Finding ‘Common Ground’ at the DNC with artist Meg Saligman

Discover the DNC precursor to Meg Saligman's Common Ground installation July 25-29 at the Free Library.

Many find the presidential election this year partisan and divisive, but artist Meg Saligman doesn’t take sides. Instead, she’s using the election as an opportunity to make art and start conversation. Our Common Ground, her non-partisan participatory installation of paint, sculpture, and light, will be exhibited in its entirety September 10 through October 30 at Moore College of Art & Design. It will be the culmination of smaller installations at both the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia July 25 through 28. Through art, the exhibits ask viewers what they might have in common.

What makes the “Good Life”?

The project began with workshops in Philadelphia and Cleveland. The results of those workshops will be displayed at each convention. It’s not an unusual type of project for Saligman, who’s known around the world for murals and community art. She created the Common Threads mural at Broad and Spring Garden streets, and for Pope Francis’s historic visit to Philadelphia, she created the installation inspired by “Mary, Undoer of Knots,” for which more than 100,000 knotted papers with prayer requests were added by the community.

Our Common Ground will let people voice their opinions about what makes a good life. More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle defined the results of politics as ‘the Good Life.’ So the exhibition space will feature oversized ear horns for ‘listening loudly,’ a Dialogue Den, and 10 ornamented Voter Poles for casting votes for what elements of ‘the Good Life’ people prefer. “We hope this will reframe the political discourse and illuminate common ground, especially when results from both conventions converge at the final exhibition,” said Lizzie Kripke, co-principal artist.

“The eye of the political storm”

Saligman couldn’t help but make this project once the presidential selection process began. “Watching this election cycle unfold toward hostility, polarity, and even violence, we have a sense of artistic urgency,” she said. “We believe public art can raise civic engagement and transform energy by reserving a space for momentary pause and respectful discourse inside our most prominent civic gatherings. Let’s see art as the eye of the political storm.”

Saligman is always inspired by the world around her. “All elements of my work come directly from their surrounding environment,” she said. “Community engagement is central to each project, and I constantly explore and expand ways to integrate community members within the creative, art-making process.”

She’s hopeful that art in general and this project in particular especially during this tumultuous political time can help bridge divides.

“Art is impactful to people and the world. It’s essential to our deepest humanity,” she said. “For this particular project, it’s my hope that art will shift the energy ever so slightly, to enable us to listen that much better to both ourselves and each other. Perhaps we can illuminate our commonalities instead of fixating on our differences.”

Meg Saligman’s DNC art installation will be on view in the main atrium of the central branch of the Free Library (1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia), free and open to the public during all library hours from July 25-29. Visit the project online to “vote for the good life” by submitting your own words or photos to be incorporated into the displays in Philadelphia and Cleveland.