Yale Daily News

New Haven is now the second of three cities in the state to host a new immersive exhibit focused on the theme of democracy, currently on display at Gateway Community College. 

The exhibit, titled “The Practice of Democracy: a View from Connecticut,” encourages visitors to reflect on the meaning and importance of democracy in their own environments and communities. The exhibit was a collaboration between the Regional Plan Association, the Housing Collective and several Connecticut colleges and universities. It was first shown in Bridgeport during January and February, and is now on display in New Haven until April 17. In late April, it will be shown in the final city of Norwalk. 

“This is an opportunity to understand how we got here and to reflect on our role in the practice of democracy and what we can all do every day as individuals to address the inequities in our communities, to recognize the history and to make a change,” said William Terry Brown, CEO of Gateway Community College. 

The exhibit is open to the public and is being held in the New Alliance Foundation Art Gallery at Gateway Community College. 

The goal is to attract both visitors with a strong knowledge of democracy’s foundations and visitors who might just be starting to engage with the topic of democracy, according to Brown.

“The intended audience is the entire community; some folks have lived here and spent careers here and live in neighborhoods but don’t know why some things are the way they are. Some people do know and need an opportunity to have this conversation,” Brown said. “But at the end of the day, this is really about understanding what we are dealing with so that we can do things differently, so that everyone can participate in democracy and engage in the opportunities this vibrant region offers.”

Melissa Kaplan-Macey, vice president of state programs and Connecticut director for the Regional Plan Association, explained that the exhibition’s immersive and interdisciplinary approach also helps make the concept of democracy more tangible, rather than it being an abstract ideal. 

“One of the big ideas behind democracy is that everybody’s voice matters and is heard, and we know from the exhibition that this is not true,” she said.

With simple language, colorful content and different shapes and forms, the exhibit organizers explained they hope it provokes the audience to take action and create changes in their communities. With phrases posted around the exhibit including, “change the way we view each other” and “you too can become a practitioner of democracy,” the exhibit emphasizes an individual call to action to help shape democracy. 

“This exhibit is trying to not shame or blame but promotes the understanding that we are all responsible for becoming practitioners for making democracy a verb, not some rhetorical gesture or monumental symbol,” said April De Simone, a transdisciplinary design practitioner who was involved in creating the exhibit. “We hope to promote this consciousness in every one of us to assume responsibility for the gift of democracy.”

De Simone told the News that she hopes visitors are left with an impression that democracy is complex, not “black and white.”

The exhibition was framed as though the visitor is in a conversation with “democracy,” according to exhibit designers, in an effort to make connections between common knowledge and democratic concepts. 

De Simone added that she thinks the exhibition is a result of very personal and passionate work. 

“Growing up, it was very impressionable for me to see this reality of a mother telling you how great America is; despite the conditions we were living in, it has so much complexity,” she said. “I couldn’t understand what was equal about what I was experiencing compared to another person.” 

To achieve the ideal democratic dream, De Simone said that it would take several sectors working together to navigate the interdisciplinarity and lack of linearity of democracy.

The exhibition is open at 20 Church St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. 

Lua Prado covers education & youth services and immigration & international communities in New Haven and writes the Tuesday Newsletter. Originally from Sergipe, Brazil, she is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College, double majoring in Political Science and English.