"Vote Here" signs created by Sean Martorana (left) and Miriam Singer as part of the Next Stop Democracy project.

"Vote Here" signs created by Sean Martorana (left) and Miriam Singer as part of the Next Stop Democracy project.

Next Stop, Democracy: How Kid Hazo, Isaiah Zagar and dozens more Philly artists are helping get out the vote

More than 60 of Philadelphia’s best-known artists, from street artist Kid Hazo to Philadelphia Magic Gardens mosaic man Isaiah Zagar to urban artist NDA, have one thing in common over the next few weeks: Getting you to vote.

Conrad Benner, the photojournalist and documentarian from Fishtown behind the Streets Dept. brand, helped to rustle everyone up — and it was easier than he expected, he told Billy Penn.

“I’ve documented these artists,” Benner said, “and every artist I knew and loved, every single one, said ‘yes’ to this.”

The more than 60 artists who said “yes” have created “Vote Here” signs that will be placed at 20 polling places around Philadelphia on Nov. 3 for election day. It’s all part of the Knight Foundation-funded Next Stop: Democracy, the voting signage project looking to study if public art can make voting a more welcoming and enticing experience.

Lansie Sylvia, the Next Stop Democracy project director, shows off some of the signs at Impact Hub in Kensington.

Lansie Sylvia, the Next Stop Democracy project director, shows off some of the signs at Impact Hub in Kensington.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

Voter turnout in Philadelphia has been abysmal. During the May primary to select the candidates for — among other positions — the mayor of the city, just 27 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia showed up to the polls to cast a ballot. And that number plummets when looking at certain demographics like young people and minorities.

Turnout in Philly has been a problem since before this past May. So last year, Lansie Sylvia, the director of engagement at Philly creative agency Here’s My Chance, applied for a grant through the Knight Cities Challenge to fund a project that used public art at polling places and then studied the impact it had.

“The hypothesis,” Sylvia said, “is that in places where more civic engagement is celebrated, voter turnout is way higher.”

Sylvia was one of more than 30 Knight Cities Challenge winners, and she was awarded $166,000 to make it happen. She recruited Benner and a few others to take part in the project, and partnered with researchers at University of Pennsylvania who will study both the qualitative and quantitative effects of placing colorful signs at polling places.

And through the funding, Sylvia and her team were also able to pull in more than 60 artists who were paid $250 each to turn a blank, wooden sign into something that would entice voters. On one side, each sign says “Vote Here.” On the other, “Votar Aqui.”

Some of Philadelphia’s most recognized artists took part. Here’s the piece done by Zagar, of Philadelphia Magic Gardens on South Street:

Voting sign created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar (left).

Voting sign created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar (left).

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

And here’s one by Old Broads, a Philly-based who depicts elderly women in a protest against hyper-sexualized women in street art:

A "Vote Here" sign created for the Next Stop: Democracy project.
Anna Orso/Billy Penn

It also features this sign, created by Sonia Petruse and Austin Seraphin, as part of their “Braille Street Art” project that combines art with the call for greater accessibility:

The top of the sign created by Sonia Petruse and Austin Seraphim.

The top of the sign created by Sonia Petruse and Austin Seraphim.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

Next Stop: Democracy also partnered with Mural Arts and its Restorative Justice program which aims to engage current inmates and parolees in learning new skills to positively contribute to their communities. Here’s one of the pieces created by inmates at the state prison at Graterford in Montgomery County:

Created by inmates at SCI Graterford (left).

Created by inmates at SCI Graterford (left).

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

And there’s also 5-year-old Olivia Jackson Grant, who is maybe more passionate about voting than lots of people who are actually legally allowed to vote. Her mother, Darla Jackson, built the a-frames for the signs at her Fishtown shop Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. And Olivia begged to make one herself:

Olivia Jackson Grant, 5, stands with a "Vote Here" sign she created as part of Next Stop Democracy.
Anna Orso/Billy Penn

Benner and Sylvia said the project taking place on Nov. 3 is really a pilot for the future — and the study of how that day goes will lead to what happens with the signs, whether it’s selling them to fund future projects or distributing them to individual polling places that want them.

“This finally gives us the opportunity to do something fun for an election,” Sylvia said. “We can bring the focus onto the polling place to make it feel better for the voter.”

Want to see all the signs in one place? They’re on display tonight starting at 6 p.m. at Impact Hub in Kensington during a “Signs of Change” event. Pay-what-you-wish tickets are available here. 

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