Street artist and activist Shepard Fairey—whose work you might have seen in President Barack Obama’s famous red and blue “Hope” election poster—is going back to his social justice roots. The 46-year-old artist is donating 20% of the sales from his latest art show in Detroit to the Caliber Foundation, a charity that funds gun buyback programs in cities across the country.
Fairey’s art will be exhibited and sold at the Library Street Collective gallery in downtown Detroit until April 12th. The gallery will then match Fairey’s donation with a grant, meaning that the efforts could result in $20,000 or more being funneled into local efforts to get illegal guns off the streets of Detroit and Wayne County.
Photo by Wally Gobetz
The artist has already designed a poster, T-shirt and hoodie to raise funds for the foundation’s cause. He also created an image of a gun mandala that uses his token geometric print style to feature images of gun barrels, cylinders, handles and the like. The Detroit exhibit will include a mixed-media painting of the gun-ridden images for $45,000, as well as several prints selling for $3,000 a piece.
Fairey has a history of using his art to fuel political and charitable causes, but not everyone in Detroit is thrilled about his latest philanthropic endeavor. The exhibit has raised eyebrows from some who claim Fairey is only participating in the philanthropic exhibit to polish his local image in the wake of his legal troubles with the city of Detroit.
Last May, the artist completed a 184-foot commissioned mural on the One Campus Martius building, but was later arrested for allegedly doing unauthorized work on private property. Fairey is accused of sticking posters on seven properties with a glue that’s difficult to remove. He faces a count of malicious destruction of a building of $20,000 or more, which could result in a 10-year-felony, as well as two counts of malicious destruction of a railroad bridge, both 4-year felonies.
Photo by Hrag Vartanian
Some citizens argue that Fairey’s unauthorized work in Detroit only adds to the city’s growing reputation for legitimate street art, and believe the severity of the charges are a waste of civic resources and time. Yet police and city officials like Mayor Mike Duggan see the unauthorized work as nothing more than illegal graffiti deserving of prosecution, regardless of Fairey’s stature in the art world.
Fairey, who has worked with the Caliber foundation in the past, maintains that his recent Detroit charity efforts have nothing to do with the charges. “Anyone who knows my history knows that I frequently have a charity component to the projects that I do,” Fairey said in an interview with The Detroit Free Press.
“I already donated to Caliber from the prints I created that have nothing to do with Detroit. This project was conceived well before I had any trouble with the law in Detroit and is only one project in my long history of projects that couple my art and business practices with charity for social causes addressed in the art.”
Photo by Alexander Steed
The artist is a friend of Jessica Mindich, philanthropist and founder of the Caliber Foundation. Mindich first drew Fairey’s artistic support when she worked on a campaign to end domestic violence. But her latest endeavor to support the victims, families and communities affected by illegal gun violence at the Caliber Foundation appeals to Fairey on more than one level: the foundation sells high-end bracelets, cuff links, and other jewelry made of gold and brass that incorporate metal shell casings and serial numbers from confiscated illegal guns.
“I love the idea of repurposing something sinister to make something beautiful,” Fairey said.
Regardless of his current standing with the law, the artist maintains he sees Detroit as a hotbed for artistic opportunity. “I find the people of Detroit to be very supportive, creative, and friendly. The artistic community there is enthusiastic, resourceful, and is in an exciting period of development.”
Header photo by Birdman Photos