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'Art the Vote' billboards to appear along Missouri highways

“Vote. Your future depends on it.”

Beginning Sept. 1, that message will appear on more than 70 billboards throughout Missouri.

Along with the words, the billboards will feature issue-oriented artworks by eight artists. All have donated their time and original designs to a new get-out-the-vote initiative called “Art the Vote.”

The recently formed Missouri Billboard Project, a nonpartisan political organization of artists and arts supporters, is sponsoring the $140,000 billboard display, which is funded entirely through individual donations. (They are not tax-deductible.)

“We hope to raise awareness through contemporary art,” said Sue McCollum, one of the project’s organizers. “We want people to register to vote by October 8 (the MO voter registration deadline) and vote on November 4.”

“Contemporary art reflects on contemporary issues,” she added. “Each of the billboards will reflect on a different issue of our times.

The project was conceived in January.

“We were thinking about how we could engage the creative community,” said Bunny Burson, the St. Louis artist who spearheaded the project with McCollum and Maryanne Simmons, director of the St. Louis-based Wildwood Press.

“Maryanne and I had talked about using artists to communicate how important the issues are and how important voting is.”

A political billboard they came across in Cape Girardeau sparked the billboard idea, Burson said. She credits McCollum, who had done a commercial project with billboards, with putting all the pieces together.

The project was launched at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis on May 28, with the unveiling of a billboard design by St. Louis-based Tom Huck, whose piece takes aim at big oil.

Six other designs, including four by high-profile out-of-state artists Martha Rosler, Willie Cole, Mark Newport and Annette Lemieux, are in the works.

Two Kansas City artists, May Tveit and Peregrine Honig, also were invited to participate in the project.

“They were looking for people who were politically minded,” said Honig, who got involved after she was recommended by Tom Huck.

“This is a really important election for me,” she said. “Because I don’t have a lot of time or money to put towards the campaign, this was a good format to project my ideas to the public.”

Except for the Huck billboard, the designs are being kept under wraps until the billboards start going up at the end of August.

Honig said her piece, which depicts a morning dove with broken eggs, is based on an image from her recent “Bird” series.

“It’s about domestic displacement and reproductive rights, without being a big blaring neon image,” she said.

Art the Vote is holding a competition to choose an artist to design the eighth billboard. Submissions are due by June 30 and details are available at artthevote.com.

Ten finalists and the winner will be decided by a public vote on eligible designs posted on artthevote.com. The voting begins July 3.

The billboards will be along major highways and interstates throughout Missouri. They also will be displayed in Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Hannibal, Kirksville, St. Louis, Springfield and many locations in Kansas City.

“Art the Vote is totally unprecedented,” McCollum said. “It’s not part of a national effort, it’s only being done in Missouri.”

As election season nears, Art the Vote is planning a series of voter registration drives and turn out efforts, including a Sept. 5 “Purple Friday” unveiling event in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City.

The group is also at work on a line of T-shirts featuring the billboard designs.

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