Artists draw upon passions, skills to help Brown, Warren
Creative people are joining forces to push their candidates in the hard-fought US Senate race, pulling on networks of artists, photographers, and writers for support and fund-raising as Republican Senator Scott Brown battles his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.
Karen Riggert, a professional photographer in Groton, was inspired by hearing Brown speak at an event hosted by her friend, state Representative Sheila Harrington, a Republican from Groton. After meeting the senator, Riggert, 54, who served as a member of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee from 1998 to 2004, contacted Brown’s campaign manager with an offer to host a reception in her home.
Soon she was making plans for the Aug. 24 fund-raising event that Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, attended as guests of honor. Donations began at $100. For $500, guests could arrive early for a short champagne reception and a photo opportunity with the senator.
“We like to throw parties,” said Riggert, who used her professional skills to photograph the approximately dozen people who attended the reception with Brown before the main event. “And I have strong convictions about helping him get reelected.”
Elizabeth Searle, an Arlington-based author of four novels and a rock opera, had always admired Warren. But it wasn’t until Searle, 50, met the US Senate candidate at a rally in Dorchester that she committed to doing something substantial for her campaign. Something literary.
At that rally, Searle, who helped organize a writer’s event for presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and several events for PEN New England, approached the Warren campaign to suggest a fund-raiser drawing on members of the region’s literary community. The idea grew into Writers for Warren, a Sept. 13 cabaret evening at Precinct, a basement-style bar in Somerville’s Union Square.
The event featured Arlington-based writer Steve Almond as the emcee, music by singer-songwriter Amy Correia of Lakeville, and readings by local literary luminaries including Anita Shreve, Tom Perrotta, Stephen McCauley, and Anita Diamant.
“Warren is a writer, too,” said Searle, “so the idea of Writers for Warren seemed appropriate.”
Two events. Two candidates. Two women with mad organizing skills who invested long hours in planning, promoting, and pulling off creative campaign events. It’s enough to make phone-banking look like a picnic (something that both Searle and Riggert also have done).
Although Almond assisted with the organizing of the Warren benefit, Searle, a self-described obsessor by nature, said she worried over every detail of the three-hour event in the dimly lighted bar that once housed Somerville’s police headquarters.
“What kept me going was looking forward to the show itself,” said Searle. “I knew at showtime, Steve would do all the onstage work and I could just kick back and enjoy.”
Which, according to Searle, is what happened.
Following an opening musical set, Ganeesh Sitaraman, policy director for Elizabeth for MA, Warren’s campaign organization, briefly spoke to the gathering of approximately 90 , said Searle. Next, one by one, the authors took the stage to give short readings, ranging from serious to riotous, on the theme of “We all have our issues.”
In Groton, meanwhile, Riggert’s intimate gathering for Brown segued into the general reception of 110 guests, and she went full throttle into hostess mode. “I was overwhelmed by seeing a hundred people in my backyard,” said Riggert. “So I put down my camera and didn’t pick it back up again.”
Along with fellow hosts, including Harrington, Riggert had spent “many, many hours” over the summer planning the event’s logistics, including the food, setup, and red, white, and blue decorations that evoked her patriotic theme.
“We wanted Scott and Gail to come and relax,” said Riggert. Perfect summer weather helped, allowing people to mingle in the backyard. Later, guests gathered under a tent for a casual, half-hour presentation by Brown, followed by 15 minutes of questions.
“I think it was his fourth event of the day,” said Riggert, “but he looked like it was 8 a.m. He was so relaxed and patient.”
“It’s all about reaching people at a local level,” said Groton resident Beth Lindstrom, who served as Brown’s campaign manager for the 2010 special election for the Senate, and one of the nine hosts listed on Riggert’s invitation. “And this was a nice local event.”
Searle’s focus with Writers for Warren was to hold an affordable event that gave literary people a chance to express their support in a way that tied in with their passion. Ticket prices began at $10, with a student discount, to $250 for a VIP reception with the authors, all of whom Searle personally knew and invited to participate.
Belmont resident Tom Perrotta, author of “The Leftovers” and “Little Children,” said the event was “fun, festive, and a little more raucous than the usual fund-raiser.” He agreed to do it because he thinks Warren would make a great senator. He also calls himself a political junkie — two of his novels, “Election” and “The Abstinence Teacher,” were inspired by presidential elections.
Anita Shreve, a Boston resident and the author of 16 novels, read one of her poems, “Haverill Hill,” that she said obliquely refers to Dedham, the town where she grew up. “I participated in the event because I believe strongly in Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy,” said Shreve.
Although neither campaign has released the final donation tallies, both events were designed to raise awareness as well as money.
“Our personal goal,” said Riggert, “was to provide an opportunity for others to meet Brown, to hear him, and to get to understand him more extensively.”
Searle said, “I wanted to bring writers together to rally around one of their own.”