Less than two months ago, we announced the creation of the USDAC Super PAC (Super Participatory Arts Coalition) and invited anyone who had a prototype Super PAC project to apply for a micro-grant. From among an impressive array of exciting applications—thanks again to all who applied!—we’ve awarded $300 grants to 11 projects that promise in surprisingly different and intriguing ways to demonstrate through culture what real democracy looks like.
Our goal was to find projects that use arts and culture to answer these questions:
In the midst of this volatile election cycle, what kinds of participatory projects can activate agency and remind us what democracy actually looks like—both within and beyond the context of electoral politics?
With the airwaves full of polarizing rhetoric, what creative public interventions can disrupt narratives of hate, uplifting love, connection, and equity?
And expressed these aims:
- stir meaningful connection and conversation in this polarized moment
- disrupt narratives of hate, uplifting love, connection, and equity
- activate a sense of agency and encourage democratic participation (within and/or beyond electoral politics)
- remind us that those who came before us fought for our rights (including voting)—rights many don’t use
- embody what democracy actually looks like, reminding us that democracy depends on our voices being heard.
Below you’ll find the winners, including a brief summary of each project and the name of each lead applicant. Where we have it, we’ve also included something more about each project’s aims from our kick-off conversation earlier this month.
Stay tuned for more later this summer, when we launch the full-on USDAC Super PAC with videos from prototype projects and a free downloadable Super PACket with intervention ideas (including how-tos for the prototype projects) and other helpful tips to spur creative public participation leading up to and during this fall’s presidential debates (between September 26 and October 19). At that point, everyone will be invited to take part as an ExtraSuperDelegate, creating a Super Public Act of Compassion or Super Participatory Act of Culture that fosters dialogue and connection, activates civic agency, and encourages full democratic participation. In the meantime, we’re excited to announce micro-grants to these wonderful projects.
SUPER PAC PROTOTYPE PROJECTS:
Make America Crate: the soapbox, reinvented. Don Wilkison, Kansas City, MO.
Don described his process of turning a large found crate into an “oversized public speaking platform—a plywood painted structure that mimics a small wrestling ring, decorated with American flags.” He prompts people with questions about what makes America, then videos their responses for sharing.
LawnCare: repurposing political yard signs for community expression. Sarah Berhnardt, St. Louis, MO.
You Deserve a Decolonized Democracy: guerilla sticker art campaign and town hall dialogue on the democracy we dream of. Jamilah Bradshaw, Richmond, CA.
“The project,” Jamilah told us, “Invites people to think about how democracy can feel to them. You deserve a democracy that allows you to feel free and allows you to feel your power. The campaign is around both our beloved Prince and the election of local officials, asking ‘Who is the mayor of Erotic City?’ It invites people to look at our identities as citizens and our identities as sensual people, spiritual people, to see that those aren’t mutually exclusive. We invite dialogue through this art: how can democracy feel for you? How freeing can democracy be?”
Pop-Up Projection: sparking dialogue with a portable projection screen in public space. Khamall Howard, Oakland, CA.
Kamall told us, “I’m constructing an arch and screen from scratch with canvas and wood. I’ve been going around communities under the moniker Blackbuster, showcasing digital works for and about communities of African descent. For this project, we’ll showcase a movie, maybe Do The Right Thing. We have a screening and the screening leads to a discussion. It’s really democratic because everybody can voice their opinion about what they’ve experienced…They come for fun, have fun, and also leave thinking.”
BYOV—Bring Your Own Voice: reading aloud and speaking up in public space. Josh Adler, Brooklyn, NY.
Josh explained that he hopes “BYOV will help create a more robust language about dialogue around the issues that are important to us, using literature, the things we are reading. We’ll create a popup reading series that is easily replicable as a model for people to share what they’re reading that’s inspiring them about particular topics.”
Buffalo Commons Un-Voting Fair: playful pop-up fair with messages for public officials, historic reenactments, hugs, zines, and more. Sara Taliaferro: Lawrence, KS.
Sara explained that the fair will include “a lot of things that seem to be traditional elements,” but with a twist. She listed an “un-voting booth where you can talk, write, or make art about why you do or don’t vote, with questions to prompt you. There will be an area for one-on-one conversations called ‘Let’s Keep Caucusing.’ Plus a nonpartisan hugging booth, and much more.”
Signs of Respect: repurposing yard signs to create interactive local narratives and celebrate local heroes. Danny Spitzberg, Oakland, CA.
Pop-Up Story Booth: oral history on the go, collecting stories of displacement and resistance in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Ali Toxtli, Ridgewood, NY.
Maria "Gaby" Caicedo joined our kickoff call to explain how “gentrification impacts communities of color. Bushwick is undergoing a housing rezoning plan, with the community invited into the project. We want to enhance the participation of the ordinary citizens who walk down the street. How do people see the change? We’re creating a portable story booth to take to different sites and collect neighborhood narratives. This is just happening under our noses and we don’t really know what it is. We’ll deliver the stories to council members and talk about how people can get more involved in these decisions.”
History in the Making: Papel Picado Now: lifting up this traditional Mexican craft as a means of community-building and communicating important messages. Karina Puente, Philadelphia, PA.
Karina explained that the project references “the Mexican folk art called papel picado. It’s cut tissue paper, traditionally seen in Mexico in sacred celebrations like weddings and Days of the Dead. I’m creating PDF illustrations with traditional designs and messages like ‘we vote,’ ‘we’re important,’ ‘we matter.’ The aim is amplify visibility for Latino communities and people of color, coming together to create beautiful and fun artwork that has deep meaning and opens dialogue. I’d love to collect the pieces that are made and build a beautiful mural or wall, countering Trump’s idea of a wall with a different vision.”
Democracy Uncut: A Hearable Dialogue on Race and Social Justice: piloting an innovative filmmaking technique to create meaningful dialogue/media around traditionally polarizing topics. John Sankofa, Baltimore, MD.
John explained that this video project is “built on the idea that democracy works best with conversation, which is preferable to armored tanks and riots. We’re trying to take some of the toughest topics and find ways to bridge the gap between two starkly opposing groups.” They’ve adapted a technique called Question Bridge, “posing questions and videoing one group at a time and then letting the opposing group view those questions and reply on video. You take out the noise, the clutter that happens when you get two opposing groups at the same time, ending up with a hearable dialogue….I can’t hear you when you are screaming at me.”
Les Agents Provocateurs: choreographed flash-mobs to challenge consumerism and reclaim public space. Les Agents Provocateurs, Everywhere.
On our call, a lead Agent Provocateur told us, “We want to create the same flash-mob performance simultaneously in 20 different cities worldwide. The performance is dancing riot police, which is recognized globally. Imagine them assembling in a public space in riot formation and breaking into a kind of Chorus Line movement, Broadway meets the official use of force. It’s a way of competing with commercial spectacle by using public space.”