‘Let Your Voice Be Heard!’ Poster competition highlights student beliefs, second-generation winner

BY CAITLIN LEIKER

Finalists in the 15th annual “Let Your Voice Be Heard!” poster competition are as follows:

1st place – Paige Polifka-Denson ($700)
2nd place – Avery Jones ($500)
3rd place – Lauryn Becker ($350)
4th place – MaKenna Hammond ($200)
5th place – Ian Will ($150)
6th place – Riley Tinder ($150)
**Total $2,000 in scholarships provided by Donnette Noble of FHSU’s Civic Engagement and Learning

The Art and Design department also provided $450 in scholarships for the following awards:

Best Voting Poster – Paige Polifka-Denson
Students’ Choice Award –  Riley Tinder
“Do It For Real” Award – Travis Wierman

Over the eight-week project, the Graphic Design class of 15 students created a total of 75 posters, 58 of which were displayed in the Schmidt Center atrium and voted on from Oct. 24-28.

To view all of the posters and read the artist descriptions online, click here. (Opinions and statements made as part of this class assignment do not reflect the opinions of Fort Hays State University or Tiger Media Network).

Karrie Simpson-Voth, chair of the Art and Design department and professor of Graphic Design, first used the project as a teaching tool for her class in the early 2000s. However, at the suggestion of Provost Jill Arensdorf, the director of the American Democracy Project at the time, Simpson-Voth made it a student competition. 

Students were required to choose whatever topic they wanted under the theme of “civic engagement”– voting, social issues, the economy, environmental protection, world leaders, etc. After that, they had to form their idea (or multiple ideas) into five different graphic design styles.

The students agreed that the hardest parts of the competition were coming up with a concept, completing their posters on time, and getting enough sleep. Once they had decided on their theme and style, the class centered on the evidence behind their projects.

“We had a panel from the political professors,” Becker said. “We had to do a lot of research into our ideas, and how we were going to convey them in a respectful way while still getting our point across.”

Through the years, Simpson-Voth has found that many students come into her class not knowing what to think about current issues…or they’ve only been told what they should believe because of how they were raised.

To start brainstorming, she asks how many students have talked about things like politics and religion with their families, and how those conversations usually go. Then, she asks the students about what makes them feel angry or depressed when they look at the world, following up with what makes them excited and passionate.

Connecting to such emotions helps students identify the problems, and work to find and portray a solution through their artwork. Or, they can offer educational commentary on an issue or belief.

Simpson-Voth said the students did an excellent job maintaining honest, respectful, open-minded communication.

“You have to get a base somewhere,” Simpson-Voth said. She told her students, “If you’re trying to convince someone who doesn’t agree with you, then you need to be talking to that person in class.”

This year, many of the posters spoke out against school shootings–some presenting stark arguments and statistics, while others theorized or satirized solutions to the problem.

“It’s what we believe,” Jones said. “It’s our own opinions. We’re just so glad that everybody came out and voted.”

It is not uncommon for the class’s poster display to provoke angry responses from the Hays community, and occasionally members of the artists’ families.

“All kids of this age are dogged on for not getting out there and voting, not participating, or not being informed enough.” Simpson-Voth set the standard from the beginning: “You better have the exact stat, and you better have a QR code or a website to back this up, because as soon as they go up online, people are going to challenge you.”

Simpson-Voth said this can provide an opportunity for students to practice standing their ground in a respectful and educated manner.

A few of this year’s projects were physically interactive, including Paige Polifka-Denson’s piece. The main organization on her poster was RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network). It is the nation’s largest entity fighting sexual violence, and it operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673).

Terri Polifka, Paige’s mother who was present at the awards Monday morning, also won the same poster competition as she was finishing her degree in graphic design in 2008. Simpson-Voth was Terri’s teacher as she balanced her degree work with the responsibilities of being a single mother.

“I remember Paige was small at the time,” Simpson-Voth reminisced. “Paige and my children were about the same age…we would take the kids to go to the park, or go get them ice cream, and we would sit and talk about her ideas. She had no time outside of class because she was parenting and working, so this is what we would do.”

Terri, having gone through the same rigorous process for her own posters when she was an art student, said that this year’s class did an amazing job on their pieces.

“I feel like some people come up and say, ‘It’s just a poster; it’s not that big of a deal,’” Terri said. “But the concept that goes behind it…fine-tuning the message that you want to send, and simplifying it so much that somebody can understand it just by looking at a poster is extremely difficult.”

Paige said that her poster was inspired by collective past experiences with men in her own life and in her friends’ lives, especially after unhealthy relationships.

“[It’s like] recovering after you’ve loved and cared for this person, and you’re realizing that it wasn’t what you made it up to be when you were in the moment,” Paige said. “That feeling is universal.”

All the small pieces of the poster were direct quotes from her and other women she knew – derogatory and sexualizing things that men had said to them in passing, intimate situations, and toxic relationships.

On her poster, Paige covered the woman’s body in small text bubbles containing the phrases. She prompted viewers to remove them “if you have said or have been told one of the following quotes.” The message under the quotes read, “1 in 16 women lose their virginity to rape. 56% were verbally pressured.”

Beyond highlighting the harm of the action itself, Paige intended to highlight the harm of the language that goes along with it. So, she tried to visually represent what that idea felt like. 

“I hope I did justice to the people I had asked,” she said.

“The interaction of the poster, where people have to remove a part of that woman…that’s literally what happens,” Terri said. “You take a piece of that woman when you do that to her. I think it was so strong, and too many people can relate to it.”

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