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Billboards inspire young Missouri voters to cruise to the polls

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 8:51 a.m. CDT

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a giant squid?

When you look up in the sky while driving Missouri's highways during the next few weeks, don't be surprised if you see something unusual. You won't catch a glimpse of Superman, but you may encounter a giant squid brandishing gas pump nozzles like a six-shooter, Captain America or a field of sunflowers - all supersized images with one central message: to encourage Missourians to register and vote in November's election.

Featuring the work of eight contemporary artists, 70 billboards with the language "Vote: Your Future Depends On It" and "www.artthevote.com" began appearing across Missouri in the beginning of September. Look for the billboards on major highways across the state and in urban areas such as Kansas City, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, St. Louis, Kirksville and Columbia. The billboards are sponsored by Art the Vote, an initiative of the Missouri Billboard Project, which is using art to inspire voter registration and voting in November's election. The billboard images, sometimes subtle, sometimes provocative, reflect the artists' thoughts on many of the key issues facing our state and nation, including fuel prices, the environment and the war. The billboards were created by seven nationally renowned artists and the winner of an Art the Vote online billboard competition.

Four of the artists are Missourians: Tom Huck, Peregrine Honig, May Tveit and competition winner Karen Kay. The other artists, Annette Lemieux, Willie Cole, Mark Newport and Martha Rosler, are known for their political artwork.

Like all art, the images on the billboards may receive mixed reviews. Some may like it; some may not. But whether you like the art or not, we all can agree on the importance of the billboards' message and the artists' desire to inspire young voters to register and vote this fall. In many respects, young voters have the most at stake in an election because they will live the longest with the consequences of any particular administration's decisions. Yet, as an age-based voting bloc, they don't act like it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 22 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 voted in the 2006 election. That means more than 75 percent of eligible young voters didn't vote.

Despite having the most to gain or lose, these young voters chose not to participate. By contrast, 63 percent of adults 55 and older voted in 2006.

In the 2004 presidential election, 72 percent of the eligible voters aged 55 and older voted. Although young voters visited the polls in this contest more than in 2006, their participation paled in comparison with other age-based voting blocs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 47 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 years went to the polls in 2004.

One of the main reasons for the difference in voting rates stems from weak voter registration. Fewer young voters register. Only 58 percent of eligible young voters registered in 2004, whereas 79 percent of citizens ages 55 and older registered. The two greatest reasons eligible young voters cited for not registering: a lack of interest in the election or involvement in politics and missing the registration deadline.

The goal of Art the Vote is to make fall's election interesting to young people and to make voting the fashionable, hip thing to do. If eight artists can engage young Missourians and inspire their interest in this election, Art the Vote will have successfully used art as a gateway to political involvement and voting. In addition to the billboards, Art the Vote is coordinating voter registration activities at art and cultural events throughout the state this fall.

The next time a giant squid grabs your attention, remember that Oct. 8 is the last day to register to vote in Missouri before the Nov. 4 election. Register and vote; our future depends on it.

Sue McCollum is a co-founder of Art the Vote, an initiative of the Missouri Billboard Project, a nonpartisan effort organized to encourage potential voters to vote by supporting the creation of art that draws attention to public policy issues. To see all billboard artwork and for more information on Art the Vote, go to artthevote.com.

 


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