicate with each other, and work together to create a network that nourishes the whole forest. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
CB: That sounds amazing. It is incredible that, together, this small group of people somehow manage to plant a forest! What a lovely story. It speaks to the power of communal action! I think stories of interconnection and community and friendship are a through-line in many of my books. The project that I am working on now is a little bit different. The title is: In the Night Garden. On its face, it is a simple book about being in the garden at night and the pleasures and mystery that can bring. But the underlying story is about how things that are recognizable in normal times shift and are unfamiliar in the dark. They can seem scary until we find that there is also an underlying beauty in darkness.
KB: There is potential for beauty in this moment too…when everyone STANDS UP together to make the world better.
CB: I think so too. It is an “all hands on deck” moment. It is a time of potential and one that will take all of us working together to make the kind of world that we want. Each of us has something that we can contribute. Watching people rise up and work communally gives me great hope.
The STAND UP show has been made possible by the committed work of Carin Berger, Kristen Balouch, Shelley Kommers, and Kimberly Ellen Hall. It is also only possible with the offerings of each of the 100 participating artists.
This interview—Women Picture Book Artists Actively Taking a Stand for a Cause They Care About—was conducted between Kristen Balouch and Carin Berger. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books with Activism, Carin Berger, Diversity, Elections, Illustrator Interviews, and Women’s History.