An Artist for President: An Interview with Susanna Bixby Dakin
By Sara Schnadt and Pilar Tompkins Rivas
Every art center and museum has its origin story. While that narrative may include political maneuvering, rarely does it include an official bid for the White House. In the case of 18th Street Arts Center, however, its foundation emanated from the sentient, purposive thinking of co-founder and artist Susanna Dixby Dakin who ran independently for the presidency of the United States in 1984. Working at the nexus of feminism and performance art, Dakin embarked on a year-long, durational piece called An Artist for President. She hit the campaign trail and traveled across the country, from rural towns to Washington D.C., speaking to Americans about the tenets of her platform, one that was rooted in new concepts encompassing creativity, politics and spirituality.
The presidential campaign functioned as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork, where all of the skills that Dakin possessed as an artist were merged with ideas about citizenship and humanity, in an effort to create a monumental whole. Responding to the conservative shift ushered in under Ronald Reagan’s first term, Dakin sought a more enlightened path for democracy. She characterized the whole country as an artwork, symbolically expressing ideals about connectivity, empathy and collective ethos.