Friday, May 22, 2009

CultureWorks Billboard Art Project

The Arts Council's John Bryan bought some local bloggers lunch today. In a well-appointed room overlooking the James River, Bryan told us about some of his group's new thinking. The lunch was attended by about a dozen of Richmond's bloggers. I was the token geezer in the bunch.

It was a good discussion and I'm looking forward to our next get-together. Near the end of the confab Bryan asked for ideas. Here's my first one, off the top of my head. As a working title, let's call it the "CultureWorks Billboard Art Project."

It's a variation on the "Rush Hour Art Show," a billboard project staged in Richmond about 20 years ago.

Six companies chip in $8,000 to $10,000* to underwrite the project. The project's end product will be 18 outdoor billboards that stay up for a month or so. Each billboard will feature the art of an area artist. The billboards will be produced by enlarging art that has been submitted by artists who will compete for selection.

Section Process: A committee of appointees will pick the best 45 or 50 of the submissions for display at an art show in a downtown gallery. Hopefully, the committee will be a group with varied backgrounds and tastes. Not just the usual (well-connected) suspects. Maybe some blogging artists should be on the committee?

The viewing public will be invited to vote for their favorites. The public will also be able to vote online, too. A web site will exist to show the art in the contest and record votes. The top six will be winners that get their art blown up and made into a billboard.

The sponsoring companies will get to pick one each. And, the committee will fill out the last set of six by picking the best of what hasn't already been picked. The total will be 18. The billboards might all go up at the same time, or spaced out over some period of time.

The contestants will be working with a broad theme. It could be as wide as the river, or as tall as a skyscraper. It could be something like depicting First Friday scenes, or the Richmond Folk Festival. The theme could be drawn from Richmond's history, or it could be futuristic. Today, I'm not going to try to think up what the theme ought to be.

Letting everyone/anyone vote in what will be a third of the winners would make it truly different from most such art shows, in which all winners are chosen by experts.

If the blogosphere is used as the prime way of disseminating the first wave of information on this project, the bloggers could "own" it, to some extent. That would give it the cachet of a bottom-up phenomenon, rather than another artsy thing for and about fat cats.

This post is just the bare bones concept. Lots of other details would have to be worked out.

* Just a guess at what it would cost.


Anonymous said...

Call me cynical, but how about the City gets rid of the ILLEGAL billboard on I 95 James RIver Bridge first?

Call it a show of good faith from the corporate/civic leadership before we start putting up 'artistic billboards'.

Marc said...

Or better yet, get some artists to do a guerrilla move one day and cover over the illegal billboards with art. No need to even ask permission from Clear Channel/Lamar/etc. - after all, these billboards are there ILLEGALLY.

Liz Humes said...

I like it but I have to wonder what kind of impact it would have on our city if it’s gone in a month. What about taking the same funds and the same idea but creating permanent public art? I’d like to see something that LIVES in a park or parking lot for twenty years.

F.T. Rea said...


When you say "these billboards are there ILLEGALLY," I don't follow what you mean.


Creating permanent public art is cool, but it's hard to pull off. It's a fascinating subject and I've spent many an hour discussing it with guys like Joe Seipel and other guys who understand the political and money sides of such projects.

Joe was in on the best public art project I've ever seen done in Richmond -- the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial unveiled in Capitol Square last summer.

But it took years to get that one done. Without Lisa Collis' remarkable determination it wouldn't be there now.

As far as temporary art not having a lasting impact goes, you make a good point. But sometimes it can.

Remember Cristo's "The Gates" installation four years ago in Central Park? Sometimes the fleeting nature of art can make it more special.

The Goddess of Democracy that stood on VCU's campus for a few weeks in 1989 was about as righteous as public art can get, but it, too, was temporary (for background go here --

The billboard thing could be a start. Hopefully, if it happened it could pave the way to encourage more ambitious projects -- perhaps even permanent public art.

Christina said...

Maybe the Arts Council of Richmond (CultureWorks) could help support the grassroots community by supporting First Fridays Art Walk which supports almost 40 creative venues downtown.

In regards to the art in public places project, the costs for billboard is much cheaper actually and going through a nonprofit would be even better. Bus billboards are even cheaper and you can get two for one if you're a nonprofit, so there's a lot of merit to this idea. I'd slim down on the competition angle though.

But I'm in agreement with Liz that true public art is a better investment and will make more of an impact. I agree it's incredibly difficult to deal with the City or other government agency's land, so pursue private property. Temporary rotating pieces throughout the city on private property would be amazing and are very much, long overdue.

F.T. Rea said...

Christina, I love the rotating art on private property idea.

But private property doesn't always protect such delicate notions.

A good friend of mine is fighting his neighborhood association's ruling that a sculpture in his front yard has to go. He had gotten a wood-carver to do something with broken off tree, a stump that stands about as tall as a man.

With all the tacky things people put on display in their yards, all the time, it strikes me as goofy as all get-out that anybody would get bent out of shape over a big stump being made into some sort of art -- I think it depicts a hawk.

Anonymous said...

Hi- this was a long time ago. How long has the Arts Council's webpage been under construction?

What's the update? Has all this "new thinking" been on hold for the past 2 months?