The debate gets creative: Political art installations set to go up on campus

| Contributing Reporter

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts students have been working in conjunction with Art Council to set up a series of political art installations around campus in the lead up to Sunday’s debate.

The council was allocated $5,000 from Student Union’s debate programming fund to promote student expression and opinion through art.

Art Council president and senior Alyse Gellis said the idea was a part of the group’s presidential debate initiative. All Washington University students, faculty and staff were invited to submit their ideas to the council as a way to express their opinions on this election cycle and the debate being on campus, but only students ended up sending in submissions.

The proposal deadline was Sept. 18, and one week later a panel consisting of three Art Council members, two Washington University Political Review members and a Campus Life staff member was assembled to make the final decisions on the installations.

According to Gellis, the criteria for the proposals was open to interpretation. Students were asked to submit an abstract, a budget and visual diagrams or drawings of their projects. At the end of the panel, all seven of the proposed projects were selected as installations.

“All of the submissions that we got were really on par with what we were asking for and within the budget that we had, so we could take them,” said Gellis.

The Art Council members then gave the student artists feedback on their ideas, which they have been working on since. The types of projects cover all forms of art, from communication design posters to 3-D installations. The installations not only cover a broad range of artistic genres, but also differ in terms of their messages. Some support one candidate over another, while others are non-partisan and focus on issues surrounding voting.

Some professors have integrated the art initiative into their courses. Seniors Rachel Healey, Lauren Blackburn and Bowie Chen are currently enrolled in the Communication Design: Voice course, which focuses on designing for social and political impact. Their installation consists of four separate poster boards spelling out the word “VOTE!” with facts about the voting process written within the letters. Their objective is to create a welcoming and open campaign to encourage college students to vote.

“We, as an entire group of people in the country, have a lot of power, and I think it either gets forgotten or people just don’t think about it because they don’t like the candidates. But another thing [we highlight] on the installation is that if you don’t like the candidates, elect the policies. You’re not just voting for a person, you’re voting for the future of our country in the next four years,” Healey said.

Other installations play on. students’ specific concerns. Senior Katie Yun’s project, which toys with the idea of the “Wash. U. Bubble,” will include constructing a white picket fence on top of the perimeter of the McMillan Hall fence on Danforth Campus. This, Yun said, is a direct statement on the amount of security being enforced during the debates, specifically the fencing that is designed to keep unauthorized community members lacking university identification off campus.

“During the presidential debate, the ‘bubble’ will be an actual existing presence in the form of a construction fence that will cover the perimeter of the school,” Yun wrote. “[This installation] forces the fence’s presence to be known, and stands as a reminder for those who have access to the campus of those they are excluding.”

Other projects will include a provocative poster wall, a video screening and multiple 3-D installations.

“We really wanted to create an opportunity for students to be able to comment on [the debate being on campus, political policy and anything related to politics] on campus and express their opinions in a way that was peaceful and visual for everyone else to see,” Gellis said.