In the corner of the Fairfax High School parking lot, music blasts from multiple vendors' tents. Upon closer inspection, passersby can hear the buzz of a barber’s razor, the sales pitch of a jewelry maker and, from a booth new to the market this year, a question: “Are you registered to vote?”
It’s Sunday at the Melrose Trading Post, a popular outdoor market in West Hollywood, and Black Out the Ballot is in full swing recruiting potential voters. Bright posters adorn every wall of the booth, and many were designed by USC student Mya Davis.
“I’ve been contributing my work towards the causes of either Black Lives Matter or making sure people go out and vote,” Davis, a sophomore in the Iovine and Young Academy, said. “Because I know that I have a certain sphere of influence. And when I was able to attach that to Black Out the Ballot, an organization with a large sphere of influence, I knew that was going to be impactful.”
Black Out the Ballot is a non-profit organization that connects with Black creatives to design community events aimed at increasing Black voter turnout. Davis has been creating graphics, animations and posters for the organization, which was founded in April, since August.
One of Davis’s designs is a take on the bright, bold cartoon design seen in the Schoolhouse Rock series.
“We have the Schoolhouse Rock Vibe,” said Black Out the Ballot co-founder Jen Bui. “He takes that, but he doesn’t literally do it. He has his own interpretation of it and it always comes back sick.”
His art appeals to a voter base that political experts deem critical in the outcome of such a tight presidential election. Black turnout in swing states, such as Georgia and North Carolina, is considered crucial in determining which side of the political aisle will win on Nov. 3.
Black Out the Ballot works not only with Black creatives like Davis but also Black business owners to create safe spaces that allow potential voters to discuss voter registration, voting rights, voter suppression and other election topics.
“We try and use art to grab you and to make you feel good, even if the issue isn’t something that necessarily would make you feel good,” Bui said.
Voter registration efforts have had to adjust amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Black Out the Ballot uses the open air space of the Melrose Trading Post every week to attract potential voters to the polls. Even more importantly, the organization has capitalized on social media and branding by partnering with celebrities such as Winnie Harlow and Chandri Karavi to elevate its message.
Even beyond the Nov. 3 election, Black Out the Ballot aims to continue its citizen engagement efforts. According to Davis, the ultimate benefit of working with the organization isn’t material for his portfolio; it’s the action his art could inspire.
“I really hope that at least 90% of people that see this stuff that I put out, see this stuff that my colleagues, my friends put out and really take it to heart and turn it into action,” Davis said. “That’s what I really want out of this.”