Franke James Biography
by Franke James
Author, Artist, Activist
Franke James (born in Toronto, Ontario) is a Canadian multi-media artist, author and activist focused on climate change, human rights, ethics, and freedom of expression. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is the author of three illustrated books Bothered By My Green Conscience (2009), Dear Office-Politics (2009), and Banned on the Hill (2013). In 2015, she was awarded the PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize for her work uncovering censorship by the Canadian Government. The Guardian described her as “The one woman whom the government can’t shut up.”
Early Career: Outdoor Art
James began her artistic career in 1987 with a cross-Canada outdoor art exhibition on 48 foot billboards, sponsored by Manufacturers Life for their centennial. The $750,000 show ‘Painting the Town’ was conceived and curated by James, and featured original art by Jack Shadbolt, Mary Pratt, Yves Gaucher, Gathie Falk, Lynn Donoghue, Louis DeNiverville, and Franke James. It received coverage on the CBC’s The Journal, and in the print media. It won praise, however it was also James first brush with censorship. The artwork she submitted of a reclining female figure echoed a rolling landscape but was rejected as “inappropriate.” James substituted another artwork, a blazing red orchid which covered the entire 48 foot billboard.
- Look up, way up — it’s super-billboard!, The Gazette, Sep 5, 1987
- Artists hired to paint the town, Calgary Herald, Oct 20 1987
Online Games and Social Satire
In 2002, Franke James created “Office-Politics” with her partner Billiam James. It was a satirical online game and daily cartoon about business ethics. The game was profiled in The Globe and Mail, “Office Politics: A back-stabber’s delight”, and the Edmonton Journal, “Lie, Cheat, Stab boss in back, you win,” in 2002. Apart from the humour, site users were able to submit their own office-politics problems in letters which were answered by a panel of business and ethics experts. Seven years later these letters and the answers were edited and published as a game book by Franke James, Dear Office-Politics: The game everyone plays in 2009.
James’ interest in satirical political games spawned a Federal election game called “Whack the PM” in 2004, 2006, and 2008. It was covered in the media, making the front page of the National Post. Jane Taber, at The Globe and Mail, put it on her hotlist and said: “Hot: Whack-the-PM. The Internet election game has been a big hit during this campaign.”
- We interrupt this election for the West Wing, Globe and Mail, January 24, 2006
- What the the (other) polls say, National Post (front page news), January 21, 2006
- Liberals take a licking in hamburger poll: PM receives more whacks, National Post, January 21, 2006
- Five trips over the Rockies reveal an increasing desire to take a mallet to politicians, Globe and Mail, June 24, 2004
- Resorting to Violence, The Gazette, June 23 2004
Personal Responsibility and Climate Change Art
In 2006, news coverage about impending global warming, Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, and James’ experience receiving a poor score in a home energy audit, inspired her to embark on climate change activism. “We just take for granted that we are a land of snow and ice and hockey,” James said in an interview. “And, yet, it could disappear within our lifetime.” Her visual essay, “A Green Winter: Will global warming be good for Canada?” was featured in the Toronto Star, Feb 1, 2007. James said the visual essay was prompted by her conversation with a “rogue economist” at a cocktail party. Steven Levitt told James not to worry about global warming because more of Canada will be inhabited if the weather is warmer. “I’m trying to reflect the concern … but also look at the selfishness we all have,” James said. Further activism quickly followed including selling the family car to reduce carbon emissions. James created a visual essay, “My SUV and Me Say Goodbye”, which was published in The Ottawa Citizen, on Earth Day, Apr 22, 2007.
James’ efforts to ‘go green’ resulted in a bureaucratic battle with City Hall when she decided to build a green driveway. The Toronto Star reported that the “Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city” in May 2007. Treehugger wrote a cautionary story, Don’t Rip Up Your Driveway in North York, on May 8, 2007. James created an online visual essay Paradise Unpaved about the struggle to get a permit, and the building of the permeable green driveway.
In the fall, the Toronto Star reported that the “Driveway dispute has green ending”. The next year the National Post wrote “Kicking a keen sense of green to the curb: One woman’s tale of liberation from asphalt”.
Five of James’ visual essays on personal activism were published as a book, Bothered By My Green Conscience, by New Society Publishers in 2009. An in-depth article appeared in Green Living Magazine, Fall 2009, “There’s Something About Franke”. In July 17, 2009, the Toronto Star wrote, “Green conscience inspires change”. Notably her 2008 essay Dear Prime Minister was not included in her 2009 book.
Constructing James’s “Green driveway” in 2007
- The Best Ever Explanation Of Why You Should Buy FSC Wood: Who Cares About The Forest? Treehugger, April 22, 2011
- Franke James is Drawing a Greener Conscience, Gopher Illustrated, June 16, 2010
- Green conscience inspires change, Toronto Star, July 17, 2009
- There’s Something About Franke (PDF), Green Living Magazine, Fall 2009
- Kicking a keen sense of green to the curb: One woman’s tale of liberation from asphalt, National Post, August 7 2008
- Toronto Resident Tears Up Driveway to Plant Paradise, BlogTO, July 24, 2008
- Driveway dispute has green ending, Toronto Star, Sep 26, 2007
- Eco-friendly driveway is rejected by the city, Toronto Star, May 2007
- North York Driveway By-Law Infuriates Resident, CITYTV, CityNews, May 5, 2007
- Don’t Rip Up Your Driveway in North York, Treehugger, May 8, 2007
- Green winter paradox, Toronto Star, Feb 1, 2007
- My SUV and Me Say Goodbye, illustrated essay, The Ottawa Citizen, Apr 22, 2007
- Selling the SUV: Do the Hardest Things First, Treehugger, Mar 1, 2007
- A Green Winter: Will Global Warming Be Good for Canada?, excerpt, The Ottawa Citizen, Feb 3, 2007
- Franke James on Global Warming in Canada, Treehugger, Feb 2, 2007
Climate Change Art and Free Expression: Blacklisting
In 2011, James was invited by a Croatia-based group, Nektarina Non Profit, to have a solo art show to inspire personal activism on climate change. The show agreement was to have James’ prints tour twenty cities in Europe. However the exhibition was suddenly canceled after Canadian bureaucrats told Nektarina that James spoke against the Canadian government. The Star broke the news, “Artist sees red over government ‘blacklisting’, on July 28, 2011. Postmedia News followed with “Gov’t official scuttled Euro tour, artist claims” Aug 2, 2011.
James filed for Access to Information (ATIP) documents, and brought her blacklisted art to the streets of Ottawa just steps from Parliament Hill. One poster asked the Prime Minister to “Please stop blacklisting our environmental messengers”. Two days before the show opened, James received the ATIP documents and so did Postmedia’s journalist, Amy Chung. Chung wrote, “Government officials killed funding for Canadian artist: documents: newly released documents obtained under access-to-information legislation show that Department of Foreign Affairs officials did initially earmark funding for James’ show, only to withdraw their support days later, citing, among their reasons, that it “would run counter to Canada’s interest.”
Elizabeth May, MP, and the leader of the Green Party voiced her support: “Franke James’ commitment to art, free expression and political commentary put her in the cross-hairs of the Harper Government. Come and see what the government didn’t want the world to see.” Producer Max Valois and Quebec film students interviewed James for their documentary on censorship of the arts, La limite de l’art.
Later that month James was interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC Radio’s The Current: “The Intersection of Government, Art and Politics: Franke James” along with the Conservative political activist, Tom Flanagan. Ms. Tremonti said, “Franke James creates irreverent even whimsical art with a message about the environment, oil sands and climate change but when a federal bureaucrat accused her of creating a Fantasy, she filed an Access to Information request and discovered an email trail indicating officials at the Foreign Affairs Dept don’t seem to like her art and pulled funding because her work isn’t consistent with government interests. She says that opinion ended plans for a European art tour.”
On Dec 16, 2011, Andy Revkin, New York Times Dot Earth: Canada’s Approach to Inconvenient Art: “Franke James is a Canadian artist with deep concerns about her country’s outsize contribution to resource waste and the building accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere…”
On Dec. 18, 2011, the Toronto Star featured Franke James as one of “three women who fought back against the Conservatives. “The artist and environmental activist has shown no shortage of political acumen in her bid to fight back against a Conservative government she says has bullied her.”
Franke James during a media interview in Ottawa in November 2011.
- Three women who fought back against the Conservatives, Toronto Star, Dec. 18, 2011
- “The Intersection of Government, Art and Politics: Franke James,” CBC Radio, “The Current” See: frankejames.com
- Government officials killed funding for Canadian artist: documents.” Postmedia News, November 2, 2011
- Gov’t official scuttled Euro tour, artist claims, Postmedia News, Aug 2, 2011
- Canadian Government Tries To Silence Artist Franke James, Treehugger, July 25, 2011
- Artist sees red over government ‘blacklisting’, Toronto Star, July 28, 2011
- Seeing Red, Seeing Green, Ontario Dispatch, Mariam Nader, CARFAC June 2012
Political Art and Activism Against Pipelines
In NY Times Green Blog, Activist Artist vs Pipeline “Titled ‘What is Harper Afraid Of?’ Toronto-based artist and environmental activist Franke James poses a series of questions regarding the proposed pipeline’s risks to the environment, as well as local residents and aboriginal communities.” On the same day, Fort McMurray Today wrote: Anti-Gateway comic gathering steam: “A comic strip urging the Canadian government to halt development of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline has gained praise from thousands of online followers, inspiring nearly 6,800 viewers to sign and send a letter—located at the bottom of the comic strip —protesting Canada’s current environmental oversight laws to their respective Members of Parliament.”
In 2013, James published, “Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship”. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg wrote: Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence her: “Visual essays by Franke James reveal how the ‘troublesome artist’ was targeted because her views on climate change clashed with the push to develop Alberta’s tar sands.”
To raise awareness of the government’s threat to freedom of expression, James mounted an outdoor campaign. Her poster, “Do Not Talk about Climate Change” showed the Parliament Buildings dropped into the Alberta tar sands and a quote from an internal government email that said, “The artist’s work dealt mostly with climate change, and was advocating a message that was contrary to the government’s policies on the subject.” Over one hundred and forty-two Indiegogo funders from Canada, the U.S. and Europe contributed to put the “Do Not Talk about Climate Change” posters on ad pillars in Ottawa, Calgary, and Halifax. The College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University contributed to the crowdfunding and invited James to speak at their Environment, Sustainability and Society Lectures. James’ talk, “Banned on the Hill: Speaking up for the climate and against censorship” was given on September 12, 2013.
In the fall of 2013, James took her poster campaign to Washington D.C. with support from NDRC and Sierra Club. The objective was to inform American policy makers about the problems with the Canadian Oil Sands and oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. James said, “Canadians’ right to free expression is being quietly eroded by a pro-oil government insistent on promoting tar sands and silencing anyone who might interfere with those plans. Rather than the friendly neighbor to the north, Canada has become the dirty old man.”
Six of James’ anti-Keystone XL pipeline posters were up at bus stops in Washington for two-months. One poster showed the Canadian Parliament Buildings dropped into the tar sands with the words, “Do Not Talk about Climate Change. It is Against Canada’s Policy.” Another used text from The Guardian that says, “Canada Is The Dirty Old Man” and features a Stephen Harper caricature wearing a trench coat and revealing his tar sands oil barrel undergarments. Another poster showed an eagle drenched in black oil on top of the U.S. Capitol in front of a red and white striped background. Words on the poster read, “No Keystone XL.” In an email to The Hill, James said,“Ironically, being told not to talk about climate change by Canada’s (Harper) government was the inspiration for my “Oh No Canada!” show in D.C. We need to talk about climate change, not look the other way and pretend it’s not happening.”
“Do Not Talk About Climate Change” poster in Washington DC
- Artist Blacklisted by Canada Over Criticism of Climate Policy Takes Show to U.S., Inside Climate, October 28, 2013
- Anti-Keystone XL poster campaign hits Washington, D.C., The Hill, October 25, 2013
- ‘Canada Is The Dirty Old Man’ Posters Hit Washington, D.C., The Huffington Post Canada, October 23, 2013
- Canada portrayed as ‘dirty old man’ in U.S. anti-oilsands posters, Yahoo News, October 23, 2013
- Anti-oilsands posters showing up in Washington, D.C. PostMedia, October 22, 2013
- David Suzuki slams Harper science policy in Washington speech, Globe and Mail, October 11, 2013
- “David Suzuki tells U.S. not to trust Harper’s Keystone XL promises”, CBC, October 11, 2013
- Return of the Blacklist, Freedom to Read Magazine, Book and Periodical Council, Fall 2013
- “Toronto activist Franke James takes protest art to Capitol Hill,” Toronto Star, October 7, 2013
- Blacklisted activist fights back with chilling censorship story, Dogwood, June 26, 2013
- A Franke discussion: How one artist fought back when the feds tried to shut her up, Grist.org, June 17, 2013
- Deep pocket PR vs. artist Franke James: the fight’s on, Vancouver Observer, May 27, 2013
- Conservative attacks are nothing but bullying, Globe and Mail, May 24, 2013
- Climate activist’s book claims Conservatives tried to silence her, Toronto Star, May 26, 2013
- Artist says government monitored her climate change work, Vancouver Sun, May 25, 2013
- Artist finds inspiration in Canadian government’s attempt to silence her, Guardian UK, May 17, 2013
- Anti-Gateway comic gathering steam, Fort McMurray Today, June 19 2012.
- Activist Artist vs. Pipeline, NY Times Green Blog, June 19, 2012
Free Expression and Access To Information
Ian MacLeod, for the The Ottawa Citizen, wrote: “Using Access to Information law, James waged a four-year campaign that recovered more than 2,000 internal federal emails and other records related to the decision to revoke her funding. They revealed that more than two dozen senior officials and diplomats in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had monitored information about the artist because of her criticism of the oil and gas industry’s environmental performance.”
Anne Watson, Vancouver Observer, wrote “Franke James won’t be kept down. And the Harper government has tried pretty hard to do it. Her latest posters, “Six Easy Ways to Crush Free Expression” and “Don’t Think About Climate Change” are more examples of a feisty and fun-loving nature that’s unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Big Brother government tactics.”
“Six Easy Ways to Crush Free Expression” Exhibition for the BCCLA in 2016
- Repression-proof artist, Franke James, celebrated by BCCLA, Vancouver Observer, September 29, 2015
- New records detail how climate-change views scuttled artist’s grant, Ottawa Citizen, March 22, 2015
- Franke James receives inaugural PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize, The Book and Periodical Council, May 26, 2015
- BCCLA Democratic Commitment, Liberty Award Winners, PDF, BCCLA, Summer 2014
- Censorship, Issues 21 | Grade Level: 6-9, Publisher Rubicon for Scholastic, ISBN: 978-1-77058-093-0 (See: interior pages on frankejames.com)
Coltura and Gasoline-Free America
James’s 2018 song and music video, Gasoline, Gasoline (The World’s Aflame) was produced with Coltura, a US Non-profit focused on promoting a gasoline-free America. The song about breaking up with gasoline was composed by James, her husband, Billiam James, and Vancouver hip-hop singer Missy D. The music video features cameos by Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm.
- Biden Energy Secretary Granholm appeared in 2018 video singing about end of gasoline, fossil fuels, FOXBusiness, by Houston Keene, November 16, 2021
- The age of gas cars could be ending, NPR “All Things Considered”, by Camila Domonoske, November 15, 2021
Disability Activism and Human Rights: 2013-present
James launched a human rights campaign in 2014 as a result of her sister’s traumatic experience in 2013. That year, Teresa Pocock (Teresa Heartchild), who has Down syndrome, was put into a nursing home without her consent. Teresa was placed there because healthcare workers said she was incapable of deciding where to live. James disagreed with their assessment of her sister’s autonomy and abilities. She felt it was wrong as Teresa had no need for 24/7 nursing home care. James and her husband Billiam James helped Teresa get officially discharged after four days, and Teresa came to live with James and Billiam.
The aim of the human rights campaign was to get Teresa an apology from the Ontario government who had authorized the placement. Teresa’s Change.org petition launched on March 21, 2014, World Down Syndrome Day. Over twenty-five thousand people signed the petition, and twenty-four hundred left comments.
In 2016, BC Civil Liberties sent a letter, signed by a half dozen advocacy organizations, saying that Teresa’s forced admission to an Ontario nursing home violated her human rights. Media attention shone a spotlight on it as a widespread systemic problem. In 2016, the Ontario Minister of Health, Dr Eric Hoskins apologized to Teresa in a televised statement for the inappropriate placement. Teresa later received a personal written apology from the Minister. In 2023, Teresa will celebrate 10 years of living with James. She is now an award-winning artist, author, and self-activist in the community.
Franke James with her sister Teresa Heartchild, 2018
- More than 2,900 Ontarians with developmental disabilities live in long-term care facilities, Global News, July 22, 2016
- Ontario woman forced into long-term care wants apology from provincial government, Global News, July 21, 2016
- Artist with Down syndrome written off as ‘incapable’ blooms in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver Sun, Jun 29, 2016
- Artful disobedience, Megaphone Magazine, December 30, 2014
- Teresa’s passport to a new life with Down syndrome, Toronto Star, Mar 29, 2014
- Woman with Down syndrome wrongly put in facility, sister says, CBC News, Feb 26, 2014
- Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship (2013). Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction, 370 pages. Publisher: The James Gang. ISBN-13: 978-0991696109
- Bothered By My Green Conscience (2009). Author and Visual Artist. Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction, 152 pages Publisher: New Society Publishers. ISBN-13: 978-0865716469
- Dear Office-Politics: The game everyone plays (2009). Book and Game: Author and Visual Artist.Genre: Literary graphic non-fiction and game book, 138 pages, Publisher: Nerdheaven Ltd. ISBN-13: 978-1439230541
- “Games Bureaucats Play,” (2015) published Access to Information and Social Justice: Critical Research Strategies for Journalists, Scholars, and Activists, (2015) Editors: Jamie Brownlee and Kevin Walby. Publisher: ARP Books (Arbeiter Ring Publishing) ISBN-13: 978-1894037679
- “What can ‘anybody’ tell Obama about Keystone XL?”(2014) published by Grist.org
- “What is Harper Afraid Of” (2012) published by DeSmogBlog, Narwhal,
- “Who cares about the forest?” (2011), published by Grist.org
- “No One Will Know, Except You” (2010) published by Gopher Illustrated Magazine
- “My SUV and Me Say Goodbye”(2007) published in Ottawa Citizen
- “A Green Winter”, published in Perspectives on Contemporary Issues, Readings Across the Disciplines, (2007) by Katherine Anne Ackley (Author), G. Kim Blank (Author), Stephen Eaton Hume. ISBN-13: 978-1413033977
Awards and Recognition
In 2014, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) gave its Excellence in the Arts award to James for her creative work and public advocacy on free expression. In 2015, PEN Canada presented the Ken Filkow Prize to James as recognition of her work using Access to Information Laws to expose the Canadian government’s efforts to suppress free expression of those who opposed the oil sand production. William Kowalski, chair of PEN Canada’s Canadian Issues Committee, said “James’ struggle shows what lengths the government will go to in order to suppress dissent on key policy issues”
- Repression-proof artist, Franke James, celebrated by BCCLA, Vancouver Observer, Sep 29, 2015
- New records detail how climate-change views scuttled artist’s grant, Ottawa Citizen, Mar 22, 2015
- Franke James receives inaugural PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize, The Book and Periodical Council, May 26, 2015
- BCCLA Democratic Commitment, Liberty Award Winners, PDF, BCCLA, Summer 2014
Occupation: Artist, Author, Activist
Education: Master’s of Fine Art
Alma mater: University of Victoria, Mount Allison University
Genre: Activist Art, Visual Essays, Memoirs/True Stories, Public Art
Subject: Climate Change, Free Expression, Disability Justice, Human Rights
Notable Work: Banned on the Hill, Bothered by My Green Conscience, Dear Office Politics
Notable Awards: PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize, BCCLA Liberty Award Excellence in the Arts