Art and politics intersect in March 8 minimum wage exhibit

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On Saturday, a Minneapolis art gallery will host a one-day exhibit of works that brings to life the debate over raising Minnesota’s minimum wage. The twist? Gallery-goers will have the opportunity to purchase artworks at any price they choose – as long as it is at or above minimum wage.

The exhibit runs from 4 to 8 p.m. at Gamut Gallery, 1006 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis. The works are by Rogue Citizen, a collective of five visual artists.

To mimic an average work week, each member of Rogue Citizen created 40 or more works and spent one hour to complete each piece. Thanks to a grant from the Arts and Democracy project, 100 percent of the proceeds from the 200-plus artworks sold on Saturday will go to benefit three community low-wage worker organizations: Minnesota Young Workers, Centro de Trabajadores en Lucha (CTUL) and the Greater Minnesota Worker Center.

The exhibit’s featured “artgang” has supported labor and social justice campaigns for years, including working with the Service Employees International Union and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy.

“Raise the Wage is the next logical step in a series of policy and community efforts,” said Dalsen and Lizardman, Rogue Citizen artists.

Blaster, Dalsen, Matt McGorry, and Lizardman, the four original members of Minneapolis-based Rogue Citizen, met working as security guards and in 2009, they formed their group.

“[We] wanted to make something happen on walls, in galleries. None of us were making enough of our own art at the time,” Dalsen and Lizardman recalled.

Connecting with social movements

Dalsen and Lizardman expressed the importance of art in social movements as well as the inverse – how social movements can aid the art community.

“Striking, iconic visuals can broadly communicate the message and can help it resonate beyond local campaigns, to tap into the psyche of a whole demographic, or country. Raise the Wage is no different,” they said.

At the same time, these Rogue Citizen members recognize the how raising the minimum wage will benefit artists and the community as a whole.

“Anyone still making minimum wage after the increase might not start collecting art, but there are creative people – artists, musicians, performers – who all hustle on minimum wage during the day. [An increase in the wage] will only help them do their creative work, which produces more returns in their communities,” Dalsen and Lizardman added.

Lizardman has even had some first-hand experience working a minimum wage job as an after-hours custodian at an animal hospital. Because the minimum wage was so low at the time, “it felt like volunteer work,” he said. Fortunately, he was a teenager and did not need to depend on that income.

If the minimum wage bill is passed and effectively signed into law, the group plans on continuing to work with coalitions if their agenda extends to other worker rights. Even though they have many upcoming individual and group projects, “if the coalition points the R/C bat signal light at the sky, we’ll probably answer the call,” said Dalsen and Lizardman.

Challenging assumptions

Rogue Citizen’s conceptual artistic goals closely match the social causes they have adhered to. Dalsen and Lizardman explained how they strive to challenge assumptions about the accessibility of art as well as the relative value of art.

“Class barriers prevent average people from obtaining or enjoying art objects as more than temporary commodities,” they stated. During this Saturday’s exhibit, the group’s art will be accessible to anyone who can spare $6.15, Minnesota’s current minimum wage.

Three words these two Rogue Citizen members would describe their art are: liberating, runny, and explosive. Many of the group’s works are highlighted by bright colors and intense themes, including economic hardship.

Each member has unique styles and strengths in areas such as printmaking, graphic design, graffiti, illustration, and traditional painting – all complementing the group as a whole. Dalsen and Lizardman look forward to reuniting with their newest member, Ugaso, who will be returning from San Francisco to bring her 40-plus “strange” works to the exhibit.

In addition to Rogue Citizen’s eye-catching art, the event will host a variety of speakers, musicians, and spoken word poets. The live music and DJs will begin at 6 p.m. and will include local artist Guante, Ander Other of Doomtree, Jeremy Carpenter, Pilar Vatres, Skip Grandz and Mark Kreazy.