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The Art of the Census

A pair of museum exhibits showcase work inspired by the decennial counts of the U.S. Census Bureau. And, like the census itself, the shows are going online.  
To boost turnout, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts mounted a census-themed exhibition this spring. Seen here is work by artist Hung Liu.
To boost turnout, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts mounted a census-themed exhibition this spring. Seen here is work by artist Hung Liu.Photo Courtesy Art+Action's "Come to Your Census" Campaign

In a way, the U.S. Census Bureau picked a good year to go digital. Since 1790, when the federal government first started collecting national demographic data, the 2020 decennial count is the first where people can fill out their census questionnaire online.

With field offices closed and in-person canvassing stalled by coronavirus fears, the census data collection deadline has been delayed until October, and the bureau is working overtime to reach people without internet access — or a nearby open library — with mailers and phone calls. Meanwhile, community organizations are trying to rebuild trust among those deterred by the Trump administration’s unsuccessful attempt to add a question about citizenship on the form. Though 53.7% of the country has responded so far, large swaths of the uncounted remain. With deep economic uncertainty on the horizon, the stakes are especially high: Census counts help allocate political representation and $1.5 trillion in economic power; the numbers are used to justify funding things, or defunding them.