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A Billboard Art show That’s Truly for the masses

A group of Hollywood creatives have taken to the streets to showcase rising artists in the first organized billboard art gallery.

Imagine artwork never awarded a gallery showing suddenly on display for an entire city.

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That’s the impetus for a novel art show using billboards as its gallery.

The initiative is being organized by The Billboard Creative, a volunteer organization of creative professionals with the goal of showcasing emerging artists. The December show features 33 works from undiscovered and rising artists representing six countries on remnant Clear Channel Outdoor billboards around Hollywood—particularly in such high-trafficked intersections as Sunset & Vine, Beverly & Laurel, and Hollywood & Western.

“There’s been a lot of billboard art, but no one’s tried to do it as a coordinated show, with a map,” says show creator Adam Santelli, a photographer and cinematographer. “The idea is to get the community, families loading into their cars, out there to view it.”

The one star artist in the mix is Ed Ruscha, the grandfather of billboard art. “It’s hard to talk about billboard art and not include him,” Santelli adds.

The Billboard Creative raised the roughly $30,000 cost of the exhibit through art submissions ($26 for the first submission; $7 thereafter), donations, and negotiated package deals with Clear Channel during its slowest advertising period. “It’s symbiotic,” says Santelli. “I try to make the economics work both ways.”

Unlike a smaller test run last March, this time the Creative partnered with Artmoi, a Winnipeg, Canada art initiative which developed an app to document street art via crowdsourced contributions The Artmoi app features a GPS-enabled map to the show’s 33 locations. “Those guys have saved us,” says Santelli. “It’s so easy to find us now.”

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BillBoard Creative’s Kim Kerscher reviews the map of art locations.

Recession-bred Invention

Santelli got the idea during the 2008-9 recession when a small ad agency contacted him about renting a billboard to showcase his photos. “They were looking for another way to rent billboards,” he says. “I did it and it was great. To see little groups of people taking pictures in front of my billboard was a great feeling and I decided I wanted to do this on a bigger scale, casting underappreciated artists into a bigger world.”

He formed his non-profit about 18 months ago. “It took awhile to figure out the economics of it and get the revenue stream rolling,” he says. “We did our first show earlier this year—14 artists on 15 billboards, for about $14,000.”

High-Impact Art

The current show was curated by Mona Kuhn, an artist, curator, and independent scholar at the Getty Research Institute, who whittled the roughly 1,000 submissions according to drive-by impact level. “Mona got the images without a name, gallery resume, or artists statement,” says Santelli. “The artwork has to be easy to recognize—within three-five seconds. Conceptual work that takes some time before you get it doesn’t work.” The billboards include the artists names and Billboard Creative website, which gives more information about the artist and piece for interested viewers.

Santelli is planning another show next December, with the submission process to commence in September, and is trying to set up a similar exhibit in Cuba.

Inside the Party Bus

“We rented a party bus and took the artists around the exhibit. Mixing in established artists goes a long way to drawing attention to the emerging artists,” says Santelli. “The feeling of the artists, especially the ones who hadn’t really shown, looking at their billboard, and hugging you, saying, ‘I never thought I’d be here’ is amazing. It can’t replace anything.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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