Spotlight: Reimagining Create the Vote

In 2013, MASSCreative launched Create the Vote around the Boston mayoral election to ensure arts and culture was part of the debate and vision for a future Boston. Over the past seven years, this nonpartisan, public education campaign has gone statewide and activated local networks of arts and culture advocates to engage in conversation with candidates running for local office about arts and culture policy. With Create the Vote 2020 launching this week, longtime supporters will notice that this year’s campaign is taking on a different shape.

Earlier this year, Harold Steward, Producing Co-Executive Director of The Theater Offensive (TTO), reached out to our staff about opportunities for mass voter engagement with TTO’s own upcoming voter education and engagement campaign. This led to a deeper discussion of Create the Vote’s role in previous years, and whether the campaign could be innovated to better serve the needs of the creative community and expand its reach. The result is Create the Vote 2020, a campaign coalition dedicated not just to advocating for strong arts policy, but also using art & culture to develop creative strategies to advance civic engagement and activate voters.

The coalition building is intentional, says J. Cottle, Executive Director of Dunamis and YCL Coordinator of MassVOTE. In previous years, he felt that Create the Vote’s message was limited by focusing on “proving” that the work of the creative community was valuable. This year presents an opportunity to actually “do” the work, by being more strategic and engaging with communities and institutions to be a part of a larger movement beyond the creative sector. Having a core steering committee of organizations from across the state allows for each group to bring to the table the variety of skills needed to make this campaign a success. Specifically, he points to MassVOTE’s knowledge of the civic engagement sphere, and Theatre Offensive’s background in community organizing. Starting with this initial coalition and expanding to include more partners (both organizational and individual) is how we can build and leverage power to create real change in our community.

Create the Vote 2020 hopes to build a bridge between the arts & culture sector and civic engagement by involving the creative community more directly in voter registration, education, and turnout. But for Steward, Create the Vote is also an opportunity to “expand the profile of the creative community” and build connections across artists and cultural groups statewide. Artists and cultural workers live and create all across the Commonwealth--successful campaign would amplify these individuals without a platform, invest in their communities, and engage in the work “across all aspects of human life."

Both Cottle and Steward see the importance of Create the Vote happening now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a resurgence in public support for Black Lives Matter following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and other Black individuals. To Cottle, the campaign presents an opportunity for the arts & culture community to take a hard look at ourselves and recognize the inherent racism in our sector. One of the challenges of a campaign like this is where power is usually concentrated, in boards that are hesitant to engage their organization in the political realm. But this need to shift power is exactly what Steward believes drives the importance of the campaign. We live in a democracy, they say, and in a democracy “an election should be people-powered." The pandemic has laid bare the gaps in opportunity for so many in our community, especially for our Black, Indigenous, Queer, Trans, and other marginalized members. Putting more of the electoral process into the hands of the people is one way we can start to address those gaps. 

Create the Vote 2020 launches this Wednesday, June 24, with immense appreciation towards Harold Steward and The Theatre Offensive, J. Cottle and Dunamis & MassVOTE, and the Create the Vote Steering Committee who have signed on to help make this year’s iteration the new and exciting campaign it's becoming. We hope you will join us in building a strong, creative coalition to uplift the voters of Massachusetts and strengthen our democracy in the Commonwealth.

Create the Vote 2020 Steering Committee


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