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Portland artist raises more than $7,500 for Meals on Wheels People with viral Bernie Sanders meme cutout

Mike Bennett seized on the opportunity to turn the Inauguration Day meme of Bernie Sanders into art and a way to raise money in his community.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Portland artist whose artwork has brought smiles to the Portland community is having a viral moment with a meme that’s hard to escape right now. Mike Bennett’s creative wood cutout of Sen. Bernie Sanders isn’t just getting likes on social media, it’s raised about $7,500 for Portland’s Meals on Wheels People program.

KGW caught up with the Portland artist to talk about a very busy past year and how he’s not slowing down in 20201.

“It’s just a hunk of wood and some old house paint; this is what you can do. It’s so cool,” Bennett said.

Bennett is in the business of bringing people joy.

“If you asked me this last year, I’d say, illustrator and someone who wants to be a woodworker, but I think I’m a public joy creator now,” he said.

The new title given to him by a fellow artist seems pretty fitting. His cartoon cutout creations have brought smiles to the city at a time when we need them the most.

From his quirky original characters to infamous figures, each piece has its own Mike Bennett twist. When he spotted a certain senator from Vermont bundled up on Inauguration Day, his creative juices started flowing.

“I just got up, started cutting and painting,” he said. “And the photo that keeps getting shared, in that photo the paint is still wet. That’s how quick. I was like, I’ve got to get this on the internet.”  

Just like the memes on social media feeds, Bennett’s Bernie cutout became a hit.

“The Bernie cutout is hands down the most viral thing I’ve ever done. I mean it was on the news in Taiwan this morning. It’s just been all over the place,” Bennett said. “I’ve had it out on the porch. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are stopping by, a lot of people. Like, there was a line yesterday to get a picture with Bernie. I welcome it, but it was wild.”

Bennett is following in Sanders’ footsteps, using the viral fun to do some good.

“Senator Sanders is making sweatshirts that go to Meals on Wheels, all of the donations from the sweatshirts. So, I was like, well let’s just follow in those steps and auction this thing off,” he said.  

The auction for the Bernie Sanders meme wood cutout ended at 2 p.m. on Monday. It sold for $1,500 dollars, which was matched by Urban Nest Realty. But it doesn’t stop there. The runner-up bidder agreed to pay $1,500 for Bennett to make another cutout. That bid was matched by Nike. Then, another company, Urbanite on Grand. matched an additional $1,550.

All said and done, by 6 p.m. Monday, Bennett raised $7,650 dollars for the program. All of the proceeds from Monday’s auction will go to Portland’s Meals on Wheels People.

If you missed out on the bidding, you can still get your hands on the viral moment and Bennett’s art. He teamed up with Shirt Nerdery to put his Bernie cutout creation on shirts. He’s already sold several and expects more to come in. All of those sales will also go to the local Meals on Wheels People program.

CLICK HERE to get your Bernie shirt and raise money for Meals on Wheels. (Story continues below)

It’s just part of the happiness Bennett hopes to share through his talents. This past year he has been busy.

“I did an alphabet of animals," he said. "I did a bug museum. I covered Alberta Street with dinosaurs. I made monsters and mythical beasts."

Now through the end of February, you can check out his "Planetary Promenade" on Mississippi Avenue in Portland. It is a cool interactive project where science and art collide. He worked with a musician to create a unique soundtrack to his work.

“Now you can go visit all of my paintings on Mississippi Avenue, scan the QR code, and listen to an original song about each of the members of the solar system that we’ve built,” Bennett said.  

Bennett also partnered with Portland State University to help bring visitors back to their downtown campus in a project called Toon Tour.

Bennett created characters that are now on display around the PSU campus. Each is connected to Portland, Oregon and Portland State, and has more information to share about the building it is located in.

“It’s kind of like an “I Spy” on the Portland State campus,” he said.

Come April, Bennett will have another exciting undertaking. A new zoo of characters for the community to enjoy, displayed in his front yard.

“April 20 will mark one year since my first lawn zoo and I thought, we got to do it again,” he said. “I’m going to make the A, B, Sea… S-E-A. It’s a little play on words and I’m going to bring a bunch of ocean creatures to the front of my house.”

We don’t want to give too much away, but Bennett says you can expect a blue whale for the letter B. So, expect big things come April.

“I’m going to go crazy. It’s going to be super fun,” he said.

He’s making 600 seashells for community members to paint themselves.

“If you’re a kiddo or an adult and you want to come to take one you can paint it and bring it back and leave it at the A B Sea and show your own work. It’s going to be so much fun,” he said.

Bennett’s sense of wonder shines in his art, attitude and his sense of community. Yes, it’s fair to say Mike Bennett has earned that new title of public joy creator.

“I’ve done more than I ever expected to. I’m so thankful to have the space and the ability to create these things from my garage and it’s just been a really special thing for me,” Bennett said.