“This is weird,” I hear someone murmur. “Is this art?” another chimes in. “What does it mean?” another anonymous voice chirps. For weeks I have spent 2 hours in Stacey L. Kirby’s Power of the Ballot ballot box, masked by thick green curtains and bankers boxes, eavesdropping tidbits from faceless voices as they wander through the pavilion. My friends tend to ask me if I get claustrophobic, bored, or if its too dark or too hot. Yet all surface level issues aside, as this masked observer, I have gained lots of information about museum visitors and their ideas about this particular work for which I have been lucky enough to be a weekly “officer.”
As an academic programs intern I often pay close attention to the discussions of the visitors who are touring the museum. As I sit, anxiously awaiting the startling ring of the bell, I hear conversations right outside the curtains of the more inquisitive and participatory visitors. Confused. Nervous. Unsure. But then first brave “voter” gains the courage to ring the bell. I never go a day without scaring someone who was not expecting a real person’s hand to emerge from the depths of the mysterious box. But after they realize that the ballot box is not simply a lifeless box but rather an interactive metaphorical installment, the ballots start coming.
Sometimes with younger audiences I get humorous responses on the ballots such as, call me ;), what is your name? or even the scribbles by a 3 year old named Ted. But some people, those ideal visitors, who appreciate the meaning of the work, write thoughtful responses that actually shed light upon the obstacles to vote. My job as this anonymous facilitator has helped me understand the meaning of a piece that expresses the faith we place in democracy. Perhaps this trust is misplaced. Perhaps as a generation that claims it does not have the “time” to vote, we have shied away from being the audacious visitor who confidently rings a bell and submits their ballot.
As I sit, meditating on these issues and reflecting on my pure laziness that has caused me to surrender this all-important right, I realize who I am in this metaphor. I am the wandering visitor who does not take the time to figure out the art or walk through its steps. The person who does not have the conviction to ring the bell and participate. And as I find that my excuses are lame, I hope to change my position. I hope to be that first visitor, who with power and assurance rings the bell, mimicking the powerful piece I can play in our nation’s democracy.