By Jenny Collins ’05
For his senior project, graphic design major Mike Forrest ’12 created a participatory design exhibit for people to engage more with the political process and to exercise their voice.
“The whole project is about design as facilitation for the voice of the people,” said Forrest. “It’s about us standing up and being the government of the people.”
The idea started when Forrest, a married father of two from Raleigh, N.C., decided he needed to become more informed about politics, both as an American citizen and as a Christian.
“I read the Constitution and I realized that because we have this freedom of speech, we have even more of a potential to make change if we all come together and stand up for ourselves.”
For his senior exhibit in the Denler Gallery, Forrest designed accessible booklets of the Constitution—each sporting a red or blue cover—“so people could see what their liberties are and maybe begin to activate their freedom of speech.”
To facilitate the speech part, Forrest created two templates for signs visitors could use to articulate their own voice by filling in the blanks. One sign said, “I’d like my ________ back.” The other said, “Give us ________ now.”
Kjellgren Alkire, assistant professor in the Department of Art & Design and Forrest’s advisor, said, “I appreciate that Mike pursued this project in a way to define his own political or public understandings. So often design is understood, particularly in the evangelical community, as a thin veneer of ‘pretty.’ And it’s not that. Design is about really good communication, about orderly thought, about considered aesthetics. It’s also about content.”
Forrest acknowledged that his purpose was to step back and not push his own agenda. “So if you want this thing I don’t agree with, that’s your right,” Forrest said. “Please exercise it because you’re going to motivate other people. That’s when real political change is going to happen—through people, not politicians.”
Presidential candidate participates
It is perhaps ironic, then, that the first person to participate with the project was Republican presidential candidate hopeful Ron Paul. When Paul visited Bethel University in February, Forrest, his wife, Carole, and a friend arrived with the signs, and even appeared on MSNBC. After some “negotiation” with the guards, they were ushered to the front of the line. The former U.S. representative from Texas autographed the sign and inserted his signature campaign message on the sign, saying, “I’d like my liberty back.”
Starting serious change
While Forrest was surprised by how many gallery visitors took a humorous approach to the sign messages, one particularly honest contribution moved him: “I’d like my abortion back.”During his exhibit opening, he did observe the countenances of some participants as they wrote serious personal messages.
“There was some sort of sigh of relief, even for a moment, to express themselves,” he noted. “Maybe that’s part of healing or coping. Maybe it was the first step in making a change.”