This article first appearing in the St. Louis Beacon: May, 28 2008 7 - A fine-arts billboard campaign with a high-minded patriotic purpose kicked off Wednesday night at a red, white and blue rally in Grand Center in front of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
The museum location was appropriate: The effort is the creation of contemporary artists from Missouri and around the country, as well as members of the arts community in St. Louis. Their mission is to swell voter registration rolls in advance of the Oct. 8 deadline, while simultaneously encouraging voters to the go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4.
"Art the Vote" is both the name of the sponsoring organization and a description of the campaign. Committee member Sue McCollum took to a sidewalk soapbox to proclaim the official launch of the effort. McCollum said Art the Vote is a "never-before effort" to employ the visual resources of contemporary art and artists "to get people to vote."
McCollum introduced St. Louis artist Bunny Burson, describing her as the artist who inspired the effort. Burson, whose family has been involved in Democratic politics, said art and elections are her passions. Her involvement, she said, "is to make sure the vote gets out and that the votes get counted."
Burson said she explored the idea with artist colleagues and art aficionados, wondering whether they'd help make her idea a reality. She said response was enthusiastic, and contributions of time and talent were the results of her inquiries.
Billboards in prominent places along highways are the exhibition places for the works of art, more populist places perhaps than museums and galleries. Seven artists of national reputations are creating the billboards, including three Missourians. One more artist will be selected in an Internet vote, to begin on the fourth of July. Information on Art the Vote, the competition and the names of participating artists is at www.artthevote.com.
St. Louisan Tom Huck, whose bold, provocative woodcuts are represented in major public and private collections, is one of the seven, He's the creator of the first Art the Vote billboard, which was unveiled at the rally Wednesday night. His emphatic black-and-white drawing of a giant squid with gas-pump-hose tentacles makes a sinuous critique of big oil and its impact on the American public.
"It's bi-partisan," Huck said. "Democrats and Republicans alike are affected by big-oil interests."
Huck made the rally a family affair. His two daughters and his wife were on hand, along with his mother-in-law. A crowd of about 100 other vocal supporters faced the sidewalk soapbox.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan took to the soapbox, and explained how painless and simple voter registration is in Missouri. A potential voter has a number of avenues to the ballot box, she said, from registering at state license offices to downloading forms online.
Carnahan accepted the registration of Caroline Katzman of Ladue, a junior at John Burroughs School. Katzman, in addition to claiming her franchise, gained the distinction of being the first Art the Vote registrant. At 17, Katzman is eligible to register because she turns 18 in August, Carnahan said.