SCSU Artists Get Out The Vote

Arturo Pineda | October 12th, 2020

SCSU Artists Get Out The Vote

Politics  |  Southern Connecticut State University  |  Arts & Culture  |  Visual Arts  |  COVID-19  |  printmaking


Wiley Carr prints a voting poster 1
Wiley Carr prints a voting poster. Arturo Pineda Photos. 

Wiley Carr carefully aligned the printing screen with the owl poster below. The words “VOTE 2020” had been outlined with a yellow adhesive. A bright red paint flooded the top of the screen, quickly pushed to the corners with an old paint-stained squeegee. After a minute of drying, the freshly printed poster was ready to hang

On Friday, students and faculty members gathered in front of Earl Hall at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) to register voters and make physical and digital prints to inspire others to vote. The event was a collaborative effort between the Women’s and Genders Studies and Art departments. The Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) was also present.

Lucy McClure and Gabrielle Ferrell, both first-year graduate students in the Women’s and Genders Studies Department, said they both felt that there was a lack of conversation around the election despite being less than one month away. After last month’s campus-wide event "From Talk to Activism: Anti Racist Forum," the two wanted to translate their words into action.

“We’re in the middle of a civil rights uprising,” McClure said. “I don’t want to be complicit in history.”

Gabrielle Ferrell and Marie Perez registering voters and passing out materials
Gabrielle Ferrell and Marie Perez.

Through her work as an educator, curator, and co-founder of Nasty Women Connecticut, McClure kept returning to the issue of political education. She said she believes how people are educated, and what they are educated on, greatly shapes their political formation.

As part of the event, organizers distributed 16 different slips of paper, each with a different political factoid on voter suppression and electoral history. In 2013, for example, the Supreme Court stuck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, ruling that it was unconstitutional to require states with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before changing their election laws. In the wake of the decision, several states passed new restrictions on voting, including limits on early voting and new requirements for photo identification at polling booths. 

Voter suppression is still very alive and present, Feller said. The removal of mailboxes earlier this summer in Oregon was a key example for her. The concern comes as the Trump Administration continues to sow doubt about the efficacy and safety of mail-in voting and cities take on an unprecedented number of requests for absentee ballots. In New Haven, some have already been sent to the incorrect recipients.

Chelsea King, a senior studying print making, holds a completed print
Chelsea King. The owl represents the school's mascot. 

“What about the people who don’t have a car or access to transport,” she said. “What about the people who are immunocompromised?”

Many prominent voting rights organizations have said states should embrace voting by mail and early voting to protect higher-risk populations from COVID-19 and be more accessible to people with disabilities.

The partnership with the art department was a natural one, added McClure. Prints, posters and other visual arts have had a long history of political activism around civic engagement.

In addition to the prints, organizers also gave out a one-page zine designed by artist KC Councilor, a professor of communications, media, and screen studies. The zine touched on common voter suppression tactics and encouraged people to plan ahead to work around them. Among them, Councilor included an illustration of polling places being closed and voters being turned away for not being on the registration list.

Wiley Carr prints a voting poster

Carr, a professor in the Art Department who specializes in printmaking and screen printing, was hesitant at first about having an in-person event. He has had limited contact with students due to COVID-19 restrictions, including studio art classes that meet once a week and enforce socially distancing. The outside venue and spacing eased his concerns.

As he poured blue paint onto the screen for the next batch of posters, he told the story of his own personal experience with voting and civic engagement.

“When I was young, I didn’t think it mattered,” he said. “But you learn that every vote does matter.”

Marie Perez, a junior studying sociology, said she is concerned that although many of her peers are registered to vote, they may not vote on election day. After the most recent presidential debate, she felt the need to vote become even more important.

As the Vice-President of OLAS, Yeimieliz Cruz came out to show support on behalf of the Latinx student body. She believes that voting is a way to implement change from the bottom up by mobilizing communities.

“It is important for the Latino community to vote,” she said. “Every decision from the government impacts us.”

A group of completed poster drying in the sun

A few hundred feet away on the second floor of Earl Hall, Alex Girard led students in drafting digital banners and prints to promote voting. Girard is an assistant professor of graphic design; for him, the event was an opportunity to both promote voting and introduce students to graphic design.

“I wanted to open up the space so students who might not come across this work in their disciplines could get some experience with it,” he said.

With limited on-campus events, he has been worried about student wellbeing and how to create a sense of community with limitations. He hopes that events like these can foster a sense of community and draw students together.

For more information about the history of voter suppression, visit the American Civil Liberties Union.