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Anxious On Election Night? Join Mo Willems For A 'Democracy Doodle'

Artist Mo Willems leads a doodle session on Election Night for children and adults.
Mo Willems
Artist Mo Willems leads a doodle session on Election Night for children and adults.

Don't underestimate the power of doodling. In a democracy, Mo Willems says, "voting is a lot like doodling. It's a form of self-expression, and you discover sort of who you really are as you do it." On Election Day (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT) on the Kennedy Center's website, Willems will encourage self-expression for anyone who tunes in to Democracy Doodle 2020, regardless of age or political persuasion.

Willems says they'll do three drawing exercises, each accompanied by a different musician from the National Symphony Orchestra. As the Kennedy Center's education artist-in-residence, Willems has been encouraging kids to take regular doodle breaks since the early days of the pandemic.

In a video series called Lunch Doodles With Mo Willems!, he held guided drawing sessions from his studio. He sits at a table, pulls out a blank sheet of paper, selects a marker and starts doodling, encouraging children at home to do the same.

With his oddball sense of humor, Willems calmly answers kids' questions and talks about his career as an animator and writer for Sesame Street and creating The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books. Lunch Doodles has been so popular, Willems followed it up with similar series: Thank You Thursdays, The Yo-Yo Mo Show with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and, most recently, The Small Works Project.

"I tend to think of my books as questions I don't know the answers to and these videos are sort of me reflecting," Willems said in an interview. "I'm going to be anxious on Nov. 3. And I know that they're going to be a lot of families and kids learning new vocabulary words, while parents are yelling at the screens. And I thought, you know, 'I could use a break, and if I could use a break, then maybe other people could as well.' "

Willems says he's prepared three "really simple exercises for us all to do together and to share while we listen to this music being performed." The National Symphony Orchestra musicians — Mahoko Eguchi (viola), Abel Pereira (horn) and Jamie Roberts (oboe) — have each selected a piece of "music to doodle to." The pieces aren't necessarily traditional patriotic music intended to celebrate democracy.

For Willems, "Any time we express ourselves, that's a form of patriotism." Just like voting.

Willems hopes the 20-minute, election night doodle session will be cathartic for everyone, himself included. He says, like so many others, he's "muddling through these years, these months. I'm doing my best." But he adds, "My battery is running at 20%."

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.