Berkeley Protest Posters, 1968 to ’73

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The late 1960s and early ’70s were a period of intense innovation in poster design, from psychedelic music posters to political protest posters. The San Francisco Bay Area was a hub for both. And these posters, almost 50 years later, are still really great.

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Many of these posters were created by artists groups on the Berkeley campus, now known collectively as the The Berkeley Political Protest Workshop, which emerged after the Kent State shootings in 1970. There were also many other artist groups, in the community and at local colleges, according to this essay by Michael Rossman, who curated a large collection of these posters, now at the Oakland Museum of California.

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Silkscreening their designs onto cheap paper (e.g. leftover dot-matrix computer sheets), or cardboard to be used for demonstrations, students created hundreds of designs that still resonate today.

Many of the posters address the escalation of the Vietnam War, the reinstatement of compulsory draft registration in 1971, and of course Richard Nixon himself.

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Some institutions and private collectors have started to curate and publish these posters. One great resource is The University of British Columbia’s Open Collection, which has put 250 of the posters online. There’s also a large collection of these posters at UC Berkeley’s University Archives (held at the Bancroft Library), which has not yet been fully catalogued or put online.

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The full index of the UBC collection can be found here, and you can download high-res images of all of them (maybe for your virtual poster display). There’s metadata for each image, although most of the artists are unknown. All of the thumbnail images on this page are from UBC’s collection index.

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The Berkeley Political Poster Workshop artists were strongly influenced by Malaquias Montoya, a leading figure of the Chicano Art Movement and a part-time lecturer at Berkeley who held printmaking workshops nearby. The Atelier Populaire, a poster workshop established by students at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, was another influence. And so was the Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco, which began making labor-related posters in the 1950s.

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The Berkeley Political Protest Workshop was preceded by smaller silkscreen workshops throughout the Bay Area which popped up in 1968 to support student strikes and protests. These were not limited to the war, but addressed the situation on campus in general.

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The prolific but short-lived Berkeley Political Protest Workshop actually used campus facilities at the College of Environmental Design and was encouraged by faculty there who supported the peace movement. Its success getting lots of posters out on the streets spawned several longer-lasting community based workshops, such as The Media Project in Berkeley, the La Raza Silkscreen Center in San Francisco’s Mission district, and the Kearny Street Workshop. For a full list of subsequent Bay-Area political poster studios and print shops, see this comprehensive page by Lincoln Cushing.

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Interested in seeing more protest posters? In addition to the UBC and Oakland Museum collections, check out the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, which has a collection of 85,000 posters, some 2,500 of which are viewable online.  (Only somewhat related, another crowdsourced poster archive well worth checking out online is the Posters for the People WPA posters archive).

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