Boosting voter turnout among Canadian youth through art

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By Kayla Higgins

Multiple organizations in the city are displaying exhibits that will merge art with democracy in hopes of raising voter turnout in the upcoming federal election.

Politics of Life (POL), a Toronto organization created by three Ryerson alumni, will gather at the Super Wonder Gallery on Oct. 3 for “a night of politically fuelled entertainment.” The exhibit will feature live hip-hop, drinks and an art exhibit striving to “shift the younger perspective on voting.”

POL is in collaboration with Apathy is Boring—a non-partisan organization aiming to educate Canadians on voting—as well as Loon Collective and Ryerson Leadership Lab. POL aims to advocate for the representation of policies that more accurately reflect the lives and ideologies of young Canadian voters.

“That’s just the main point of what POL is trying to do—just get people to encourage them to go out and vote, because your choice matters,” said Kris Roeske, director and manager of POL. Roeske is also regional manager of Loon Collective. 

POL was formed in January to bridge the gap between politics and the creative industries. The idea came about when Roeske asked his friends what came to their head when he said the word ‘politics.’ “For the most part, those responses were negative. People [who are our age] didn’t really care about politics.”

Roeske said he wants to get the message across that young people have the choice to change the community they live in. “The big decisions that these people make are going to be affecting your day-in and day-out life,” he said.

The art exhibit will bring together many of Toronto’s up and coming creatives in one space to “[promote] the controversial culture surrounding the politics of every day life,” and to encourage young Canadians to vote in the upcoming election, according to POL’s website.

“We have artists, we have performers, because a lot of those people believe, from our research, that politics is not really for them and they have nothing to do with it, and the decisions they make aren’t going to affect them,” Roeske said. “But at the end of the day, they really are.”

Ryerson and Artscape, a group of not-for-profit organizations focused on creating spaces that revolve around creativity and community, are also partnering up to encourage young voters to head to the poles. The Engage Democracy Exhibit—a giant ballot box detailed with miniature drawings—gives first-time voters the chance to experience a voting simulation. 

“Artists have the unique capacity to break through [apathy] and connect with people in a way that goes beyond partisanship”

The partnership came about through the unified values of both parties to promote tools and programs boosting democratic engagement. “It was a collaborative idea to come up with something that would be bold, engaging and exciting to build connections between art, community and the election,” said John Beebe, head of Democratic Engagement Exchange (DEE) at Ryerson. “By building a ballot box that literally speaks to power and community issues that matter to the community, [we’re] building that connection and also making it fun.”

“There’s a long history of using art to engage people in democracy and protest…including elections,” said Beebe. “Artists have the unique capacity to break through [apathy] and connect with people in a way that goes beyond partisanship.”

The organization focuses on directly reaching out to communities that may be less inclined to vote, including youth aged 18 to 24. Taylor Deasley, a third-year politics student and campaign strategist at DEE, said their mission is to remove barriers to voting “because there are so many people that don’t vote” and “so many reasons why they don’t vote.”

“A lot of people do care about politics but they either don’t know how to get involved…don’t trust the government or they don’t trust the actual election process [or are intimidated by it],” said Deasley. 

By launching their campaign titled the Canadian Voter Coalition, DEE aims to be the biggest national voter engagement campaign in Canadian history. 

Ryerson Votes, a group of 35 volunteers working on the campaign, will engage students leading up to the election through pop-up voting stations on campus. Ryerson will host on-campus voting stations from Oct. 5 to 9 in the Student Campus Centre.

“If political parties and leaders do a better job of responding to and speaking with students and young people, I think there’s plenty that can happen,” Beebe said.

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