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OU School of Visual Arts Alumni

Marilyn Artus

Her Flag

Her Flag

Marilyn Artus graduated with a BFA from the University of Oklahoma School of Art in 1991. She worked for 13 years in the gift industry designing products and packaging for United Design Corporation and Relevant Products for manufacturing worldwide. In 2008, Marilyn became a full-time visual artist.

Her Flag is a nationwide art and travel project created by artist Marilyn Artus to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 72 years long nonviolent fight that kicked open voting for women in the United States.

Marilyn has collaborated with a woman artist from each of the 36 states that ratified the 19th Amendment into law to create a HUGE 18 x 26 foot flag. Each artist created artwork inspired by this anniversary that Marilyn turned into a stripe. Marilyn’s original plan was to travel to all 36 states in order of ratification over 14 months, taking 17 separate trips. She sewed the stripe onto the flag in each Capital city in a public performance with the artist that made the representing stripe attending.

All images provided courtesy of the artist

Interview with the Artist:

You have been extremely active in the local Oklahoma City art scene for some time through both social and politically engaged art. Can you give us a quick overview of some of the projects and events you have been a part of leading up to Her Flag?

I became a commercial artist after graduating from The University of Oklahoma. While I was a creative director and designer for a gift company based in OKC, some friends and I created The Girlie Show in 2004. This was before the Me Too Movement. Spaces for women artists and creatives have been limited to a few token opportunities. Things are beginning to change. We wanted to provide a place for women artists of all kinds to sell and exhibit whatever it was they were created. We held the Girlie Show for 10 years and it grew into a large event that attracted artists from across the country to exhibit. This helped me create a large network across the country.  

After 16 years of a commercial art career, I retired and began creating my own work. When I got down to the core of who I was as an artist a feminist voice came roaring out of me.

I would not be where I am as an artist without supporting other artists. I go to openings and participate in opportunities for collaborating that come my way. I joined the Oklahoma Visual Artist Coalition and took every course they offered for years. 

This project has been in the works for some time. Can you tell us what prompted you to take this on and why?

I began working on Her Flag after the last President of the United States was elected. I wanted to channel my energies in a positive way. A few years ago, I read a book about the suffrage movement in the United States and learned all kinds of things I had not been taught in school. I spent a year researching suffrage history and created a show tributing unknown activists of the period that exhibited at Mainsite Gallery in Norman and Living Arts in Tulsa in 2011. I am passionate about voting and women's equality, and I knew I could use this anniversary to raise awareness about women's participation in our Democracy.

This form of collaboration with women all across the country seems daunting. How did you develop the network to bring all these artists together for Her Flag? What advice do you have about this kind of collaboration with multiple people? Like I mentioned before, I have grown my reach as an artist by supporting other artists. I joined all the art organizations that have beneficial info for my practice, and I worked with an art business coach. Being an artist is owning a small business with one full time employee.

Flexibility is key to a project this large. I had to quit traveling in the middle of Her Flag and begin livestreaming the making of the project. I had to be very organized and keep a detailed to-do list that was honestly VERY scary. I tried to not look at it everyday. I would pull out the things I had to do that week and have a small list that I worked from daily. When I started to ask myself could I do this, I always went to the list and just pulled out the things I had to do that day and almost every time I would calm down and realize that you build a mountain one shovel of dirt at a time.

Most projects of this scale are rarely taken on by one individual. What suggestions or advice would you have for students who might have an interest in pursuing a large-scale DIY collaborative project?

Talk to people that have done something like you want to accomplish. Start with a smaller scale version of your project and get some skills before launching into something huge. Ask for help and advice from others but use what works for you. There are 100+ people that were hired or offered to help to make Her Flag. I hired all kinds of contract workers to help me, you don't have to do everything, you can barter if you can't pay someone. I had a project manager, grant writer, and fundraiser as well. I had a crowdfunding campaign, grants, merchandise sales and donations.

When you have a big idea, protect it for a bit. Be solid on what you are doing so when someone tells you how you can't do it, you know you can. When you want to give up, talk to someone you know will support you. Have a one sentence description, a single paragraph and a detailed report of what you want to do. When you are ready, talk to everyone about what you are doing, you never know who might be able to help you. 

Can you share with our students how you considered and implemented social media to help move your idea forward and what you learned about promoting your project? 

I originally was handling social media on my own, I hired a friend that had just started a marketing business and she did a fantastic job. Find artists or pages that you like and don't reinvent the wheel, use their info as inspiration.

After the success of Her Flag, what do your next projects entail (if you can divulge)?

I am at a reevaluating point right now. I have a complete idea for another large-scale project, but I would need lots of funding and I am deciding if I want to tackle this project.

Her Flag install
Her Flag Artists

All images provided courtesy of the artist