<body> Public Ad Campaign: Look Up! All Signs Point to Art
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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Look Up! All Signs Point to Art

I have been traveling and working on PublicAdCampaign projects for the last two months and I apologize for the lack of new content. Over the next few weeks I'll play catch up and be posting more regularly. Until then I leave you with this NY Times article about the Art Everywhere project, and my thoughts below. 
Can the likes of Jasper Johns, Edward Hopper and Cindy Sherman help jump-start the struggling billboard business? More [HERE]

My immediate reaction to projects like this are simple. While there is a small benefit to having a very specific form of contemporary art populate outdoor advertising space for a given period of time, the benefits are far outweighed by the damage a project like this does to the ultimate goal of freeing ourselves from the burden of consuming commercial messaging while moving through our shared public environment, and all of the ill affects shown to be associated with that type of commercial imagery over consumption. If the goal is the removal of outdoor advertising, projects like this only serve to further ingratiate the outdoor advertising industry in the minds of the public, cementing thier control of the curation of our shared public spaces. The false altruism and beneficence associated with projects like this, masks a deeply economic decision that runs counter to the projects stated goals. To me this is a thinly veiled ruse and yet another example of the length the OOH industry will go to insure thier capital investment is not lost, and the public (which produces the eyeballs that, produce value, that is then extracted by these companies) does not turn against them in an effort to live healthier and happier public lives.

With this in mind, I recently spoke to a class at UC Berkeley on the Philosophy of Street Art. While talking about the difference between art and advertising in public space, the Art Everywhere project came up as an example of cohabitation by the two, as well as the legal version of PublicAdCampaign's demand for an ad free public space. The question posed, was there a shared equity model or another option besides my steadfast demand for no advertising in public space? and if not, might legal art "interventions" like this one begin to convince the public to think about alternative uses of public space?

With so much advertising being replaced by art in the Art Everywhere project, could we imagine a world in which the outdoor advertising shared public space with art in a meaningful way? What if advertising only accounted for 49%of what we saw and the other 51% art, or publicly curated imagery? My emphatic answer is no, and my argument against this submission to advertising in public space, however idealistic it may seem, is threefold. For one, we must forgo our ultimate goal of freeing ourselves from the burden of commercial messaging in public space. This is no small defeat as the effects of advertising on our collective psyche and our planets ecosystem are profound. Two this model privileges a curatorial class, (most likely the advertising industry) who will provide and dictate culture to us. While public space should be used for artistic practices, PublicAdCampaign does not believe that means that an authority can dictate how and where that art appears. Active, organic, and democratic use of public space by the people who live in our cities is what we are after and that means engaging the community, not institutions, to curate the spaces we collectively occupy. And finally the third, advertising's goal is to relay a singular message. The less "noise" or competing imagery there is the better, as evidenced by advertisings recent investment in "station domination" practices and other forms of complete media saturation methods. With this in mind, what begins as a fair distribution of public space ends up as a complete advertising takeover as percentages are manipulated and methods are devised to infiltrate art with advertising.

So if I won't allow for a shared public space, and the ultimate goal remains the complete removal of outdoor advertising, can legal "interventions" like the Art Everywhere be a method of slowly swaying public opinion? It is in interesting question and one I am not sure I have the answer to. The argument is that despite the further indoctrination of the public to an advertising filled public space, if people become aware and potentially used to the idea that public space can be used for other things besides advertising, they might collectively demand something better than the usual all advertising fare. It does seem likely that this demand would not be for the elimination of advertising, but for some sharing arrangement (which I have already given my reasons for why this is not acceptable). That said, I do understand that removing advertising from public space completely is not likely, and that my personal goals are less about achieving the removal of commercial imagery, than building public consciousness about the issue. If I am honest about this fact, than could legal initiatives like Art Everywhere help to build a groundswell of support for alternative uses of public space, that could then be used to champion the more progressive idea of advertising's complete removal?

I guess my answer has to be yes, in which case on some level I support the Art Everywhere project, but how boring are a bunch of Ruscha billboards when you could have the anarchy of kids on the street. :)

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