Propaganda to Decoration: Public Expression, Individual Voice, and the Persistence of Hope

  • @VoiceProjectSTL.
  • @VoiceProjectSTL.
  • @VoiceProjectSTL.
  • @VoiceProjectSTL.
  • @VoiceProjectSTL.

Students in this upper-level Art Practice printmaking course led by professor Lisa Bulawsky explored how the print multiple, accessible to a large public, can be the "democratic medium." The course began with discussions about the First Amendment right to free speech and an introduction to screen-printing as a method for production. In the context of the presidential election and the University-hosted Presidential Debate, students worked in three small teams to organically frame their projects. They utilized both traditional and alternative print techniques including screen-printing, stencils, letterpress, and photocopying to create pieces that could be distributed both on and off campus. For some projects, the audience became participants, actively engaging in the production of the work. The goal for each of the pieces was for the viewer to hear a message of hope and act on their right to express their individual voice.

Students working on @VoiceProjectSTL set out to encourage people to share their voices during the election season using custom-made balloons distributed on campus during special events. The team created a handmade rubber stamp featuring an empty speech bubble, stamped it onto inflated white balloons, and let the ink dry before deflating the balloons. Team members organized events at cafes and gathering points across the Danforth Campus to distribute deflated balloons. Participants were asked to inflate the balloons and fill in the speech bubble with any message they wanted to share, then took the balloons with them on a stick, as a way to make their voices heard—and seen. Images of participants' balloons were shared on the team's Instagram account.

And STL says, And Still I Rise
In order to embrace the personal voice of the City of St. Louis, the team originally proposed a large-scale installation on Art Hill in Forest Park that would be visible from the air; however, logistics and audience challenges pushed them in a different direction. Ultimately, the team decided to letterpress their message, "And Still I Rise" from Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise, on 600 magnets that could be widely distributed. The team learned to set type and worked with the challenging magnetic material to produce the final product, which was attached to automobiles, dumpsters, and other metal objects throughout St. Louis through covert drops. The team received positive feedback through social media and requests for the magnets once distribution was complete.

No Apocalypse
This poster campaign and post-election party invitation sought to encourage the audience to look beyond election day and recognize that life will continue, regardless of the outcome. The posters were distributed on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods in the days surrounding the Presidential Debate hosted by Washington University, along with an accompanying invitation to a "Post-Election Party," supposedly scheduled for midnight the day following Election Day.

Participating students included:
Viola Bordon
Shawn Burkard
Savannah Bustillo
Caitlin David
Lian Giloth
Anna Joo
Ashley Lee
Sachi Nagase
Moriah Okun
Anna Olson
Marina Peng
Caroline Schmidt
Katie Yun


This project was generously supported by a Faculty Election Year Programming Grant, provided by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.