Civility First is hosting its fourth annual art and photography contest, promoting the themes: Respect Others, Listen, and Be Kind. 

The contest will be adjudicated by the Pacific Northwest Art School. Artists are asked to submit their work digitally. The contest is divided into categories according to age: children,12 and under; youth, 13-18; and adults 18 and older. Deadline for submission is August 15. Top prize winners in each category will win $100; second and third-place winners will be awarded $50.

Civility First collage of entrees for 2020. Photo from Civility First website

Originally founded in 2017 by Sandy Peterson, a Republican, and Cathy Whitmore, a Democrat, Civility First formed with the premise of finding ways to talk to each other in the face of polarizing points of view. According to its website: “Civility First promotes listening and learning from people with differing perspectives, and modeling civility and respectful behavior in public life. Civility First is asking civic and community leaders, civic groups, religious groups and concerned citizens to commit to respectful listening, civil behavior and being role models for our children. We want our communities, schools, and public meetings to be safe places for honest discourse.”

Rebecca ‘Beck’ Diamond is the new executive director of Civility First. Photo by Kate Poss

Rebecca ‘Beck’ Diamond is the non-profit’s new executive director and accepted the role earlier this month. She arrived from Michigan to the Pacific Northwest eight years ago, and moved from Mukilteo to Whidbey three years ago.

“Before working with Civility First, I was working for other not-for-profits on the island,” she said. “I want to expand our focus and become even more inclusive. Part of the work we do is creating space for difficult conversations. Part of that work brings us to art and how it lends itself to the work of Civility First.”

Earning a Masters in Cultural Studies from the UW, Beck is interested in society and its institutions, how power is used, and how we cultivate our identity.

Anna Paul from Stanwood submitted this winning piece in 2020 for the 12 and under category. Photo from Civility First website

And the word civility itself has its own pros and cons in her mind. Beck sees expanding the original intent of Civility First from its emphasis on Republicans and Democrats engaged in conversation on difficult issues.

Image of working together from the 2019 art contest

“‘’Let’s unpack what the word civility has done, then we can work to reclaim the word,” she said. “‘Our language and symbols used till now have unintentionally narrowed our audience.’’ Using ‘red’ and ‘blue’ restricts the participants to those who identify as a Democrat and Republican.”

Langley artist Melissa Lebo’s ‘Children of God’ piece for 2020 art contest. Photo from Civility First website

“Today, many feel they are not represented by the flag,” Beck added. “We can attempt to change these feelings but first we have to acknowledge all that has been done in the name of civility.

“A huge part of this is education. We need to break down the framework of how I view myself in the world. I see that as the work of Civility First — creating space for those revelations. It doesn’t only have to be about red or blue. It’s about being a person in the world. It is important to think about our global community, especially since the pandemic. We can’t think just about our national identity. It is helpful to see what is limiting us and what the possibilities for expanding are. This encourages curiosity. When we are curious instead of fearful that is another opening. Curiosity over fear.”

Map of getting along, 2019. Photo from Civility First website

Beck talked about expanding the way we think, about getting out of our habit of ‘binary thinking.’ 

“Something can be true and simultaneously something else can be true,” she added. “You might change your mind about judging ‘X.’ I like to call these ‘’yes, and… conversations.’ The ‘red’ and the ‘blue’ are a shortcut to knowing someone. ‘’These shortcuts rely on assumptions and so called ‘’common sense’’ to understand who someone is. We need to do the harder work of getting to know people. Encouraging our community to think about kindness, respect and listening through art is a soft, easy, and safe entrance.”

Elektra Caffrey from Los Alamos, NM took first place for her 2020 Youth entry. Photo from Civility First website

In the mean time, winners of the contest will be decided in September. The award ceremony will be held in October. Civility First is hoping to host an in-person reception then, depending on social distancing restrictions at the time. To submit an art entry, visit this site.

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  1. Teresa McElhinny on

    “Something can be true and simultaneously something else can be true,” she added. “You might change your mind about judging ‘X.’ I like to call these ‘’yes, and… conversations.’ Spot on. Great article again, Kate.

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