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How An Open Call for Artwork Mirrored the Democracy It Was Called to Represent

This summer, ArtsWestchester launched two open calls for proposed artworks that fit the theme of its fall exhibition, Give Us the Vote which, inspired by the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State, examines the state of voting rights in America today. Both call opportunities prompted artists to address women’s suffrage and the contemporary barriers to the voting ballot.

Selected artists were awarded a stipend to produce their artwork for the exhibition, which will be on view in ArtsWestchester’s gallery space in downtown White Plains. ArtsWestchester’s goal was to reach a wider audience in New York State in order to support its underlying mission of providing opportunities for artists in its immediate and surrounding communities. That said, for Give Us The Vote, artists were chosen through a “democratic” process, which created an equal opportunity for all artists to submit their ideas. As a result, competitive proposals were submitted by artists that hail from NYC, Westchester, Rockland County and beyond.

With a one-month timeline, the Give Us the Vote open call process was a sprint, not a marathon. The gallery staff began a campaign for artwork submissions by sending out a slew of outreach emails to spread the word about the open call within the first week of its release. There was no way to know how many submissions would be received, but the gallery team looked forward to receiving many stellar proposals.

However, by the second week, the team had hardly received any proposals at all. Was the topic too specific? Did recipients receive the outreach emails? With the deadline approaching, and a meeting with the Selection Committee on the horizon, “Team Gallery” scurried to do a second wave of targeted outreach. A week before the deadline, a flurry of submissions came in and the staff let out a big sigh – the proposals received were unique, inspiring and provocative.

Just because the guidelines were already created did not mean the gallery staff could simply wait for proposals to roll in. An idea doesn’t work without action, as democracy doesn’t work if people don’t vote. Everyone must accept their own responsibility to get off the ground and influence someone else to take action.

Moral of the story? Get your hands dirty! Get out there and tell a friend to tell a friend about an opportunity to create change. Luckily, this grassroots campaign prevailed and has provided one of the strongest “exhibiting artists” rosters at ArtsWestchester yet.  See for yourself – the work is on view from October 10 through January 27!

Kimberlyn McKoy is a member of ArtsWestchester’s Gallery Department. Her primary responsibilities include assisting the gallery director with curatorial work, helping to manage the organization’s arts and business partnerships and managing the gift shop located in the organization’s gallery. She previously worked on the commercial side of the art industry, but is enjoying the non-profit life.