Meet the Artist Running for State Rep in Rural Pennsylvania

Posted by: Kevin Coyle

This post was curated from an article written by Jeffrey Grunthaner for

I always remember Kate McGraw’s artworks as a colorful sprawl of integrated textures — equal parts playful, abstract, and socially aware. During an open studios event at Brooklyn College, when she was a Master’s candidate in Fine Arts, McGraw’s studio stood out from her cohorts’ by being a work of art in itself; her walls were meticulously pencilled over, creating a ever-evolving lattice of iridescent hues. Readying a space where art could emerge, she said, was as important as making individual works of art. Now she’s running for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 92nd legislative district, applying a similar methodology to the campaign trail.

The regional issues that most affect voters in McGraw’s district are agricultural and educational. The area is predominantly rural, comprised of Cumberland and York counties in southern Pennsylvania, and boasts a wealth of public schools. McGraw, running as an Independent for the newly opened seat, is hoping to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats, while her opponent, Dawn Keefer, is running on the Republican ticket. With only two candidates on the ballot, could the election turn into a showdown? McGraw’s opponent bills herself as a businesswoman, but McGraw has over 14 years of experience as the independent proprietor of a successful studio practice.

I recently spoke with McGraw via Skype, inquiring into the particulars of her platform, her political inspirations, and how her campaign for State Representative of Pennsylvania could be considered a work of art.

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Jeffrey Grunthaner: What are some of the issues you’re addressing in your campaign?

Kate McGraw: My platform focuses on agricultural issues, preserving our farmland; also, keeping our educational system healthy. Having grown up and spent 22 years here, I left Pennsylvania really proud of the public education I received. It’s the foundation of where I come from, and it’s really helped me through my art career. I think that’s probably why I started this campaign. To see our public education system in Pennsylvania under attack is something I can’t stand for.

JG: In your artistic practice you have a blog that’s devoted to agriculture…

KM: The Chouffe Mountain Farm Project.

JG: Does your campaign relate in any way to the Chouffe Mountain Farm Project?

KM: Chouffe has been a muse for me ever since I’ve been her caretaker. She’s kind of a miracle cat. And then to bring in the election side, animal rights are a huge issue in my district and in Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of wonderful work being done, especially in my district, with rescue organizations that are huge advocates for animal welfare. So bringing Chouffe into the mix here seems like a really natural place to go. People love their pets. Animals are really important here, and she’s a great inspiration.

JG: Running as an Independent, your candidacy kind of comes out of the blue. You had to petition to become a candidate, right?

KM: That’s right. The primaries in Pennsylvania are closed to Democrats and Republicans only. Independents and third-party voters don’t have the ability to vote for candidates in the primary. Since I’m an Independent, I have to go through a different process, which is a nominating process. In order for me to get on the ballot I needed 359 signatures from registered voters in the district. And in order for me to really hit that goal I doubled it. I made sure that I was getting the required numbers, but it was also a great way to have a goal in visiting more people. I finished my nomination papers with about 765 signatures. Now, the official list has been released and I’m on it.

JG: Who are you running against?

KM: There’s one Republican on the ballot. Her name is Dawn Keefer and she won the Republican primary. She won with a fairly slim margin. There were a few Democrats that chimed in to run as a write-in, but they didn’t receive the number of write-in votes they needed for this seat. So I’m running against one person.

JG: Where would you say you lie on the political spectrum?

KM: I’m really for a middle ground. In Pennsylvania we have a very polarized legislature. My goal is to not bring radical change in a short amount of time. What I’d like to see is a slow move toward negotiation and compromise from both sides. I grew up here and … it’s an area that is predominantly Republican. It’s historically been that way. These people are my neighbors, they’re my friends, and I absolutely adore them. What I’d like to see is more of an open dialogue about the issues that really matter to people who live here.

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