Live From Online, Artists Jump Into Census Effort

Lucy Gellman | April 2nd, 2020

Live From Online, Artists Jump Into Census Effort

Culture & Community  |  Arts & Culture  |  Census 2020  |  COVID-19


Ugly Radio has joined community efforts. Screenshot from Facebook. 

The camera opens on a news report. Caleb Negron is in the middle of the street, interviewing a mom and her daughter about the 2020 U.S. Census. He wants to understand why she hasn’t taken it yet. She’s adamant that it takes too long. He waves his hand, looks straight at the camera. The beat drops.

“It’s only 10 minutes to complete,” he spits, autotune at the edges. “Impact your street/impact your life/how you survive/Not wasting no time.”

Negron (or Kaylib, as he sometimes performs) is one of several musicians, artists, faith leaders and trivia nerds getting behind Greater New Haven Counts as it ramps up efforts around the 2020 U.S. Census. Wednesday, his piece became part of an on-and-off, eight-hour livestream celebrating National Census Day. The day is not a deadline, but a reminder to people that they should be filling out the form to be counted well before its August 14 end date.

The livestream was hosted on the group’s Facebook page, with videos that came in from partners at Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church, Community Action Agency of New Haven, CT Students for a Dream, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE), Witnesses to Hunger, Musical Intervention, Ugly Radio, and Mayor Justin Elicker and Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz.

“We are hoping that this April 1st event will be the beginning of a month-long outreach effort online and via social media to really encourage all New Haveners to participate in this very important census,” said Keith Lawrence, assistant director of comprehensive planning for the city and a member of Greater New Haven Counts.”We’re looking forward to hearing all of your comments and your remarks for all of New Haven.”

Held every 10 years and mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census is intended to count every person in the country and collect data for the proper allocation of federal funds and drawing of legislative districts. It determines how much money each state receives from the federal government—meaning that it directly impacts New Haven’s access to Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start childhood education programs, SNAP food benefits, and other essential federal programs.

CensusPosters - 2

Jessica Lopez at a 2020 Census poster contest in January. The NHFPL, one of the partners on census efforts, is now closed to the public but maintaining an educational presence online. Lucy Gellman File Photo. 

Even before COVID-19 shifted Census efforts across the country, members of Greater New Haven Counts were concerned about getting an accurate count. At a Census event in January, Mayor Justin Elicker said he anticipated a challenge in making sure all residents, regardless of documentation status or level of income or housing security, were counted. Wednesday over Zoom, he recalled how glad he originally was for New Haven’s robust community of door-knockers and pavement pounders.

But by mid-March, the U.S. Census Bureau had temporarily suspended its field operations. The city’s strategy, which included a large crew of census enumerators, looked different. Greater New Haven Counts, which comprises members from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, New Haven Free Public Library, City of New Haven and other nonprofit partners, took its efforts online. And then, it got creative.

Caprice Taylor Mendez, strategic program manager at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said that including the arts as part of a larger strategy was an obvious choice for her. Amidst census job fairs, briefings from elected officials, and information sessions earlier this year, artists cropped up in census 2020 poster, t-shirt design, and songwriting contests. She wanted to keep that momentum going in digital space.

“The thought is, doing the census is about life,” she said. “It's about resources that support human beings. Artists, they celebrate life. They are great messengers. They inspire people to take action. And they participate in fellowship.”

As COVID-19 closures began around the state, much of that work transitioned online. At a prerecorded, socially distanced kickoff in mid-March, poet Frank Brady encouraged listeners to “reflect and collect” their census information, for the good of the community.

Public funding each year determines state by state
Schools and grant programs receiving funding to educate
Roads, bridges, and public transportation reflected on
Based on state by state

Health clinics and hospitals, at this time we need those
Public parks where our children play
Data can save the future of our community tomorrow, today

Musical Intervention recorded “The 2020 Census Song,” an official serenade by Ted and Denise Canning with a hook to “count yourself in.” Negron and his colleagues at Ugly Radio released a video about how easy the census was to complete. As Ugly Radio producer-turned-newscaster Preston Wilson popped up on the screen, he dropped knowledge on previous census years to incentivize 2020 participation.

“Take control of your life by being counted,” he urged in a serious voice. “In the 2000 Census, Connecticut lost a House of Representatives seat in Washington, D.C. because not enough Connecticut residents got counted. We have the power. Let’s use it.”

Wednesday, Greater New Haven Counts continued the trend as it peppered the livestream with opportunities for dance and song, virtual worship, and gameshow-esque Census 2020 trivia in both English and Spanish.

Just after noon, Christian Tabernacle started a feed with tinkling piano keys and musicians running over their sheet music before they’d realized the video was live.

Minister Larri Mazon slipped into the frame, a mask suspended beneath his chin. He looked into the video stream and began an hour that included census education, live music,a step-by-step how-to, and praise for both the almighty and the power of collective action.

“We are going to be celebrating God for giving us life, and recognizing the importance of the census process as it relates to the United States,” he said. “It’s a very important process, so we felt that we should be good citizens and a good institution. Part of what we do as a church is we educate.This is part of that.”

For the afternoon and well into the evening, the footprint of the arts popped up in music and trivia. As efforts continue, Mendez said that she hopes creatives will remain part of that push—and of course that they will count themselves in as well. As of Thursday, New Haven County was at 37 percent census reporting, up from just 16 percent in mid-March. In 2010, that number was at 45 percent in the same time frame.

“Artists have their heart to the ground,” she said. “They can feel and express, in such a deep way, why it is meaningful to be counted.”

To find out more about Greater New Haven Counts, contact Karolina Ksiazek at 203-680-0453‬ or Greater New Haven Counts is on Facebook or Instagram. To find out more about the 2020 U.S. Census, click here.