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X marks the spot

Turning arty venues into polling stations ticks all Laura Brown’s boxes

Written by . Published on May 6th 2014.

X marks the spot

IT'S pretty powerful, the X:  put two together and you get a whole woman. It’s just two cursory lines, but etch them in a box and you’ve had your democratic say.

Admittedly, you might be one of those voters who is a lone voice in a crowd. You might have a partner whose voting record basically means that all you do is cancel each other out. But still, it’s power.

There’s a fundamental issue with the voting process. It’s boring. It feels like a duty. And a boring duty at that, like taking your bins out. There is nothing fun about this civic chore 

It doesn’t feel powerful, though. Vote in a rather greyish primary school or musty church -  either to kick start your commute or round off your day as you bluster in from the shops - and you feel a bit, well, harassed. It’s just another bloody thing to do.

And what have you got to show for it? Don’t get me wrong our primary schools are wonderful places of learning, mostly. But they hardly make you feel enthusiastic about your democratic right, especially if you don’t have kids or anything to do with primary schools other than memories.

Voting should make us happy so why can’t we vote in places that make us happy too?

Sexier Than A Primary School(A bit) sexier than a schoolLast month it was voting day in The Hague. From the early hours it was buzzing at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. The art museum, designed by Dutch architect H.P. Berlage and famous for its collection of Mondrian paintings, serves as Holland’s “most beautiful polling station”.

Entrance to the museum was free if you were voting. Those arriving to vote before 8am enjoyed an exclusive concert by Festival Classique. Vote after 11am and you got a free pass to get a taste of the art. The museum was open until 9pm.The home of De Stijl still knows how to do things a little differently.

Brigitte Timmermans, the museum’s PR, says they are only museum in The Hague offering the chance to vote. “We believe this is a very good way of encouraging people to vote and at the same time to attract voters (maybe a new audience) to art and the museum”.

Get new people through the door, boost your audience and reach new people while also giving people a taste of some of the things their taxes have gone to in the last five years since an election.  

“The staff liked it, because of the new audience, and of course they felt proud of working in the most beautiful voting place of Holland, and of course they could vote themselves at their work so that was very convenient as well.”

Everyone knows where the big gallery in town is, after all.

We know fewer people are voting. The average turnout in a general election was 65 percent in 2010. The vote is lowest in European elections and at Liverpool’s Mayoral election 31.7 percent turned out, that’s 101,301 city residents voting.

Gemeente_MuseumGemeente Museum which, despite looking a bit like a school, is 'the world's most beautiful polling station'

What’s the result of not voting? Two fold. One you feel you have less of a voice. Second, fringe groups and more extreme views tend to come to the fore. If politicians are fighting for a much smaller chunk of the pie (a third of a population aged mostly over 65 for example) they’re likely to talk about very different things than they would if they had to get their message out to an electorate that was two thirds under 25 for example. I’m guessing free travel, subsidised study and making it a damn sight easier to find a decent landlord might suddenly rocket up the electoral agenda in that case. More people voting makes all of us freer and have access to more views and ideas.

What Sort Of Art Would You Prefer To See When You Go To Vote ThisWhat sort of art would you prefer to see when you go to vote? This?

Ask people why they don’t vote and they say they feel disenfranchised and disconnected. It’s a burden and it’s too difficult. Make it easier and a greater part of what our lives are normally like then maybe we will warm to the idea.

The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, was recently in Liverpool talking about digital democracy. Talk to anyone under 25 about incorporating digital technology into the voting process and it’s a no brainer. Unfortunately it’s a bit harder to square with many others who don’t get it or just see risk. When you can see people having a say on TV on a daily basis but feel like you’re excluded by a voting system it’s madness.

But there’s another fundamental issue with the voting process. It’s boring. It feels like a duty. And a boring duty at that, like taking your bins out. There is nothing fun about this civic chore.

But how about if you rocked up to vote at St George’s Hall and got a free concert from Vasily Petrenko? Or how about bringing your mates to the Tate, casting your vote then heading into the exhibition for free? What about going to FACT, voting and then having a pint upstairs to watch the results come in later. Voting should be about civic pride and joy. It should be punching the air, doing a cartwheel or alternatively sticking up two fingers in the face of someone who don’t like, admire or respect while blowing a raspberry. It is empowering and when something is empowering it should be fun.

Mondriaanmillinsunlight1908gemeentemuseumdenhaag350Or this?

Vote in a place that fills you with awe, is one of the most famous landmarks, is one of your favourite places or is just a gallery you know your council tax helped to keep open then it’ll feel less like duty and more like pride. And it isn’t like our cultural gems couldn’t do with a bit of love right now anyway.

Pride doesn’t necessarily come before a fall either. Research shows when you feel good about your country you feel good about yourself. The European Values Study found that civic nationalism (as opposed to the ethnic nationalism more associated with racism) makes us feel happy, confident and cheered. Exactly how voting should make you feel.

Iain Christie, at the Royal Court, says he would open his doors as a polling station this month if he could.

“Polling stations should be in recognisable places that people find easy to get to and we would be more than happy to provide that service.

“We feel that we are very much a part of the community here and it is the community that would benefit so you can count us in.”

Cultural venues like galleries, theatres and museums are publicly funded, easy to find and access and we like them. If we don’t use them then we pay for them so why not see what they’re like?

An X is more than just a cross in a box. It’s a celebration, the full stop to our democratic process (or the start depending on how you look to it). Make it a party in places we love, rather than something to cross off the to-do list or ignore completely.

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