Come to Your Census, a national campaign to encourage people to fill out the 2020 census by Sept. 30, landed in Florida over the summer. Florida artists were commissioned to create imagery for the billboard campaign, including Tampa-based photographer Selina Roman.
Roman answered the call put out by Art and Action, a San Francisco-based coalition commissioned by San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, and the Ford Foundation, led by curator Amy Kisch.
Her work was selected and appears on a billboard in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, which was serendipitous as Roman used to live there and “has a love affair with Miami.” It went up on Sept. 1. The image also appears on pop-up ads on the Miami Herald’s website.
Roman said she was elated to have her work selected and admitted she didn’t know how important the census was before she participated in the project. She learned that when more people are counted, it means more resources for the communities they live in, to the tune of $20,000 per person, including babies.
“I like being part of something that’s bigger than me,” she said. “It’s sending out a message and there’s potential for my work to do that.”
Roman’s image features two women in sequined bathing suits on a beach, backs turned to the viewer, holding up a rainbow. Kisch, the founder of Art and Action, said they selected it because it communicates the importance of the campaign in a bright, uplifting way. She sees the rainbow facing the future, which is what the census does by providing resources for the next 10 years.
Roman said that although sometimes her work isn’t appropriate for public campaigns, she thinks the image could be symbolic for the census as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She said that the rainbow could also speak to LGBTQ inclusion.
There is a local “Come to Your Census, Tampa,” billboard designed by Miami-based artist Jonathan Brooks. It is posted in Palmetto on U.S. 41. Additional billboards by Florida artists appear in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville.
The project was born in San Francisco in January 2020, when San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs became acquainted with Kisch because of their involvement with an exhibition she curated in 2018. “Re: Home” explored San Francisco as a sanctuary city and focused on homelessness in the city. It included a community action center with organizations that help people.
When that office was contacted by the Census Bureau, they tapped Kisch to found Art and Action, along with help from the Ford Foundation.
Kisch was also unaware of the importance of participation in the census.
“It is the only fully inclusive democratic act that distributes all money and political power throughout the U.S.," she said. “Once I learned about it, I thought, ‘We need more than just a mural or an exhibition,' ” she said. “We need to scream it from the rooftops. And we needed to reach people where they are.”
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The original deadline to complete the census was Oct. 31, but the Trump administration moved it up to Sept. 30.
With that announcement, Art and Action moved to expand their campaign to areas in Texas and Florida that have statistically low census participation and large Latinx populations. With support from the Ford Foundation and just seven weeks to launch before the deadline, calls to artists were put out in both states.
Art and Action has an active social media presence. Anyone that sends proof that they have completed their census to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a free, limited-edition, fill-in-the-blank ‘Come To Your Census’ tote bag.
Kisch said it’s been inspiring to see the excitement and engagement from the artists and community members. She said using art to get the word out “cuts through the noise.”
“People can connect to an image and it will move people viscerally in the way that a bullet point won’t,” she said. “It’s a way to connect on a human level. It’s not only inspiring but also educational.”