Billboards use art to encourage voting

Saturday, September 6, 2008 | 6:37 p.m. CDT; updated 11:48 a.m. CDT, Sunday, September 7, 2008
Co-founder and organizer of Art The Vote Bunny Burson unveils original artwork by contemporary artists from across the country at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Performing Arts in Columbia on Friday. In total, 70 works of art will be displayed on billboards throughout the state to encourage people to vote in the coming presidential election in November

COLUMBIA — A unique fusion of art and politics has taken hold of highways and metropolitan areas across Missouri, challenging motorists and pedestrians with the bold message "Vote: Your future depends on it."

The message is the product of Art the Vote, a grass-roots organization aimed at encouraging the public, particularly young people, to utilize their right to vote through a very public medium: billboards.


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Columbia participated in the official kickoff of the Art the Vote movement by playing host to the unveiling of eight small billboards on Friday at the Missouri Theatre, the same day over 70 billboards began cropping up across Missouri, beginning in St. Louis. Artist and St. Louis native Tom Huck signed his billboard on I-64/U.S. 40.

"We've got a lot of momentum going," said Bunny Burston, an artist and member of the Art the Vote steering committee. At the unveiling, Burston, along with fellow steering committee member Sue McCollum, explained the artwork and took questions about the initiative they helped conceive along with other artists and art supporters.

"We hope that art will lead to awareness and action," said McCollum. "The artists involved all care about the issue of voting."

Art the Vote commissioned eight artists: Huck, Peregrine Honig, May Tveit and Karen Kay, all of Missouri, as well as Mark Newport, Martha Rosler, Annette Lemieux and Willie Cole. Each used their giant canvas to focus on a different political or social issue. Huck addresses the subject of "Big Oil" with his monochromatic image of a giant squid holding the United States captive with "gas guns." Karen Kay, chosen as the eighth artist after winning Art the Vote's online competition, chose the environment as the subject of her colorful billboard.

Besides stimulating discussion of relevant issues, McCollum explains that the participation of the eight artists demonstrates another important aspect of the campaign - the involvement of the arts in politics as a constituency.

Art enthusiasts and community members alike can participate in the Art the Vote-sponsored Missouri Midnight Madness voter registration marathons being held Tuesday, Oct. 7 in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Columbia will be home to about 17billboards through the first week of November, which encourages viewers to exercise what Burson describes as their right and obligation to vote.

For billboard locations and more information on Art the Vote, visit


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