February 22nd, 2017
Bad and Nasty
an Interview with Holly Hughes and Mary Jo Watts
On Monday, on the occasion of Not My President's Day, BAD AND NASTY (aka Bad Hombres and Nasty Women)—a loose knit coalition of artists, activists, media makers, theater folk, web geeks, designers, performers, writers, and concerned citizen—have organized an international and cross-disciplinary day (and night) of political response. Here Performa Magazine editor Marc Arthur speaks to co-organizer Mary Jo Watts and Holly Hughes about the project and what's happened on Monday.
Marc Arthur: How many events occurred, from how many cities and countries?
Holly Hughes: We’re now up to 63 events in 4 countries!
MA: Has the structure for Bad and Nasty been organized or conceived of in relation to the critical strategies of other artistic, political movements, like Dada or ‘70s feminist practice?
Mary Jo Watts: B&N is DIY, a loose-knit coalition of artists, performers, producers, techies, professors, you name it. It began as the brainchild of Holly Hughes who created a private Facebook group of her friends. (It was important to the success of the project that she chose the setting which allowed members to invite their friends so they could invite their friends and so on.) Her idea of doing a day of performance protests caught fire pretty quickly. People were very excited; before we knew it the site had grown to 1700 participants. I was invited into the group early on and volunteered to help out with organizing and technical and social media needs. I built the website, started the other social media accounts and I monitored the incoming messages to make sure we have a quick turnaround on inquiries.
B & N was organized using mainly Facebook Groups and Pages. We have a handful of lead coordinators (we call them Head Groovies) at the national/international level and then a series of regional Groovies who help coordinate volunteers in their area. We have a crew of media Groovies that help keep content fresh on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.
Lois Weaver taught me about the telephone tree organizing that was so important in AIDS activism especially, and we've adapted that for the social media age. This approach allows you to disseminate information quickly. Volunteers don't have to devote enormous amounts of time to the project to be extremely helpful, the emphasis is on the local pieces of the puzzle—on working with fellow activists in their region. A great benefit is that people who don't know any of the original participants/founders get a bit of personal touch when they connect with a regional Groovy. It's about building community, an emotional and professional support structure of like-minded people while getting things done.
HH: I think we looked to Visual AIDS’s “Day Without Art,” which morphed into World AIDS Day, as a model. It’s very decentralized, a call, a date, a focus, but it’s open to the participants to shape what form it takes, depending on the capacities and needs of the communities involved. We wanted something that was adaptable, not top down. Individual organizers might have thought about other movements in their events.
MA: How do you think the register of artists’ critique use needs to change to address the extreme circumstances we find ourselves in now?
MJW: As a non-artist who knows very little about theater, I think it's important that there are a lot of B&N performers who aren't artists. Many of our participants have come to realize that performing in a public space isn't the sole right of politicians and seasoned performers. More than anything I think we need to encourage everyone to do their part—pun intended—and realize that inaction is a poisonous privilege. Look at what we're facing. Stage fright isn't an option!
HH: I think that art making can be an critical part of organizing, and one doesn’t have to be an artist to use these techniques. For example, I’d suggest that the pussy hats were a genius move… they tapped into the interest in crafting, they could be made by almost anyone, and they offered a visual symbol. And you can, of course, continue to wear them and make a statement. There’s a long tradition of making signs and costumes for marches; I was impressed with the range at the local women’s march I attended.
Art-making of all sorts will be important in the emerging resistance movements; the landscape shifts so quickly, but we’re just getting starting. I’m interested in visual and performance means to interrupt Trump’s agenda and challenge the framing of what’s happening.
MA: In what ways does the looming threat of defunding the National Endowment for the Arts inform the imperative of Bad and Nasty?
MJW: I'd say that from my point of view the threat of losing the NEA is dwarfed by every new gobsmacking tweet from 45 threatening people's lives and the fate of the planet. That's not to say that arts funding isn't vital—it absolutely is, but the ongoing threat to the NEA has not been the motive/impetus for most of the actions.
HH: I’d agree that the NEA is less important than the travel ban, the deportations, the possible end of the ACA, to name only a few. The NEA is very different now than it was 20 years ago, there’s hardly any funding for individual artists, but there’s money for community arts programs serving the underrepresented, like veterans, and poor children. I think these programs are so important. I hope that we push for an agenda that resists the remaking of the government so that it only serves the 1%.
MA: What kinds of responses to you expect from the performances?
MJW: They are so varied in their nature and happening in so many locales—we'll only know after the fact when we get reports back from participants and organizers. I hope we've fostered community, real life connections, and that people feel increasingly empowered to act. Find what you do best and do it!
AA: I think here in Ann Arbor we will be wild, varied and uncensored… one piece is titled BONER KILLER. So we’ll be Bad and Nasty!
MA: How do you see the project evolving in the future?
MJW: That's a bit up in the air at the moment—where to go next. We've got momentum, a growing social media presence. I can imagine Bad and Nasty sponsoring more days of performance and protest. I'd like to see B&N offer more resources on the website to help people hold successful events, give tips about how to organize coalitions like this one online, etc. The DIY approach has served us very well. We'll stay true to our bad and nasty roots! Humor is key.
HH: We don’t have a plan going forward at the moment but I’m hoping that we will be able to regroup after today’s events and figure out the next steps. I can imagine we might want to do as Mary Jo suggests—have more events. And the DIY approach was very good!
MA: How do people get involved?
MJW:Visit our website http://badandnasty.com to submit events to our directory. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with some info about themselves, where they are, what they can volunteer to do, and how we can help them.
Holly Hughes is a writer and performer. The author of Clit Notes: A Sapphic Sampler and coeditor of "O Solo Homo," "Animal Acts: Performing Species Today," and Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theatre, she has been denounced on the floor of the Senate by Jesse Helms and has also received numerous awards, including two Village Voice Obies, numerous grants from the NEA, and a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship. When she is not directing the BFA in Interarts Performance at Michigan, Hughes is running with her Norfolk terriers.
Mary Jo Watts (Midonz) is an Instructional Technology Specialist, avid blogger, and the Founder and Editor of Powers of Expression, an on-line arts journal.