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Artists Like Jeffrey Gibson and Carrie Mae Weems Encourage Voting With New Billboards

Jenny Holzer and Tomashi Jackson are also participating in “Art for Action,” the largest non-partisan public art campaign to raise voter awareness.

In Washington, D.C., digital screens project artworks by Carrie Mae Weems and Jeffrey Gibson as part of the “Art for Action” campaign. (all images courtesy Orange Barrel Media)

How do you reach hundreds of millions of potential voters three weeks before an election? Public art may be one way. As part of “Art for Action,” works by artists including Jeffrey Gibson, Jenny Holzer, Tomashi Jackson, and Carrie Mae Weems are on display on 350 digital screens in 16 cities across the US through Election Day, with seven additional artists showing on screens in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio.

Approximately 3.34 million people will see them every day, totaling more than 106.7 million people throughout its month-long run, making it the largest, non-partisan voter awareness public art campaign. It’s a massive effort to counter voter suppression in the lead-up to one of the most anticipated and decisive elections in the country’s modern history.

In Atlanta, Tomashi Jackson’s digital billboard retains the multilayered approach of her paintings, but delivers a clear message.

Organized by Orange Barrel Media (OBM), the project appropriates large-format digital screens and interactive digital “IKE Smart City” kiosks (those standalone touchscreen displays you can find on sidewalks, bus stops, and elsewhere), which are often reserved for commercial purposes. Now, these coveted public spaces will show artist-designed voters calls to action approximately once in each minute-long content rotation.

Though the works retain the distinctive visual elements of each artist’s practice — Jenny Holzer’s recognizable block letters; Tomashi Jackson’s multilayered surfaces — the compositions are more practical than aesthetic. The messaging is meant to be straightforward and direct, not obfuscated or abstracted, so hurried passersby and distracted pedestrians can easily grasp it. Some of the participating artists are known for their activism and have a long history of inserting political and social messages both explicitly and subversively into urban spaces. Holzer, for instance, has used projections, LED lights, and even aerial banners to raise awareness of gun violence, AIDS, and other urgent issues. 

A billboard designed by artist Carrie Mae Weems for the “Art for Action” campaign.

The interactive kiosks also feature a real-time clock counting down to the election and offer several voting resources. People can use the touch-screen feature to view important upcoming deadlines and even register to vote through a QR code. The aim is for the artworks is to engage those who still have not registered or are undecided about voting this year, and make it easier for them to do so.

“Art for Action” will run from October 3 through November 3, 2020, in the following US cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Coral Gables, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, St. Louis, Tempe, and Washington, DC.

The national project is curated by Diana Nawi for OBM, while the local Ohio project is curated by Dionne Custer Edwards, Director of Learning and Public Practice at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

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