Citizen University to make local voting more ‘joyful’ with new $125,000 grant from Knight Foundation

MIAMI – April 5, 2016 – Parades, street theater, open-air debates, festivals: These were once part of America’s culture of voting, and with a new $125,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Citizen University aims to revive them. By partnering with activists, artists, designers and everyday citizens, Citizen University will launch initiatives in four cities where Knight invests— Akron, Ohio; Miami; Philadelphia; and Wichita, Kanas— to generate creative celebrations and joyful public rituals that encourage people to vote.

Through the Joy of Voting project, Citizen University, a national nonprofit based in Seattle, aims to help address a growing trend of lower voter turnout in local elections. The project will create localized, action-oriented projects across the country to foster a stronger culture of voting. It derives its vision from an article in The Atlantic written by Citizen University founder and CEO Eric Liu, in which he argues that it’s possible to revive 18th and 19th century practices of raucous, participatory activity and pageantry around elections. 

“Instead of ‘eat your vegetables’ or ‘do your duty,’ voting should feel more like ‘join the club,’” said Liu. “Or, better yet, ‘join the party.’”

“Projects like these have the potential to create a culture where voting and, in turn, greater civic engagement, is not just a responsibility but rather a deeply engrained, joyfully embraced right. It is what it means to be American, what it means to belong to the communities we call home,” said Benjamin de la Peña, Knight Foundation director for community and national strategy.

To generate projects relevant to each city, Citizen University will partner with local organizations to host ideation sessions with a diverse group of artists, active citizens, educators, and neighbors. Pilot projects in each city will range from festivals and outdoor performances, to interactive apps and hybrid experiments that fuse arts, technology and organizing.

The Joy of Voting will begin with a convening in each city to generate ideas and build teams of practitioners on the ground to execute the projects. Scheduled convenings include: April 27 (Akron), April 28 (Miami), May 18 (Wichita), May 31 (Philadelphia).

Following the initial convenings, Citizen University and city partners will select five projects in each city to receive on average $3,600 each. Projects must be implemented in advance of the November 2016 general election. These experiments will serve as models of what a vibrant, participatory culture of voting could look like.

Citizen University will examine the success of the experiments to determine best practices and the possibility for scaling ideas in future election cycles. Citizen University will also share lessons with other cities across the country.

Partners in each city include: the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron; Engage Miami; KMUW Witchita Public Radio; and Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia.

“If changing the world isn’t fun, no one is going to do it,” said Juan Cuba, co-founder of Engage Miami. “That’s why we are excited to partner on the Joy of Voting project to find creative ways to increase voter turnout in this election.”

“Promoting engagement in voting and elections, especially in such a positive way, is one of the main missions of the Bliss Institute,” said Stephen Brooks, associate director of the Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “Expanding engagement efforts to include diverse elements of the Akron community helps demonstrate the value of enjoyable politics to our community.”

“The Joy of Voting aims to explore deeper causes of our diminished interest in showing up at the polls, finding ways to reinvigorate the attitude and ambiance around Election Day,” said Patrick Christmas, public policy manager at Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia. “What better place for this endeavor than the birthplace of American democracy?”

Support for Citizen University forms one part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to invest in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.

For more information on Citizen University, visit

About Citizen University

Citizen University is a national nonprofit based in Seattle that promotes and teaches the art of powerful citizenship. In addition to the Joy of Voting, programs and initiatives include the Civic Collaboratory, a civic leadership network; Sworn-Again America, a project on civic rituals; the Citizen University National Conference; and programs and resources to teach civic power. For more, visit

About the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron:

The University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics is a bipartisan research and teaching institute dedicated to increasing understanding of the political process with special emphasis on political parties, grassroots activity and ethical behavior. In addition to having innovative educational programs in applied politics for undergraduate and graduate students, the Institute sponsors numerous public programs and an extensive research program covering a wide range of political issues. For more, visit

About Engage Miami

Engage Miami is a group of young leaders no longer satisfied with sitting on the political sidelines. Their mission is to build lasting power for young people by rapidly expanding the number of youth engaged in local issues through an inclusive and exciting civic culture. They are home-grown, and led by awesome young people from across Miami-Dade – students, activists, artists, organizers, young professionals, and workers. They are a new generation of civic leaders, with swagger to spare. For more, visit

About KMUW, Wichita

KMUW promotes insightful discussion and understanding of the issues and people that shape Wichita and our world by providing in-depth, quality news coverage, offering a distinctive blend of diverse music and promoting conversations that create a more engaged community. KMUW Wichita Public Radio is an outreach service of Wichita State University. For more, visit

About Committee of Seventy

The Committee of Seventy is Philadelphia’s only independent and nonpartisan advocate for better government. The organization continues to work toward its founding objectives from 1904: to protect and improve the voting process; to encourage honest, capable people to run for public office and help them make government work better; and to engage citizens in the political process. Seventy’s vision is better government citizens can trust. For more, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit


Ben Phillips, Program Manager, Citizen University, 360-305-8568, [email protected]

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected].