Roadside Digital Galleries: Coming to a City Near You

billboardEvery some-odd miles along the highway you zoom past a billboard for Dunkin Donuts seasonal coffees; the local hospital’s most recent, national ranking; a sexy, sleek couple drinking Jose Cuervo and a dramatic advertisement for what can only be described as a less-than-credible attorney. Firms and organizations seek to capitalize on the exposure a billboard provides their brand or service in its commanding position above and along the highway. Hoping to attract potential consumers or clients, the billboard is one of the most prominent and far-reaching means of advertising to a certain geographic location. From the morning commute to the bus ride home, and every moment between, we are inundated with advertisements in one form or another. Though the constant stream of advertisements is admittedly annoying, advertising powers our economy, encourages consumerism and inspires us to try new products and attend performances. But commute after commute, the billboards and their advertisements littered along the highway become nothing more than white noise.

The Billboard Art Project, a Virginia based not-for-profit, is temporarily reclaiming a handful of digital LED billboards in select cities across the country. Repurposing the advertising billboard as an artistic medium and a public art venue, the Billboard Art Project is marketing a different, non-commercial message

Those in-your-face and colorful canvases that you see as you sit stuck in traffic are turned over to local and international artists for a little break from everyday advertising, presenting larger-than-life art in glowing colors…You won't know what is coming next as different artists explore this medium, with the electronic canvas morphing every 6-10 seconds.

While out driving, Billboard Art Project creator David Morrison, was moved by the soothing images displayed during a screen test for one of Lamar Advertising’s (a Louisiana based advertising firm) digital LED billboards. The scrolling images were void of logos, brands, and slogans- images for images’ sake, if you will. In a domain that is typically reserved for corporations, commercial advertising and profit-driven marketing, Morrison found the images refreshing, even humanizing. Deviating from social expectations for exhibiting art and of the function of a billboard, the Billboard Art Project repurposes digital billboards to breathe new life into the daily commute- the epitome of the mundane and the expected, of the everyday and the routine.

The Billboard Art Project launched in October 2010 after Morrison successfully negotiated with Lamar Advertising for use of one of the company’s digital LED screens for 24 hours. Thanks to the digital technology of the billboard, the project promises 24 hours of a continuous stream of vibrant images, without interruption or advertisements. In an open call to doctors; cab drivers; students; clerks; professors; military personnel; hospital workers; the unemployed; designers; mail carriers; New Englanders; Pittsburghers; Texans- anyone- the Billboard Art Project invites submissions to be considered for each show. It is an all-inclusive project in which everyone is invited to participate by either submitting a work or simply driving past it. The medium becomes the message as the digital billboard disseminates art and individuality.

The project is currently showing in New Orleans, with previous exhibits in Chicago, IL; Reading, PA; Duluth, MN; Savannah, GA, Nashville, TN and Richmond, VA. Up next, the Billboard Art Project heads to Baton Rouge, LA then San Bernardino, CA. Each submission is as unique to the individual creator as the final compilation is to the city and billboard. No two shows are alike.

Bringing art to the streets in a free, public and conveniently located show, the Billboard Art Project is challenging the traditional domain for both advertising and displaying art. But is this new manifestation, the roadside digital gallery, a viable venue for art? Let us know what you think. In the meantime, keep one eye on the road and one on the lookout for a roadside electronic gallery, coming to a city near you.