Two New York-based organizations, LinkNYC and NYC Votes, have teamed up for a special campaign to display artwork on more than 1,700 kiosks, across the five boroughs, to inspire people to vote.
LinkNYC, a communications company that provides free WiFi around the city, and NYC Votes, a voter outreach campaign sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, launched a competition in early September for New York-based artists to produce vote-themed artwork shown on kiosks throughout the city. The winning submissions debuted on October 2 and will be displayed until November 3, on Election Day.
There were more than 185 submissions with 40 winners chosen, according to Pakelody Cheam, a public relations professional who worked with LinkNYC on its advertising. Cheam said that the artwork includes “messaging about voter registration deadlines, absentee voting and early voting locations.”
Stephani Stilwell, an artist based in Brooklyn, created a collage of New York City iconography for her winning submission.
“This election feels absolutely critical and more high-stakes than any other election that I’ve been able to vote in,” said Stilwell. “So I’ve been looking for ways to get involved.”
Stilwell experimented with images from the Statue of Liberty to Pizza Rat. “Once the familiar sights caught a viewer’s eye, upon closer examination they’d see that each icon had a different message of encouragement to get out there and vote,” she said.
Rebecca Larrabee, another winning artist, said that she strongly believes in the importance of voting.
When she first moved to New York four years ago, the skyline, depicted in her design, was one of the most striking things she saw, said Larrabee. The tall buildings represent people coming together to build a society where everyone’s voice is heard, she said. “Visualizing the vote in this way made a lot of sense to me.”
But will the artwork be enough to increase turnout?
“I think anything that says ‘Vote’ probably does its intended job of reminding people to vote,” said Stephen Duncombe, a professor in the media, culture and communication department at New York University.
But Duncombe said directions on how to vote, such as voter registration information, should have been displayed as well. Without those resources, the campaign “fails the criteria for good artistic activism,” he said. “It raises awareness but does not help people to act once their awareness has been raised.”
In May, the NYC Campaign Finance Board released its voter analysis report, which includes a detailed voting behavior review from 2008 to 2018. The report showed that only 3% of registered voters in New York City voted in every election in the past decade.
But voter turnout is higher in presidential elections. According to the New York City Board of Elections’ annual report, among the 4,470,670 registered voters in New York City, 2,759,922 voted in the 2016 presidential election, a 62% voter turnout.
Amy Loprest, executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, said that “LinkNYC kiosks are one of the most eye-catching ways” to make sure New Yorkers are ready for the upcoming election.
Shenequa Johnson, a graphic designer whose design of the Statue of Liberty was selected for the campaign, said she loves seeing her art on the kiosks. Her work depicts a dark-skinned Lady Liberty who wears a gold earring that spells out the word “vote.”
In speaking about her experience as a Black woman, Johnson said, “We don’t always get the recognition we deserve.” So when she saw the post for an open call campaign, she decided to apply.
“The Statue of Liberty is a New York City icon and one of the most recognized statues when you think of New York, making it the perfect inspiration for my submission,” she said.
Nicole Avella, who works in marketing and global promotions, said she noticed kiosks displaying the percentage of eligible voters who were still unregistered. “I think encouraging people to vote, it’s very important right now,” she said.
Nick Kime, a Columbia undergrad who walked by a kiosk on West 110th, said he isn’t convinced the campaign will work. He said the artwork will increase the visibility of voting, but that doesn’t mean it will inspire people to head to the polls. “It depends on the voters,” he said.
(Main image of artwork by Oliver Perry Rauch. Photo by Xiang Shen)