Time to finish this. This irreverent tag line is just one of the many that grace more than 60 posters that comprise Project 270, a “Get Out the Vote” initiative by Mana Urban Arts Project (MUAP). Since 2015, the programming offshoot of Mana Contemporary, located in Jersey City, New Jersey, has historically worked with street artists worldwide to realize site-specific murals. But in this election season — the most turbulent in generations and taking place amidst the ongoing pandemic — MUAP has shifted its focus to engage with disenfranchised voters across the country.
Providing additional support, Gary Lichtenstein Editions and Art in General, both tenants in Mana’s Jersey City space, have been printing the posters and helping to engage artists and distribution partners. Bringing together artists from nearly every state in the nation, as well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and a number of large metropolitan areas, Project 270 aims to reach potential voters aged 18-38; in 2016, this demographic accounted for only 25% of the total votes cast, though they make up about 40% of the US population. Each poster is equipped with a QR code that, when scanned, can take its viewer to voter information websites or to download the artwork. With its ambitious objective to plaster posters both physically across the country and flood social media feeds with digital versions, Project 270 hopes to encourage a corrective to the voting numbers this year.
Mia Saine, a Memphis-based illustrator who designed Tennessee’s poster, told Hyperallergic that the diverse participating artists “are practicing our freedom of speech to let other Americans know this is not the time to be self-interested.”
“There’s a lot of projects out there like this [but] the universe of many of those projects is focused on people who are already going to vote, and are going to vote progressively no matter what,” noted Theodore Ward, a co-organizer of Project 270. “We wanted to address a population that may not necessarily identify actively with art. The artwork we selected could be easily approached by both someone who has a great appreciation and someone who is more simply attracted to the image.”
To that end, most artists selected live in the state, region, or city their poster represents, giving the breadth of designs a distinct, localized feel. “I was encouraged to speak from my voice, to my audience, in my medium of choice,” Annie Brace, who designed a poster for Anchorage, Alaska, said. “Alaska provides me with an insurmountable abundance of beauty and that inspiration is at risk of being taken away with such projects as the Pebble Mine Project.”
Other artists echoed the initiative’s embrace of regionality, with the eyes of their own community members in mind. Jetsonorama, an Arizonian photographer who coordinates the Painted Desert Project throughout the Navajo Nation, noted that as a citizen of a state with a large Indigenous population, he was compelled to photograph a “Navajo model who spoke to issues of concern to Natives and non-Natives alike.”
In keeping with its street art roots, MUAP gravitated toward a number of artists working in the medium. Hysterical Men, a Philly-based feminist street artist, used her poster design for Pennsylvania to reference this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia, where excessive force exerted by police upon protesters caused a number of peaceful gatherings to turn violent. Her poster “references Lady Liberty and her torch as well, and the promises she represents: Liberty and Justice for All. We haven’t seen that yet in this country. And we want what was promised to us.”
Representing Brooklyn, another anonymous artist called Captain Eyeliner bore striking imagery of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Brooklyn native, on their poster, an icon whom they have already been wheat-pasting around New York for at least a year. “I think street art is really special in that it’s for everyone, and I think that really appeals to the 18-to-38-year-olds that Project 270 is targeting,” they observed. “There’s no admission fee, no standing in line, no curatorial politics. It’s just the viewer, the art, and the street.”