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Art Students Seek to Catch the Eyes of Unlikely Voters

Getting Americans to the polls on Election Day never is easy, but organizers at the Corcoran College of Art + Design are hoping that a new display will get passers-by pumped about the prospect of exercising their voting rights.

Last month, 20 windows on Corcoran’s Randall School facility in Southwest came alive with images advertising to anyone in the neighborhood who might not have taken notice that the 2008 presidential election is well under way.

Boldfaced phrases such as “You’re fired,” “You’re the boss” and “Vote” adorn the outside of the I Street building, purchased by the art school in 2006, to remind residents of the power of their electoral voice.

Sam Shelton, a graphic design instructor and one of the leaders of the Corcoran initiative, said each of the 18 juniors who participated in the project came up with his or her own aesthetic approach. But the posters in the windows follow a similar visual language — one that lacks political endorsements.

“It’s not to encourage people to vote in a certain way, it’s to encourage people to participate in the democratic process,” Shelton said.

Corcoran students were asked to research why key demographic groups are underrepresented at the polls and to develop an art project to motivate them to vote. Students looked through Census Bureau data and determined that eligible minority voters were not participating in elections because of problems in registering to vote. This is in contrast to eligible white voters, who tended to miss out on Election Day because of scheduling conflicts or other personal matters.

The Corcoran’s display is part of a broader project to highlight the importance of voting, initiated by AIGA, the professional association for design. Graphic designers and digital media designers were challenged to create nonpartisan posters that would encourage Americans to head to the polls.

“What we did is we took the project and brought it into the classroom,” Shelton said.

AIGA launched its get-out-the-vote campaign with the 2000 election, and in 2004 the association placed more than 50,000 posters in public places and in neighborhoods across the country. The designs also were made available in PDF form online so that anyone could print and display the vote posters.

The GOTV program is sponsored by AIGA to demonstrate the value of design to the members of the public, public officials and businesses, according to the association’s Web site.

Although AIGA has not posted its 2008 submissions on its Web site yet, the Corcoran decided to show off its entries in the months leading up to November to provide for the greatest impact, said Kristin Guiter, manager of media relations at the Corcoran.

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