The retro Americana aesthetic of the original Depression era “See America” posters, with their bold colors and flat renderings of our country’s most beautiful natural spaces, would fit neatly into any Brooklyn apartment. “That style has become kind of hip again in the design world,” said Max Slavkin, CEO of The Creative Action Network. That works out pretty well for the organization’s just launched See America Project, which has revived and is selling the vintage posters, sort of.
Over 75 years ago the Works Progress Administration commissioned “See America” images to encourage travel to the country’s public parks while simultaneously putting artists to work. CAN wants to translate that ethos to the modern age. “We have always been inspired, since we started doing this kind of work by the New Deal Arts Project, the WPA, and that era in our history when the government was putting artists to work,” added Slavkin. Enter: The See America Project, an homage to both the parks and to artists.
In partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association, CAN has crowdsourced images from artists not only of national parks, but other cultural and historic sites in America. As of the project’s launch last Friday, the organization had collected over 50 drawings, which are selling for between $25 and $85 depending on the size and framing. Some of the works look a lot like their See America forefathers, borrowing the art-deco style to champion a favorite locale. But others forgo the 1930s aesthetic, opting for a more modern look.
Forty percent of revenues will go back to the designers. Part of the reason Slavkin and his cofounder (and childhood friend) Aaron Perry-Zucker, who has a design background, founded the company–officially one year ago, but unofficially in 2008–was to create meaningful work that paid for designers. “Aaron was finding all of these artists, who were talented and passionate and couldn’t find ways to do that and make a living. They would get jobs doing things they didn’t care so much about because it was all they could find,” explained Slavkin, who prior to founding CAN worked with government agencies and nonprofits.
Inspired, in part, by the success of Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster, Slavkin and Perry-Zucker started a design for Obama organization, which sought out less well-known artists to create paraphernalia for the 2008 election effort that they then sold in one online marketplace. That went “phenomenally well,” says Perry-Zucker, so the two started to crowdsource artistic creations around different causes. “Basically we’ve been chasing that same idea and magic ever since,” he added. Last year, they turned their consulting gigs into a stand alone business, CAN.
The See America project is just their latest effort to combine activism and art. With the centennial of the National Park Service approaching in 2016 and looming budget cuts, the See America project elevates the value of our parks and general environment to the national consciousness. Previously CAN had artists rethink literary masterpieces, creating new covers for books in the public domain.