Courtesy of Luis Calderin
Luis Calderin had a front-row seat to the spectacle that was the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Burlington-based marketing specialist, designer and DJ served as the director of arts, culture and the youth vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign
. From curating nationally touring political art exhibits to managing celebrity endorsements from the likes of rapper Killer Mike and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was a role that uniquely suited Calderin's varied interests.
Since the campaign, Calderin has continued working at what he calls "the intersection of youth, culture and politics." He spent time with Rock the Vote
, the national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to get youth to the polls. Currently, he's running his own boutique marketing firm, Okay Okay Creative
. And he's writing a book, PoliticArts
, that examines the history of campaign art.
Calderin's latest endeavor is a new multimedia presentation, "Space Time Magic
," debuting this Thursday, February 8, at Champlain College's Alumni Auditorium in Burlington. Fusing music and design, Calderin recounts his unlikely story, from moving to Burlington from Miami as a teenager — and the first American-born son of Cuban immigrants — to the experiences and influences that led him to Sanders' campaign and to his current projects. Think of it like a hip-hop TED talk. The event's program is designed to look like a vinyl album cover.
recently caught up with Calderin at a Burlington coffee shop to ask him about "Space Time Magic."
SEVEN DAYS: Big picture: What is the idea behind "Space Time Magic"?
LUIS CALDERIN: Last spring, there was a lot of discussion around, "OK, Trump won. Now what?" It was the beginning of the resistance, and people felt really upset, defeated, helpless and hopeless. So when we started planning this, what we wanted to be known is that if you feel helpless, you're not. If you're a creative, there are people out there marching every weekend somewhere that need a sign, a poster. People are marching for issues that you care about, so get in the game.
SD: What do you want people to take away from the presentation?
LC: No one needs to give you permission to protest, to make your voice heard. This is your country, this is your politics. Get out there and get engaged.
SD: So is this an extension of the message behind the campaign?
LC: I think it started there. But the campaign is over. 2016 was two years ago. Now we have this president, this administration, and the senator from the great state of Vermont is out there fighting every day for things right here, right now that are affecting people in this country. We're not going back to two years ago.
So I didn't want this to be about the campaign, per se, or the senator. Because there are people who didn't support him that want to get involved. And I don't want young people to look at this as, like, Super Bowl moments in the timeline of their lives, like it's some once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's not every four years or eight years. We have midterm [elections] coming right up. We need people back in the game right now. There's an opportunity to affect change in this country right now, and I want creatives in Burlington to know that.
SD: If the idea started as an extension of the campaign's message, where did it go from there?
LC: I think, as time has gone on, people have realized that this resistance period isn't a fluke. It's effective at times and not at others. But all of the work around that [resistance movement] is moving the conversation one way or another.
One thing that I thought a lot about is that if you looked at me as a kid skateboarding around Burlington or deejaying basement parties, you wouldn't have said, "That
dude is going be the guy who works on a presidential campaign." So I want young people to realize that I never once thought that would happen. Someone in a position of being able to open a door for me as a young person did [see potential]. And I was able to take advantage of that experience, and that led to other opportunities. And all of those things were connecting to the next thing.
SD: Your path really wasn't political until you joined the campaign.
LC: Not that I was aware of. But when I stopped to think about it, I realized, actually, I was born into this. My parents escaped Cuba to escape a communist dictatorship. They came here because of politics. I was the first person in my family born in this country, so I was literally born as the American dream in the family.
So initially, I didn't think it was politics. But when I look at all of the issues that are going on in the country — immigration reform, issues for people who look like me or with names like mine — I realized I was born in the politics of this country. And because of people throughout my life who were mentors, I was able to get into politics, the very first time, on a national level. And that's pretty amazing.
So what I would really love people to take away from this is that if you're in a position to mentor a young person, do so. Because if you can impact one single person, that's the whole point of life. You might not be able to do anything about [Trump] or impeachment or whatever. But if you plant that seed and let space and time do its magic, something great can happen.
SD: What's the message for young people?
LC: Especially now, it's important to realize that what's going on in your phone, as amazing as it is — so much of that shit isn't real. You can put quotes on pictures all day, but you also have to get out there and do something. You have to be willing to take someone up on the opportunities they present to you and start at the ground level, be grateful for the experience, and bring that to the next opportunity.
SD: And listen to Public Enemy.
LC: I became politically engaged through Public Enemy. "Fight the Power," that song, specifically, woke me up to things that were happening. There's a line in that song where Chuck D says, "Farrakhan is a prophet that I think you oughta listen to." And I did and was like, Oh, OK. Here's this whole world, this whole point of view
. My history teacher in high school was definitely not talking about that point of view.
So through music and culture, I was able to get another side of my education. And for so many young people, that's how they're introduced to politics and issues and get interested in getting engaged. It's a fascinating role that music and culture play in affecting change.