With the US presidential election just weeks away, members of the Pratt Institute community have been finding creative ways to get out the vote and rethink how elections can be more inclusive and accessible. From reimagining voting in an age of social distancing to writing postcards to send to voters in key areas, students, faculty, staff, and alumni are all engaging in this pivotal political moment.
“VOTE” by Rachel Woolfson, BFA Advertising/Art Direction ’22
With the US presidential election right around the corner, members of the Pratt Institute community have been finding creative ways to get out the vote and rethink how elections can be more inclusive and accessible. From reimagining voting in an age of social distancing to writing postcards to send to voters in key areas, students, faculty, staff, and alumni are all engaging in this pivotal political moment.
Griffin Uhlir, BID ’20, was already exploring how to empower people to vote when COVID-19 and lockdowns disrupted the spring semester and the 2020 election. As featured in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Prattfolio, he pivoted his project to propose ideas for solving emerging voting problems. “Democracy During Pandemic”, part of Pratt Shows 2020, includes a user-friendly vote-by-mail ballot, outdoor voting stations, and a secure online voting platform.
Griffin Uhlir, BID ’20, “Democracy During Pandemic”
These designs do not only tackle the challenges of 2020, they also look ahead to improving voter numbers in future elections where better options to safely vote in person and remotely will be essential. As he said in his presentation for “Democracy During Pandemic”: “Voting is one way individuals can impact our nation. But most of all, voting is a citizen’s right. And based on my research, the existing voting system makes voting a privilege.”
Artist Amy Khoshbin, the inaugural Pratt Fine Arts Civic Engagement Fellow, has been advocating for making the electoral process more accessible, a central focus of her practice as she focuses on the New York City Council race in 2021. As Khoshbin stated earlier this year in regards to her fellowship: “My goal is to work with the community at Pratt Institute to creatively focus attention on local politics, keep us active and engaged, and continue sweeping progressive change from the ground up.”
Amy Khoshbin at the October 1 “Vote, Vote Again: Art in Action, A Virtual Forum – Take Back the Vote”
Khoshbin kicked off the Pratt Fine Arts Civic Engagement Series by co-hosting “Vote, Vote Again: Art in Action, A Virtual Forum – Take Back the Vote” on October 1 with artist Karen Finley in partnership with Pratt Presents. Alongside the event, Pratt Fine Arts and CBoard hosted postcard-writing sessions in the socially distanced tents in the Rose Garden on the Brooklyn campus, with letters targeted at underrepresented voters. The first event in the Civic Engagement Series is now available to watch online, featuring candidates, concerned citizens, artists, and organizations in a discussion spanning voter registration, campaigns, and strategies of change. Other events include the October 22 “Against Doom TV: Abolitionism + Electoral Politics” and the post-election November 12 “Healing, Mutual Aid, Moving Forward.” Khoshbin also recently joined Pratt President Frances Bronet in a conversation as part of the Connecting with… video series in which they discussed creating social change through art, through voting, and being civically engaged at this critical moment.
In addition to her work at Pratt—which addresses action at the local as well as the national level—Khoshbin has participated in the recent Wide Awakes gatherings, which have included several members of the Pratt community in their art-based activism. Recalling the 1860 abolitionist Wide Awakes youth movement which wore capes and used a large eye as their banner, the 2020 Wide Awakes developed from the For Freedoms political organization, co-founded by Michelle Woo, BFA Painting ’07 with Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas. Steve Locke, professor of fine arts, designed a fabric incorporating an image of Fred Hampton for the handmade capes—as covered in Vogue—while work by Carlos Motta, associate professor of interdisciplinary practice in fine arts, featuring a quote by poet and activist Audre Lorde and initially produced with For Freedoms for an Iowa billboard, is on view in the windows of the Judd Foundation in Manhattan as part of the 2020 Awakening campaign.
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, MFA Communications Design ’15, “Our Votes Our Voices” for MoveOn
Others in the Pratt community are similarly using art to promote voter awareness, such as Robert Wilson, BFA Interior Design ’66, and Derrick Adams, BFA Art and Design Education ’96, who made designs for the Plan Your Vote initiative from Vote.org, and Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, MFA Communications Design ’15, who created the “Our Votes Our Voices” artwork for the Your Vote Is Power initiative from MoveOn. Tim O’Brien, adjunct professor of undergraduate communications design, contributed a painting to the Unity Project voting campaign presented by the Norman Rockwell Museum. The Victory Garden collective—which includes Louise Eastman, MFA Painting/Drawing ’14—has likewise been creating politically engaged art to raise awareness and spark dialogue about democracy. As highlighted on the blog of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, their recent work has involved a series of “Miss Democracy” prints to remind viewers what democracy means when “as a country we must defend democracy and vote for our lives.”
Anjali Chandrashekar, BID ’15, Election ABCs
Others are using their art and design skills to help voters navigate the American political system so they will be better empowered to vote. Anjali Chandrashekar, BID ’15, collaborated on the Election ABCs which have animated visuals and links to easy-to-understand information about voting, from “A” for absentee ballot to “Z” for Gen Z, which has many members casting their vote for the first time this year.
The Fashion Design & Communications Design Departments came together to spread voting awareness with banners overlooking DeKalb Avenue from the windows of the Juliana Curran Terian Design Center
On Pratt.edu, the Voter Education and Civic Action Guide for the 2020 election includes upcoming civic engagement events, voter information, Mindful Pratt’s emotional aid, health, and wellness support, and other resources. For instance, NYPIRG at Pratt will be running a Student Voter Hotline on Election Day with trained professionals and lawyers on hand to help answer student questions.
Each of these projects demonstrates how art, design, and creative thinking can fuel political change both in this election and the future as the right to vote and access to that vote remain crucial issues in American democracy.