Art+Action Coalition’s COME TO YOUR CENSUS campaign art activation with Sanctuary City Project’s mobile tricycle silkscreen cart pop-up and “Who Counts in America? posters at San Francisco’s City Hall, April 2020 (photo courtesy Art+Action Coalition)

In August, the U.S. Commerce Department announced plans to end counting efforts for the 2020 Census on September 30, a full month sooner than previously scheduled. This news was a big blow for a census effort already challenged by the coronavirus pandemic. The accelerated timeline effectively guarantees undercounting that will skew political representation, government funding (including crucial arts and arts education dollars), and essential services for every person in every community in the country for the next 10 years. Roughly four out of 10 households have not participated in the census, and rates are lower for people the census historically undercounts: Black, Indigenous, and people of color, disabled people, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ people, and low-income and homeless populations.

We join leaders in philanthropy who issued a call to re-extend the deadline to October 31, which is a necessary response to the pandemic. The work is urgent. Last week a court issued an order to allow the census count to continue, but the legal battle is ongoing. To assure a full and accurate count, there is an immediate need for innovation to drive census participation in the coming weeks, particularly in hard to count communities, and an infusion of creatives and creativity in census efforts.

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Artists, designers, filmmakers, and writers and the organizations that serve them have a unique power to craft and circulate art and stories that illustrate what is at stake — schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and more — and inspire people to respond. They can adapt quickly and touch people in our new digital reality. The census and organizers in the civic engagement space need them right now.

Here are six ways creatives can engage right now:

  1. Complete the census today

First, anyone who has not yet completed the census can visit and be counted right now. Every response matters. Your answer will shape the future of your community.

  1. Share your census story

Once you have completed the census, share your own story to inspire others. Tell everyone you can why the census matters to you. For examples of effective storytelling, consider Stories for Change, a project of Census Counts and NextDayBetter. Through personal videos, quote graphics, and infographics, the digital-organizing project illustrates the importance of the census as a basis for advocacy of a range of issues that include racial justice, immigration, disability, labor, and faith.

  1. Use existing creative tools

There is a wealth of creative content and tools you can use and adapt to promote census participation. Harness’s #BeCounted 2020 Census Campaign and Art+Action Coalition’sCOME TO YOUR CENSUS’ project have artist-generated action plans, social media toolkits, talking points, and array of digital and print assets that make speaking up easy.

  1. Get creative with your content

No matter your creative medium — be it theater, ceramics, or gaming — you have an opportunity to spark awareness and interest and connect people to the census on a human level. Arleene Correa Valencia and Ana Teresa Fernández’s SOMOS VISIBLES ready-to-wear gear, April Bey, Martha Carrillo, and Phung Huynh’s serigraph for Self Help Graphics, and For Freedoms physical photo diorama of its 2018 photograph, Freedom of Speech, are just a couple examples of how to stir up excitement and reflection on the census. Consider making use of open source platforms such as the Creatives for the Count content repository so others can use your content.

  1. Engage hard-to-count communities

Help to ensure a fairer census by focusing on geographies and populations that are undercounted. Ask impacted communities working on the ground how you can best support and amplify their work. Pursue digital and non-digital strategies to bridge the digital divide. Use multilingual content. Make your content and modes of engagement accessible to disabled people who are regularly undercounted.

  1. Leverage your networks and partner up

Tap your on- and offline networks to adapt and generate content and connect to communities who have not yet been counted. Consider hosting a virtual Create-a-thon event to collectively generate and disseminate digital media to spread awareness. Freely share your strategies with your fellow creatives, arts organizations, and membership groups such as Americans for the Arts, and any outlets you have at hand so they can do more. Reach out to your public officials, community leaders, and other civic engagement organizations and join their get-out-the-count campaigns. When it comes to the census and census outreach, there is strength in numbers.

The census is upon us. An infusion of creatives and creativity into enumeration efforts can help spike up participation and help ensure everyone is seen and counted. The value of strengthened links between the creative sector and civic engagement space will extend beyond the census and shape the future of our country.

Lane Harwell (they/he) is an artist, educator, and nonprofit and philanthropic leader working to advance mission-driven organizations on the frontlines of social change. They are currently on the Creativity...

Erika Wood is a program officer in the Civic Engagement and Government Program at the Ford Foundation.