Grant #398

A Floating White House

May 11, 2020

You’ve Heard of Artists-In-Residence? Get Ready For Artists-In-Presidents!

This AWB project really floats our boat, or more accurately, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the USS Potomac.

The 170-foot long Potomac is docked in Oakland, California. During FDR’s 13 years as president, it was known as the Floating White House, a retreat for a president who comforted a nation undergoing hard times. It was also a kind of social distancing, technology fast and self-quarantine as FDR left visitors, staff, Congress, and telephones ashore. Even the most urgent mail was only delivered once a week.

Constance Hockaday was planning a temporary takeover of this historic site, inviting “we the people” to board “A Floating White House.” The original idea was a lively immersive performance and (maybe raucous?) public dialogue aboard the ship.

Overnight, it became impossible to invite people to drink and dine and interact like that in close quarters. The good news is, the project’s moving online for now as Constance commissions artists create a modern “Fireside Chat” to speak to America through their unique perspectives. Each artist will have the chance to work with actual retired presidential speech writers to create a one-to-five minute address to the nation.

Constance still hopes there will be a time when the ship will cruise the San Francisco Bay, and the audience (somehow, responsibly) will have the opportunity to hear artists describe where we as an American public can put our faith moving forward.

Constance will shoot “presidential portraits” of the “Artists-In-Presidents” to mount in the halls of the ship, and that’s what this AWB grant will underwrite. The portraits will also be made available online.

Check it out here: and please note parts of the site are NSFW. (For a deep dive on the Potomac — hey, it sank once — click here.)

Category: Activism, Art, Civic Engagement, Performance



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