How Artwork is Redefining Democracy in the USA.

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Artwork by: Gaia, NoseGo, Miriam Singer. (Left to Right)

Canada is not the only country getting ready for a big election. The United States presidential election is just around the corner. If you go on the internet at all, you have probably witnessed some of the presidential drama that has already gone down. Most of that has involved memes of Donald Trump. A number of them focus on his comments about immigration during his announcement of candidacy, where he said: 

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There are also a lot of memes comparing Trump’s hair to corn:

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As the scheduled date of Tuesday, November 8, 2016 quickly approaches, Donald Trump is not the only buzz phrase. According to The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, America is ranked 120th in the world for average national voter turnout. In the last two presidential elections the national voter percentage was around 60%. Even lower, approximately 20% of youth voted according to The Guardian. 

8-PollingStation-GettySo why does this matter? The famous Abraham Lincoln quote, “of the people, by the people, for the people” speaks about the intent of democracy. The original intent of elections is to give you the opportunity to choose who best represents your own opinions. The less people vote, the less accurate the election outcomes are to its constituency preferences. Those who vote hold more power as citizens than those who do not, as they define who makes decisions on your behalf. When 40% of citizens do not exercise their right to vote, it affects all of that community as the preferences of that group of people is skewered. 

20b708a92a48dcc448ac99803fd02b4cUnfortunately, the voter turnout issue is not as black and white as that. Many young voters, in particular, speak about not wanting to vote because any candidate that they do choose to elect will never stick to their promises or properly represent them anyway. Some claim that politics doesn’t affect their life directly and many simply claim that the process to cast your vote is so entrenched in bureaucracy that the process is too complicated to navigate. The Philadelphia-based public art project “Next Stop: Democracy!” aims to solve some of these democratic issues. The project is supported by the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation as part of the Knight Cities Challenge and is being executed by Here’s My Chance, a Philadelphia-based creative agency. In 2015, the idea for Next Stop: Democracy was one of 32 project winners that the Knight Foundation chose to support through a competition called “The Knight Cities Challenge”. The project is also being supported by a number of other organizations including the ‘Young Involved Philadelphia’. 

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Philadelphia has 850 polling stations, but during a recent Mayoral primary election only 27% of registered voters turned up at polling stations. The project has commissioned over 50 local artists to create public artwork which directs voters to polling stations.

The signs will say “Vote Here” in both English and Spanish and will aim to, “make the voting process less confusing AND more enjoyable.” They are also hiring local musicians and performers to add to the rebranding of democracy in Philadelphia.Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 9.50.58 AM

The project first got off the ground through a KickStarter Campaign which raised over $15,388 to fund the initiative. The campaign features an awesome video explaining the project in more detail: click here to watch the KickStarter Video. 

Some of the artists who are part of the project include:


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Gaia. His work has been featured in the Baltimore Museum of Art, Rice Gallery, Palazzo Collicola Arti Visive, and is an established and respected street artist.


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Harlequinade. Doug Nox AKA “Harlequin” is an artist and illustrator whose work has been seen from New York to Los Angeles to Chicago to New Orleans to Philadelphia.  


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NoseGoThis Philadelphia-based artist “mixes fine art with a contemporary style to deliver highly energetic work” and has a passion for illustration and media arts. 


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Miriam Singer. Miriam received her BA in Sociology and Studio Art from Brandeis University in 2000, and her MFA in Painting with a concentration in Printmaking from Massachusetts College of Art in 2003. In 2004 she moved to Philadelphia and has since had her work featured in a multitude of galleries. 


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NDA.  NDA is an American urban artist whose work can be seen across the world from Mexico to Norway. Recent projects have brought him to London, Portugal, Norway, Mexico, Tennessee, New York, and he is currently located in Philadelphia. 


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Inmates of Graterford Prison. Direct voter turnout isn’t the only thing that the project is targeting. Other artists are part of the Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program. On Next Stop: Democracy’s website they speak about the fact that, “Each year, roughly 35,000 Philadelphians are dutifully released from state and county prisons after serving their sentences. And a recent study from University of California, Riverside estimates that of these men and women, about 50% believe that their criminal records negate their right to vote. But, in many cases, that’s just simply not the truth.”

The fact of the matter is that former convicts in Philadelphia are actually permitted to vote while on parole, probation, or while they’re awaiting conviction. Even those currently incarcerated for a misdemeanor may vote via absentee ballot. Bringing awareness to this is the intent of partnering with the Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program which “incorporates the concepts of restorative justice through art instruction, mural making, and community service work within the criminal justice system. ” Restorative justice is a different approach to the justice system which instead involves restoration, growth, and healing for all involved. 

Next Stop: Democracy is working with 7 young artists who have recently left the criminal justice system. The paid apprenticeship program within the Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program is called “Guild”. It aims to “prepare young adults who have recently left the criminal justice system for a successful re-integration into their communities by focusing on the development of general employment readiness skills like public speaking, customer service, personal finance, and preparation for job applications and interviews, in addition to creative projects that create transformative experiences for individuals and communities”.


This public art project is opening up the conversation on democracy, helping to re-define the criminal justice system, and supporting artists. The project is putting colour back into an extremely grey process and I can’t wait to see the many amazing outcomes of this project. 

Whether it’s creating your own versions of democratic artwork in your community to encouraging voter turnout, or supporting pre-existing projects, an important message that Next Stop: Democracy shares is the power of creativity. When you take a passion of yours and combine it with an issue you would like to change, amazing things can happen! Continue to explore your own creativity and use it to make positive change.

And, remember, poppers, to see change, share change, be change. Much love xo.


If you would like to stay connected with what Next Stop: Democracy is doing you can follow them on: 

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To get directly involved: http://nextstopdemocracy.com/getinvolved/

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