Signs of the Times
By Tamara Vallejos
If there’s ever a time to hope for stand-still traffic, Friday, Dec. 2, would be it. That day, for 24 consecutive hours, a digital billboard off the 15 in Corona will get converted from an ad-mongering eyesore to a roadside art gallery, displaying hundreds of images from approximately 90 artists worldwide.
The images will flicker by, one every few seconds, visible to southbound drivers just before the East Ontario Avenue exit, or to passersby near the billboard’s home at the Marriott’s SpringHill Suites. This unorthodox show is the latest in a series by the Billboard Art Project, a small group based out of Richmond, Va., that aims to inject the unexpected into commuters’ daily routines.
“It really opens art up to a lot of people who aren’t of the art world,” explains David Morrisson, the project’s founder and director. “Maybe they will see something they like, maybe they won’t. But it will be exciting.”
Morrisson first felt that excitement himself back in 2005, when he drove by a new digital billboard in Richmond displaying stock photography during its testing phase. It threw him for a loop to see the massive ad platform displaying something of non-commercial beauty, and an idea was born. It took several years for the Billboard Art Project to fully manifest, but it finally kicked off in 2010, after lots of work with some very patient representatives at Lamar, the nation’s largest outdoor advertising company.
“We’re a customer with completely different needs. It’s like we’re asking a car company to build us an airplane,” says Morrisson.
“While it’s art, and it’s wonderful and great, it’s not easy. Lamar’s corporate office has to go through all the images—sometimes as many as 4,000—to make sure they’re not putting anything vulgar or obscene in a public space. We really value that they’ve been willing to work with us.”
Those images are collected on a mostly first-come, first-serve basis from practically anyone around the world who’d like to contribute their voice. That extremely accessible nature—both for the artists and the audience—makes this a true project for the people. And while artists don’t get paid for their submissions, they don’t have to chip in for the Billboard Art Project’s costs, either. That’s all been on Morrisson up to this point, who has paid the same exact rate for billboards as traditional advertisers do. For the Corona billboard, that’s a whopping $5,750 for an uninterrupted 24-hour period.
But Morrisson is hopeful the Project’s application for 501(c)(3) non-profit status will be approved soon, lifting much of that financial burden from his shoulders. Then, the organization can begin applying for grants and make the most of donors and sponsors. It’s all part of a plan to make 2012 a banner year that aims to enter several new markets—including Puerto Rico, where a billboard within blocks of the beach is a bargain at $300 for the day. The Billboard Art Project will also return to its roots in Richmond, acquiring multiple billboards for a month and incorporating sound for the first time.
“If that goes as well as we hope, we’ll be doing that in city after city, turning the volume way up on this project,” said Morrisson. “It will be something people can’t miss. Instead of discovering it by happenstance, it’s going to hit them over the head like a sledgehammer.”