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November 30, 2021

UMMA’s Vote 2020 project wins global design award for giving people ‘clarity, confidence, and hope’

Photo by Mark Gjukic

UMMA’s VOTE 2020 project has won a 2021 Global Design Award from the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), in the Public Installation category.

The project, which lasted from September 24th, 2020 until the presidential election on November 3rd, transformed UMMA’s Stenn Gallery into an Ann Arbor City Clerk satellite office, where people could register to vote, drop off ballots–and of course, take a look at some art in the meantime.

The project sought to help visitors–particularly students, many of whom were voting in a presidential election for the first time–streamline the voting process. Large vinyls that said “Register. Request a ballot. VOTE early HERE!” were attached to the Stenn Gallery’s windowed walls, attracting the attention of pedestrians. Once indoors, visitors followed large, clearly worded signs and floor vinyls. The project also had to account for out-of-state students’ decisions to either register in Michigan or use their home states’ absentee ballots, and clear signage reassured voters that they were turning in their ballots to the correct boxes and substantially reduced the number of invalid ballots that were received.

One of the award’s jurors said the project came “at a time of great need for our democracy. The materials give people clarity, confidence, and hope.” Another said, “This project really serviced a need in our nation and society. Design is truly an industry of service to those who use its systems and this project really captured it for me.”

In a serendipitous twist, the project also incorporated aspects of Courtney McClellan’s installation Witness Lab. Originally slated to be on view for February 15–March 15, 2020, it was left up for several more months as COVID derailed UMMA’s 2020 exhibition plans. However, the tables, benches, and chairs were put to good use by the clerks working there, and the light blue walls provided a calming backdrop.

Ultimately, VOTE 2020 resulted in 5,412 registrations and 8,501 ballots cast. A large number of them were among Michigan students–78% of whom voted last year (according to a report by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University), up from 60% in the 2016 election. Michigan was also part of the Big Ten Voting Challenge. For more on UM’s voter numbers, read the University Record’s coverage here.

The project’s design committee consisted of UM Associate Professors Hannah Smotrich and Stephanie Rowden, who both worked on design/production/installation supervision, and Briannon Cierpilowski, UMMA’s Education Program Coordinator of Student Engagement, who acted as the project lead.

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