"My Mississippi", by Millie Smith, a fifth grade student at Madison Station Elementary. The piece won first place.

If you were an artist commissioned to draw a mural representing your hometown, what would it look like?

The secretary of state’s office posed that prompt to classrooms around the state as part of a contest to engage children with the electoral process and spark Mississippi pride through creative expression.

Today 47 winning pieces were unveiled at a gallery in Jackson State University’s Capitol Street building. The winners were among thousands of submissions for the “Promote the Vote” contest.

“We asked them to view your city and how you want it look in the future: what do you perceive Mississippi to be?” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. “I always believed that most of the decisions about the future are made at the kitchen table.”

Hosemann said he traveled around the state, telling students, “Ask your mama who she’s voting for. Ask your daddy who he’s voting for. And make sure they go vote. And then discuss with them, if you don’t agree with them, tell them why.

“I think that political discourse is lacking a lot in the country. I thought the earlier we’d started the better off we’d be as a country. These young people will probably never vote for me. But they’ll vote for somebody, and that’s important.”

The exhibit, which will run at 101 W. Capitol Street until the end of May, features art from K-12 students around the state. The contest also included an essay for students to propose business ideas for their hometowns.

“By displaying this art in galleries it shows that you have a voice in this state and this society, and you matter as a person,” said Brandi Knott, a senior graphic design student at JSU. “We need our young folk to understand that we appreciate them and we want them to incorporate their interests and hobbies into the artistic field so they will know there’s a future for them in something they love to do.”

This year marked the first in the program’s 22-year history that the secretary of state partnered with JSU and Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s education arm. MPB hosted mock elections during last year’s U.S. Congressional races, and awarded prizes to Pearl Upper Elementary and Carthage Christian Academy for “Best Mock Election Precinct”.

“I applaud the secretary of state’s office for organizing this effort with schools emphasizing the importance of voting,” said Ronnie Agnew, MPB Executive Director. “Reaching our children while they are still children will yield results in the future. Through this program, I hope that all of the participating partners have gotten the message across to our kids that voting is a right that we simply must exercise.”

The 2019 edition of the program will include mock elections for the Governor’s race.

The individual prizes included $100 for first place, $75 for second, $50 for third, as well as free entry to the Mississippi Museum of History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Teachers also received $50 per entry to support their classroom.

“Promote the Vote” began in 1996 under then Secretary of State Eric Clark. This year, more than 320 schools and about 70,000 students participated.

“Mississippi Mural” by Trinity Larke, an 11th-grade student at Tupelo Christian Preparatory.

“The arts are critical to understanding human behavior,” said Roosevelt Shelton, Interim Dean of JSU’s College of Public Service. “The arts are modes of communication. It allows every individual, every human being to express themselves. It’s critical to allow those who may not be as verbally articulate a mode of that expression. To unveil that mode of expression to children and adults is critical because ultimately what we want to do is empower the franchise. There is no more noble aim. And we’re not talking politics we’re talking civic responsibility.”

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Alex Rozier, a native of New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data reporter. He analyzes data and creates visuals that further inform our reporting. He also reports on the environment, transportation and Mississippi culture and is a member of the engagement team. Alex, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe and Open Secrets, has a bachelor’s in journalism from Boston University.