About the Billboard Art Project
The Billboard Art Project is a nonprofit organization that acquires digital billboards normally used for advertising and repurposes them as roadside galleries. Projects have been held in cities all over the country and were open to all individuals and groups who were interested in participating. Currently the project is on hiatus.
Types of work that may be displayed include images created specifically for the billboard as well as images of previously made art adapted to the format. No two Billboard Art Project shows are alike; each city features new work.
Funding comes from donations by people like you.
How the Billboard Art Project started...
Around 2005, when Lamar Advertising had just installed one of their first digital billboards in Richmond, Virginia, I was driving my daily route to work when I saw a screen test being run on a brand new LED billboard.
The images were the sort of “wallpaper” pictures that come preloaded on the operating system of your personal computer: marbles, a bridge at sunset, a field of flowers set against a clear blue sky.
While all of these stock photos were familiar, in fact images most likely on my pc, they carried a striking resonance when displayed on a billboard.
I can attribute this effect to a simple deviation. There are few things you do during the course of your day that are not infused with some form of advertising.
When you turn on the radio, sixty second plugs divide blocks of songs that are becoming increasingly smaller to accommodate more advertising. In the lobby of any office you can pick up a magazine and at least twenty percent of its content consists of full page advertisements. And don’t forget the subscription postcards that fall out all over the place when you give your favorite magazine a shake. Surf the web and you’ll find an ocean of banners selling just about everything. And when you drive along the road, it is difficult not to feel like you’re running through a gauntlet of yawping signs.
Advertising is so epidemic and pervasive that people pay good money for clothes so that they can advertise corporate entities like Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, and their favorite sports team.
So, when you see a billboard that isn’t telling you what to buy or who to trust, it carries the impact of the unexpected.
In the case of the simple wallpaper photos on those drives to work some years ago, I found them soothing, pleasant even. This became an experience I wanted to replicate on some level and share with others.
From concept to reality
The Billboard Art Project is a concept I had been kicking around in my head that eventually took on a life of its own.
I approached Lamar Advertising and, after much coaxing, acquired one of their digital billboards for a 24 hour period in early October, 2010
The original idea was a bit of a lark – I was going to have them run several hundred random images and phrases having nothing to do with advertising as a sort of gift to all the drivers weary of the white noise that is advertising.
The idea also had the added benefit of being a sort of social experiment. How would people respond? What would they think? The project became this great sort of internal conversation piece I would mull over to help me escape the mundane everyday tasks life sometimes requires.
From lark to art
After the first billboard had been purchased and a date set, I was discussing the project with a friend and he immediately asked to participate. Sharing this ever-changing public advertising venue for something other than advertising seemed like a natural extension of the original idea, and with a call for artists sent out through email, word quickly spread.
When it was all said and done, the Richmond, Virginia Billboard Art Project had over thirty participants who submitted images covering such a diverse range of things. Some were serious and some were outright comical. There were sketches, illustrations, photographs, clipart. The sequential submissions engaged viewers like flash cards. One of the artists even put up the sayings and lucky numbers from fortune cookies she had collected over the years.
We are continuing to book shows in cities across the country.
And while there are certainly limitations of what artists can put up on the billboard relative to public decency and the protection of corporate relationships, the possibilities for participants really are endless.
The Billboard Art Project is a viable artistic medium that takes art out of its normal confines and clusters and allows for the marvelous inadvertent discovery that wakes people from the mundane. The Billboard Art Project is a conduit for the dissemination of variety – cultural, philosophical, spiritual, whimsical, striking, and the sublime.
This is not a cloistered project where only a chosen few can participate. The Billboard Art Project is an open call to anyone who wants to participate in that fundamental process of self expression.
The Billboard Art Project is your neighbor. It’s that nine to five manager who sketches behind the checkout counter in her spare time. Maybe it’s an acclaimed artist who simply wants to give something to the masses. Or perhaps it is a child struggling with cancer who has a white sheet of paper, a box crayons, and a world of time and pain. It could be someone on the other side of the continent or perhaps even the globe.
The Billboard Art Project is you.