The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

  • Communities

    Philly American Experiments features tools to encourage voter participation

    July 27, 2016, 2:13 p.m., Posted by Jake Blumgart

    American Experiments showcase. Photo collage by Patrick Morgan.

    On the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, techies and activists packed into the University City Science Center’s Quorum space to advertise their wares for the “American Experiments” showcase. Sponsored by the nonpartisan watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, Microsoft,, and Knight Foundation—among many others—the event provided an opportunity to bring civic-minded tech to the masses of politically minded people who have descended on the city.

    The 18 vendors attending American Experiments ranged from local organizations such as Code for Philly, the city’s Code for America brigade, to long-established national groups such as e.thePeople, which debuted in 1999. The air buzzed with talk of partisanship, disenfranchisement and low voter turnout as attendees were introduced to the tools that the participants hope to use to make our democracy more transparent and accessible.

    Many of the vendors used the current presidential race to explain their tools in an easily understandable context.  But many of these innovative apps seemed better suited to off-year elections, when voters are less likely to be informed about the candidates and less likely to vote. (In 2014 43 percent of registered voters cast a ballot—the lowest turnout in 72 years—while in 2012 the number was 67 percent.)

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    Philly play connects civil rights struggles to importance of voting today

    July 27, 2016, 1:42 p.m., Posted by Jake Blumgart

    Photo of the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.

    Throughout the week of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia the nonpartisan good government group the Committee of Seventy is putting on a play about the battle for voting rights. On Tuesday morning, three actors and two musicians played “Voices of Voting” to a packed house at the Science Leadership Academy in the Logan Square neighborhood of Center City.

    The audience was largely comprised of middle and high school students from Philadelphia, who were regaled with stories of the key moments in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. “Voices of Voting” showcases the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but it also interlaces contemporary references to local events and figures to underscore the importance of voting today both in presidential and local races.

    Written by Philadelphia playwright David Bradley, “Voices of Voting” makes heavy use of the Made in America Music Festival—a two-day music event in Philly masterminded by rapper Jay-Z—as an example of what can be won with power. If enough young people demand the music they can overcome the concerns of, say, crotchety older neighbors. Imagine what they could win if they came together to vote. 

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    Progressive Art Jam raises excitement, funding for Detroit's Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts

    July 27, 2016, 9:02 a.m., Posted by Rosie Sharp

    Above: A DJ set kicks off at Talking Dolls during the Progressive Art Jam.

    The Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts has made its name, over the last four years, as one of the most organic and homegrown celebrations of Detroit’s artistic and cultural landscape. Founded in 2012 by Ryan Myers-Johnson, who now serves as its artistic director, the festival presents original, place-based and traditional performance, installation art and land art. It received a $35,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2014, and a second $40,000 grant in 2015, which has enabled an increasingly ambitious roster of performances and participants.

    “This Sidewalk Festival, we’re really thinking about the idea of play and mobility,” said Myers-Johnson in an email interview. “Those are really different things, but they are very present themes in the work that we are presenting this year. We’ll be featuring about 15 installation projects throughout the festival–these are things that people can get involved with. We also have a number of pieces that are dealing with mobility, whether they are literally traveling throughout the festival locations or giving people an opportunity to comment on mobility.”

    But with Knight Arts Challenge funding comes the obligation to raise matching funds–a challenge that the festival’s Curator and Manager of Artist Relationships and Special Projects, Billy Mark, chose to tackle, in part, by arranging the first-ever Sidewalk Progressive Art Jam–a wild, all-night revel and bus tour that featured three different artist-run spaces and a cavalcade of Detroit artists, both performing and in attendance.

    “I feel like Sidewalk is about honoring places off the beaten track, where people from all types of backgrounds can meet and be shocked, inspired, engaged and encouraged by art,” said Mark. “Sidewalk is an explosion of artistic diversity, and the Progressive Art Jam was a lead-up and a reminder that sometimes we need to go outside of our comfort zone to meet brilliant work where it is at.”

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