When artist Kel Mur agreed to participate in a group art show inspired by the 46 first ladies in United States presidential history, she figured she would end up with a woman she’d never heard of.
She got Melania Trump.
“To be quite honest, I kind of forgot Melania was even going to be a possibility,” said Mur. “Which I feel kind of bad about. She is still a person.”
“46 Artists for America’s First Ladies,” organized by Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL) and funded by Dane Arts and the Madison Arts Commission, opens virtually this weekend. The exhibition is a companion piece to Forward Theater’s “46 Plays for America’s First Ladies,” which opened Saturday and runs as a “digital experience” through May 23.
Both the plays — a series of vignettes, sketches, songs and dance written by the Chicago-based troupe, The Neo-Futurists — and the art show were originally scheduled for fall 2020. COVID-19 postponed all of it.
Though the art may well look different than if it had been made in an election year, the structure of the show remained the same. ALL opened participation to artists in Wisconsin who identify as women or another marginalized gender, asking each artist or poet (there were 11 of the latter) to make a piece that fit in a 12-by-12 frame.
ALL gave each artist a $100 stipend and the ability to keep ownership of their work, some of which has already been earmarked by buyers. Arts for All Wisconsin and Artworking shared the opportunity with the artists with disabilities in their own networks. Some participants were professionals. Others were students. Many, but not all, were from Dane County.