Monthly Archives: August 2011

Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare, Press Release


In 1953, at the height of the McCarthy Era, 9 leaders of the American Communist Party were arrested in Philadelphia in violation of the Smith Act and tried for conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. Over 50 years later, Adrienne Skye Roberts, current artist-in-residence at the Philadelphia Art Hotel and granddaughter of Joseph Roberts (one of the 9 Smith Act defendants) retraces her lineage to Philadelphia and this legacy of dissent and radicalism. Through archival research, interviews, letter-writing and visits to locations that were significant to her grandfather, Roberts’ constructs an incomplete narrative of a political and familial history that remains largely unseen. In addition to presenting a history of socialism in Philadelphia, Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare raises questions about family inheritance; what is passed down through generations and migrations and what is not and place; how we are taught in which spaces we belong. Swimming Lessons and the Red Scare takes the form of a performative lecture and accompanying publication based on The Daily Worker, the former Communist Party newspaper. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011 @ 7PM
Coral Street Arts House
2446 Coral Street at East Hagerty Street

Sunday, September 11, 2011 @ 9PM
Boggsville Boatel and Boat-In Theater
Marina 59
5914 Beach Channel Drive
Far Rockaway, Queens, NY

Monday, September 19, 2011 @ 7PM
Wooden Shoe Books
704 South Street
with Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood

(Design by Kris Holbrook)

Philadelphia Research, Part 2: Sherman Labovitz

Sherman Labovitz is the only surviving defendant of the Philadelphia Smith Act, a former professor at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and author of the book, Being Red in Philadelphia, A Memoir of the McCarthy Act. He is helping me solve the mystery that is my grandfather and is illuminating for me the role of the Party in Philadelphia 56 years ago. This following quotation is excerpted from the statement Sherman prepared to deliver to Judge J. Cullen Ganey after the defendants were found guilty. Upon recommendation of the defense attorney’s, it was never given.

“I stand before you today because I am afraid. Afraid of war. Afraid that because of war I, my wife, my two sons, my mother and brohers and everyone I love dearly may die too soon. I stand before you today because this fear moved me again to speak to my neighbors who can halt the drive to atmoic destruction just as they helped to win the truce in Korea. I stand before you today because the real advocates of force and violence, the would-be war makers, who fear and hate the ability of my neighbors and others like them throughout this nation to impose their will, will today jail the advocates of peace…

…What have I done these past few years? My neighbors can tell you. That is, those who can speak freely, who do not fear for their jobs. Most, for the time being, watch these proceedings silently, confused. The politically ambitious prosecutors did not produce on of my neighbors to testify against me. Why not? These are the people with whom I live. These are the people with whose children I played. These are the people I have tried to influence. These are the people who know I am a communist. Some of my neighbors, I learned recently, addressed themselves to you, Your Honor. ‘Mr. Labovitz is a communist, but Mr. Labovitz is a good man,’ they said. I say to my neighbors and to you, Your Honor, I am a good man because I am a communist.”

In a conversation with Sherman over lunch this week, he described why he left the Party in 1957 and affirmed that despite the 56 years between the Smith Act trial and today, his politics haven’t changed. He said:

“I believe capitalism is an incurable sickness, in all of its manifestations. I continue to hope for a peaceful transition into a society that is concerned about the well-being of all its people and that shares resources in the world. In the late 1940s, during World War II and in the 1950s, despite the ugliness in the world, I believed that that society was just around the corner. I was optimistic that the world was changing and capitalism driven by profit and greed was dying.

I left the American Communist Party when I no longer felt that it could be the instrument to bring socialism to the United States. However, my politics remain the same today. The difference between 1953 and today is perhaps the existence–at least, in theory–of an alternative that we, as a people, can attach to and believe in.”

CCA Alumni Spotlight: Adrienne Skye Roberts Traces Her Radical Roots

Here is an article written by Simon Hodgson for the California College of the Art’s Alumni News site about my Philadelphia project and the overlap of working as an artist and organizer. Read it here.

Artist-In-Residence, Philadelphia Art Hotel

I’ve arrived in Philadelphia! For six weeks, I will be an artist-in-residence at the Philadelphia Art Hotel, a residency program in East Kensington created by Krista Peel and Zak Starer. I will be researching my paternal grandfather, Joe Roberts, who was a member of the Communist Party and arrested in violation of the Smith Act Trials in 1953. Check back for updates soon!

THIS JUST IN: Suggestions of A Life Being Lived catalog now available!

Thanks to the support of numerous people, the catalog for Suggestions of a Life Being Lived, the queer photography exhibition curated by Danny Orendorff and yours truly at SFCamerawork in September 2010 is NOW AVAILABLE! This project was a long time in the making. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen! The catalog features a conversation between Danny and myself entitled, “A Queer Exploration of Three Public Themes.” The cover image was drawn by Jason Fitz Michael and Matt Momchilov and the catalog features full color images from all the artists featured in the show. Order a copy today through SFCamerawork! Or Amazon! And check out the write up of the book on the California College of the Arts News page!