Can This Postcard Art Project Save Democracy and the USPS?

Beatie Wolfe and Mark Mothersbaugh at Mutato, Mothersbaugh's music production company. (Photo by Ross Harris)

Mark Mothersbaugh had just gotten out of intensive care after surviving a bad case of COVID-19, when his friend and fellow artist Beatie Wolfe proposed a collaboration. Why not use postcards to make art that could save the U.S. Postal Service and maybe even democracy itself?

If anyone could do it, Wolfe and Mothersbaugh could.

During the pandemic lockdown, Wolfe said writing letters and postcards was "pretty much the one thing that was keeping me sane." Mothersbaugh, film composer and co-founder of Devo, has been a huge fan of postcard art for decades. He told KPCC/LAist's A Martinez, host of Take Two, that, as a young artist in the late 1960's and early 1970's, he got involved in a much earlier postcard art movement.

"I was a nobody little punk in Akron, Ohio and I found you could send something to Roy Lichtenstein or Jim Dine and you might, couple of weeks later, get a piece of art back...and that was pretty amazing."

The idea was born and so was the project, Postcards for Democracy, which Mothersbaugh and Wolfe started in September. Anyone who wants to participate (including you, yes you!) can be part of it.

The idea is simple:

  1. Buy a stamp (35 cents for postcards)
  2. Make a postcard out of whatever you want
  3. Put a stamp on said postcard
  4. Drop it in the mail to this address: 8760 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069-2206.

Note: Mothersbaugh and Wolfe advise postponing mailing your postcards until 10 days after the election to "give USPS a hand."

One of the many postcards submitted as part of the Postcards For Democracy project. (Anonymous sender)

Wolfe says the project is a way of showing support for the USPS by using the USPS. "If we don't use it we're going to lose it," she told KPCC/LAist, "and I think it's important to not take anything for granted."

So far, it's working.

Every day, the artist duo receives a veritable Santa sack of mail at their Sunset studio. Mothersbaugh says that the art spans "the whole rainbow of ideas that are important to people."

His own postcard art was affected by what he saw and experienced while in the ICU with COVID-19.

"It's very surreal and some of it's really, really dark. I remember there were times when I would just try to stay awake because I was afraid to close my eyes, because I was in a dark part of delusions. And then there was another time when I have a memory of writing a whole new album of Devo music. So I've got that ready when the time comes."

Mothersbaugh and Wolfe admit that the Trump administration's attacks on the USPS did play a role in the creation of the project, but they had always wanted to do something like this, regardless.

Another postcard submitted to the project. (By Andy Phares)

Their goal isn't necessarily political, Wolfe says. It's also a way to put literal pen to paper to counteract the many, many hours of screen time we get these days.

"It's a vital way of staying connected with one another, but also with ourselves. Art and nature are core to our humanity, and technology can never really replicate the sense of sitting down and making something tangible."

So, what will happen to the hundreds of postcards at the end of all this? For now, you can see many of them on the project website.

Wolfe and Mothersbaugh are also hoping to create a safe IRL exhibit and maybe even a collaboration with the USPS in the future.

How long will they keep it up? At least as long as the pandemic lasts, Beatie says.

"We don't know how long lockdown is going to keep us isolated...[but] as long as people keep sending them and we are able to sort through the mail, then we will keep receiving them."

For more info on how to be part of Postcards For Democracy, visit the project website.