The ACLU Courts Artists in Miami—and Installs a Political Phone Booth at the Standard

All week, the "Speak Up Pop-Up" is raising funds for civil liberties causes in Miami.

A guess takes advantage of the ACLU's custom phone booth. Image courtesy Angela Pham/BFA.

It’s a sign of the times that one of the hottest tickets at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach is a dinner for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Wednesday night’s event at the Standard—the first the organization has ever held during the Miami fair week—celebrated the artists and fashion designers who created posters, pins, bags, and other items now being sold in a pop-up shop in the hotel’s lobby. The big names who pitched in for the “Speak Up” fundraiser included Daniel Arsham, Shepard Fairey, Prabal Gurung, the Haas Brothers, Opening Ceremony, and Mickalene Thomas, among others.

(The works from the “Speak Up Pop-Up” are for sale at the Standard Spa in Miami Beach, December 7-10, and available nationwide following Miami Art Week on The various products range from $50 to $85)

Shepard Fairey's work for the ACLU, being sold at the Standard Hotel.

Shepard Fairey’s work for the ACLU, being sold at the Standard Hotel. Photo: Angela Pham/BFA.

“When I got the email [from the ACLU] I started freaking out,” said Simon Haas, of the LA design team, the Haas Brothers. “It’s such an important organization I was almost starstruck. I have a limited ability in terms of what I can do. I can’t do much except give art or put this kind of messaging into my own art. I hope we get to do much more in the future. It’s kind of an obligation.”

Haas added that he is already considering ways to incorporate the organization into their show at the Bass Museum next year.

“I think people get stuck on the acronym but don’t know exactly what they do,” said artist Shelter Serra, who created a poster evoking the color bars that appear on TV during an “emergency broadcast.” “I was thinking about how to combine the universality of color and trying to make them equal, with no hierarchy.”

Shelter Serra for the ACLU.

Serra said that he hopes the project will help communicate the ACLU’s mission, which has long been important to his family. “My uncle Richard [Serra, the sculptor] has been donating to the ACLU since the ’80s. My father [an attorney] did pro bono work in San Francisco.”

Design artist Daniel Arsham said he’s not interested in making political statements with his work, but likes the ACLU because “in many ways it feels neutral. It’s about supporting the Constitution and supporting rights that are innate.”

Arsham’s poster shows an American flag that looks like it’s eroding but is actually cast in crystal, “a material we associate with growth,” he said. “So there’s a question: Is the flag degrading or growing? I think this in-between place is where we are right now.”

Although Art Basel is an international event, the ACLU took the opportunity to stress the critical importance of its local chapter in Florida, a key electoral battleground. “Next year is probably going to be the most consequential year in the political history of our state,” said ACLU Florida executive director Howard Simon, pointing out that there are Constitutional amendments that could appear on its November 2018 ballot that could fundamentally alter the right to privacy and the separation of church and state.

The ACLU dinner at the Standard Hotel. Photo: Angela Pham/BFA.

The ACLU dinner at the Standard Hotel. Photo: Angela Pham/BFA.

“We are in the middle of a horrible, dangerous Constitutional revision process now,” Simon said. But he pointed to artists as a source of hope. “This is the beginning of a great partnership. Designers, artists, journalists, creatives, and the ACLU—this is a partnership to build a movement to create the change we all want to see. You are the visionaries, you can make cultural shifts. Art and artists make cultural shifts.”

“Think about the shifts in the LGBT movement,” he added. “One of the major things that moved that needle was the art community.”

During a toast, Simon urged anyone feeling despondent to take action—even right there, at the Standard. It turned out the ACLU had installed a phone booth by the pool.

“On your way out, take a break, have a drink and go in there and make a phone call,” Simon said. “You will be immediately connected to your elected official through some technical magic.”

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