Bill Talen: 2004 AHN Awardee

"This is an exciting time for the arts. It is as if the world is insisting that the arts take their responsibility in the community and the nation and the world." ~ Bill Talen

The Arts & Healing Network is thrilled to present the 2004 AHN Award to Bill Talen for his remarkable public performances as Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping. Adopting the mannerism and tone of a Baptist preacher and accompanied by the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, Bill asks consumers in places from Starbucks to the Disney Store to "Save your soul my child…Back away from that silly product on that shelf." His clever use of performance and parody very effectively calls into question America's mindless consumption of resources. As such he is a model of an artist willing to take risks and move out into the public sphere to make relevant and important statements. The Arts & Healing Network applauds Bill for for waking people up, for making them reexamine their values, and for being a catalyst for positive change in the world.

The Arts and Healing Network invited Bill to submit a statement about the role of art in creating positive social change. Below is his response.

You Call Me An Artist? I Just Live Here
A Letter from Bill Talen, aka Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping

"This is an exciting time for the arts. It is as if the world is insisting that the arts take their responsibility in the community and the nation and the world. There was a time when the arts could simply hide behind their art forms and their prestigious institutions - not now. We have an emergency that is graphically visited on our senses every day. The news is a daily pornographic experience with a dead child as easily served up as content as celebrity gossip or the discovery of some vast political corruption. Our society is in a crisis that, in fact, is almost dazzling, and sometimes it seems clear that the media-makers, who are 'artistic' if not actually artists, would be happy to present the end of the world, as long as you could sell it.

Right now in New York, we await the arrival of George Bush. He is coming to Madison Square Garden for his coronation, alongside his pro-consuls Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Ashcroft. What is the response of artists with a social conscience? Tonight we will have a rehearsal, will meet into the night after the singing has stopped, discussing a return to the radical politics of a healthy neighborhood (We have a slogan: 'The Revolution is My Hot Neighborhood!'). We are thinking about starting a community group, the Madison Square Garden Neighborhood Association. The human relationships that exists there now - the falafel vendors, the shoe shiners and hookers, the millionaire lawyers and the homeless, the cabbies and the fry cooks - are a human comedy, tender and deep, a web of fantastic New York talk going on as I type.

Bush has the same attitude about Madison Square Garden as he has about Baghdad and Palestine. This is a place to come to and simply buy. Let the police take care of the locals. Protesters? They can protest in Queens. Just cordon off the whole place, move the people around, and never stop repeating those words you've stolen: Democracy, Freedom, and 'Good Business.' Madison Square Garden is known as a gladiatorial bubble, a place for sports combat, a non-place of ritualized war. But this invasion by the dim-minded 'superkid' can only be sustained if the stories of people who live there are suppressed. Who can deliver these stories? Artists. Us. Citizens.

Ultimately, re-humanizing these local places is how Peace is achieved. The oil executives make war where they can keep the stories of people erased. They need a distant desert. The Disneys and Gaps must keep their sweatshop factories in rural China - far away. The artists who might change things are distanced behind the corporate sponsorship of Marlboro - rendered safe. Captured. But then entrenched power must keep out the artists who still remember their own neighborhoods. There is a new generation of artists who come from the most powerful place of all, the healthy community. A worldwide politics of Peace will flow from our rejection of place-less-ness and our love of place. How scary! It is the rise of the Other. The Other is Us! And we live right here. You have a minute? I got a story for you."

To learn more about Bill Talen and Reverend Billy, read his book What Should I Do if Reverend Billy Is in My Store? or visit

Listen to Bill Talen speak about his work by using this audio player below:

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