New York City:   So … you think you vote with your head?  Tackling this question is a thought-provoking non-partisan exhibit – I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE:  Decoding Political Ads — which opened July 14, 2016 at the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, and ran through Election Day, November 8thThe goal is to bring viewers into-the-know about the persuasive techniques of political advertising so that they never watch political ads in the same way again.  The plan is for the exhibit to travel to other museums and institutions prior to the next national election.  With its modular video and digital makeup, the exhibit has flexibility for spaces of any size or configuration.

The exhibit showcases more than 50 of the most emotional ads from 1952, when political ads first started running on TV, up to today.  It includes:

  • 4 individual theaters, FEAR, ANGER, PRIDE, HOPE, displaying ads one-after-another.
  • A MOOD ROOM dares visitors not to feel emotion in a V-shaped theater with 9’ high screens awash with dramatic imagery cut to expressive audio.
  • 17 seven ft. high, annotated ads with frame-by-frame persuasive techniques called-out.
  • A CHANGE theater, demonstrating how targeted messaging and media have changed with the times.
  • A TIMELINE along a 50 ft. wall shows the evolution of political ads organized by news events, advertising and politics, laws and political spending, and technology.
  • I-CANDIDATE and ADMAKER let viewers put what they learned into practice as they create their own ads.
  • VISUAL LITERACY iconography helps viewers understand how to identify read and understand images – whether in art or in advertising.

Visitors are introduced to the imagery, music, sound effects, camerawork, words, and phrases that are used to stir the heartstrings and capture their vote, and they actually experience how rational decision-making is often overridden by emotions.

According to the co-curators, Harriett Levin Balkind, founder of, and Adam Levine, assistant director of the Toledo Museum of Art: “This exhibition is grounded in studies conducted over the past 20 years that show we feel before we think; facts don’t change minds; and we vote based on emotion rather than issues. Political ads are consciously constructed to evoke specific emotions in viewers. The ad-makers know that our hearts rule our heads.  Here you see how it’s done.”

“Our goal is to increase visual literacy as it relates to advertising,” explains Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art. Visual literacy is the ability to read, comprehend and write visual language – or the ability to identify, read and understand images and their sometimes covert or culturally influenced meanings. This exhibition looks at all the tools used by political advertising to induce particular emotions.”

The nonpartisan exhibition is organized by the Toledo Museum of Art and HonestAds who commissioned Thinc Design as the exhibition design firm and JET Design for the video installation.

CONTACT:  Harriett Levin Balkind, [email protected], 917-774-4999 (cell

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Based in New York, HonestAds builds awareness about political advertising in innovative, compelling ways with organizations that care about political literacy and through its website HonestAds’ purpose is to decrease deception, increase critical thinking and expand civility; thereby, motivating more people to vote. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, HonestAds has no connection to political parties, candidates, PACs, super PACs or their sponsors.

On 36 park-like acres the Toledo Museum of Art is known for its internationally significant art collection and acclaimed architecture with spectacular buildings from two Pritzker Prize-winning architects and their Main Museum with a Greek Ionic façade.  It’s metro-wide community support and engagement is second only to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It has garnered national media praise and won travel awards as a not-to-be-missed destination.  It is a nonprofit arts institution.

Located in New York, Thinc Design is a leading design firm serving clients in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. For more than 20 years, Thinc has designed projects for a wide range of institutions, including museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, theme parks, corporations and governments. Notable projects include the American Food 2.0. USA Pavilion, 2015 World Expo; exhibition design for the Smithsonian Institution; the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum; and the California Academy of Sciences.

The Exhibit’s Mood Room video environment was designed and produced by JET Design, from Brooklyn, NY. JET was founded by video installation designer, Jason Tschantré, and the Mood Room was created in collaboration with independent filmmaker Scott Foley, and audio design team, The End. JET Design creates immersive audio-visual spaces for Museums, Theater, Musical Performances, and Live Events.

Toledo, Ohio, is in a swing county, Lucas, in a swing state, where in 2012 more women (66%); more non-Hispanic blacks (72%) and more Ohioans (68.3%) voted than the national average.

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