Next Stop: Democracy!

Those of us here at Handmade Philly love the idea of art that is…well, “just” art! As in emotive, expressive, purgative…it exists because it must…art! But we also love the idea of art being used to help us plug in…to help us connect…and…wait for it…to help us VOTE!! Because of this, we are showcasing a new project called Next Stop: Democracy! A local group is hiring local artists and makers to create bigger, better, nonpartisan signage for Philly’s polling places! Read on below, to gather more information about this exciting project and its founders.

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1/ Please tell us a bit about your project? 

Can public art increase voter engagement? This is a question that hasn’t been answered, so we’re getting Philadelphia’s best creatives together to help us find out. Election Day should be one of the most exciting days of the year, but to many people, it seems like a chore. Finding your polling place, finding the entrance, and waiting in line can be complicated and frustrating.

Plus, the signage required by the city to identify a polling place is nothing more than a few pieces of paper taped up on the wall outside the door. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t give it a second glance.

It doesn’t have to be this way! What if we could transform Election Day from something frustrating into something fun?

Our idea is simple. Election Day should be an experience. Instead of boring, confusing signs, let’s use bright, vibrant artwork to identify our polling places. Can artists and performers make Election Day in Philadelphia a little more colorful? We vote yes!

By commissioning more than 50 local artists to create large signs that say “Vote Here” in both English and Spanish, we’ll make it easier for people to find their polling places on Election Day. Plus, we’ll be hiring local musicians and performers to dance, sing, and drum at selected polling places. With art, we aim to make the voting process less confusing AND more enjoyable.

2/ Tell us more about yourself. 

Lansie Sylvia is a tornado of curls, sparkles, and great ideas. At HMC, she leads our external communication strategy, works with clients on communication projects, and builds new community partnerships. She also serves as Project Director for Next Stop: Democracy!, HMC’s newest community initiative funded by the Knight Cities Challenge and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Her areas of expertise include nonprofit communication, storytelling, fund development, and millennial engagement strategy. Since 2010, she has held director-level positions in a variety of Philadelphia-based organizations, most recently at the EHL Consulting Group and the Philadelphia Film Society.

Before receiving her M.S. in Leadership for Social Change from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, she completed an AmeriCorps Year of Service in Providence, Rhode Island. An active supporter of the arts, Lansie is the founder of Philly Give & Get, Secretary of the Charlotte Cushman Foundation, Communication Co-Chair at The Spruce Foundation, and a member of the Curtis Crescendo Club. Her go-to karaoke song is “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.

3/ Will these signs be reused each year? 

Yes! That’s why we are doing a Kickstarter. We don’t want to use cheap, plastic signs that we order off the Internet. To do this right, we want to honor our artists and offer them locally made, sturdy, and durable canvases. Darla Jackson from the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is ready to build us sign frames that will be functional and beautiful. But these high-quality wooden signs are more expensive than the mass-produced plastic ones.

4/ What is your plan for loss prevention? 

Each sign will be custom-built to include a small lock and chain so that they can be fastened to benches, trees, and fences to make it more difficult for people to walk off with them. Additionally, we are working with a team of field researchers to collect data on the outcomes, and those volunteers will be keeping an eye on the signs as well.

5/ Is your project a non profit or for profit? Where will proceeds from this project be spent?

Our main funding is provided by the Knight Foundation and managed by the Miami Foundation, which is our fiscal sponsor. So technically, I don’t know the project counts as either, legally speaking, but any proceeds are being reinvested in the project. The project is being produced by Here’s My Chance, a small business that works exclusively with nonprofits and socially-responsible businesses.

6/ Will each artist be paid? 

Yes! All of the artists and performers are being paid. We’re really passionate about that.

7/ Additional comments? 

A major city like Philadelphia needs a lot of polling places. 850 of them, to be exact. Every year on Election Day, these locations open on nearly every street corner so that voters can improve the city and make their voices heard…or so that a few of them can.

That’s right. Despite the internet making registration and finding your polling place easier than ever, voter turnout has been dropping year after year. In fact, across the country voter turnout is the lowest its been in 72 years. Here in Philadelphia, during the recent Mayoral primary only 27% of registered voters go out to the polls, which means that 27% of the electorate made a pretty huge decision for the rest of us.

And just like eating 27% of a cheesesteak or running up 27% of the Art Museum steps, that’s just not good enough.

There are many reasons why folks don’t show up to vote on election day. Here’s a big one: polling places can be located in parks, schools, office buildings, churches, and more. The signage required by the city is nothing more than a few pieces of paper taped up on the wall outside the door. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you wouldn’t give it a second glance. Plain, out-of-the-way polling locations combined with puny signage can make finding your way a real pain. It makes voting difficult, when it should be great.

That’s why we started Next Stop: Democracy!, a public art project to improve the voting experience in Philadelphia.


Kickstarter page for this project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/306238411/next-stop-democracy-60-signs-60-artists-1-city 

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One Response to “Next Stop: Democracy!”

  1. Diane Olivia

    Sounds great, Good luck!

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