The Federal Holiday Series was a year-long collaborative project with Jane Powers to explore the origins and history of 8 federal holidays. Working under the name “Patriots Act”, we designed and distributed free postcards paired with small objects to raise questions about national history and the meaning of patriotism. The postcards were distributed face-to-face on the respective holidays in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Starting in 2003, we developed cards for Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day and Memorial Day. Some holidays had sets of cards or fold out cards. Texts explained the history of the holiday or traditions related to it, and each card had a question on the reverse to prompt further consideration. The accompanying objects offered a sort of poetic or symbolic counterpoint to the largely factual texts: chocolate covered cherries for President’s Day, dried poppy bulbs for Veterans’ Day, five peanuts and 15 cents for Labor Day, etc.
This was really my first work in public space, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jane Powers for this. I mentioned the idea for the Flag Day postcard during a conversation, and it was her enthusiasm and encouragement that brought the idea into physicality. It was also her idea to expand the project to include other Federal Holidays. Having a collaborator made this transition much, much easier than it would have been otherwise, not only for the moral support and intellectual engagement, but also on the most basic level of being able to share the costs of a project that was ephemeral and would have no possibility for financial return.
Of course, some of the cards are more successful or more inspired than others. Sometimes the text becomes overly didactic rather than opening up a space for inquiry. We don’t know, of course, if anyone actually sent the cards to anyone else, and no one ever sent us an email, but we both had interesting discussions with people on the street when we were distributing the cards, and I am sure that came to influence later projects I worked on.
Thinking back, the experiences I collected while working on this project were pretty critical for me – dealing directly with the public, developing a single work into a series, applying for grants (unsuccessfully) to expand the project. The President’s Day card even developed into a further collaborative work, the Whistle Stop Stumping Podium. So while some aspects of the work seem naïve to me at this point, I still find parts of it quite strong, and I cannot discount the confidence it helped to build for future projects.