Look Up: The Billboard Creative 2020 Has Arrived
Various locations around Los Angeles
through February 29
Written by Genie Davis
From now through February 29th, Los Angeles would do well to look up – at billboards throughout the city. 34 artists are participating this year in The Billboard Creative 2020 Show, curated by Christopher Vroom, founder of the arts nonprofit Artadia.
The exhibition includes photographs, paintings, assemblages, mixed-media works, and sculpture. Founder and executive director Adam Santelli says the concept is to treat LA as an open-air gallery, giving innovative artists a large canvas and an audience in the millions.
According to TBC director Kim Kerscher, the organization was inspired in 2012, when Santelli was approached by the friend of a friend with the idea of putting art rather than advertisements on remnant billboards – those leased at a reduced rate when unsold at the end of the month.
“He put one of his photos up at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Adam is a cinematographer who does photography on the side as a creative outlet, and through that he had a sense of how difficult it can be for artists to get their work shown. Watching traffic stream past that first billboard and pedestrians stopping and even going back to view the art gave him the idea of using billboards to help other artists get their work in front of huge audiences,” Kerscher says.
With that in mind, Santelli pulled an initial show together quickly as proof of concept. “Things just really took off from there,” she explains.
The show has grown exponentially since then, and Kerscher credits much of that growth to “organic word of mouth. We’ve received pretty universally positive feedback from artists and the community. At its core, TBC is a simple concept that people can really get behind – helping artists and making art accessible to lots of people – and the scale of the works really grabs attention and excites the artists; especially in such an important art market as Los Angeles. We also give a lot of credit to photographer Mona Kuhn, who came on board as our curator for our second show and is still with us as our creative director. She brought many great ideas on how to improve our shows, including adding guest artists to help bring more attention to the emerging artists.”
Artist selection is up to the curator, brought in specifically for each show. “We really let them run with it, but we do ask them to think about the difference between viewing art on billboards as opposed to a traditional venue,” Kersher relates. “The works need to stand on their own visually even in the midst of the visual noise of the cityscape and, because most people will view the works from their cars, it has to read pretty quickly.”
The annual exhibition excites both the public and the arts community. Kerscher stresses that “Cars have driven by the art in our shows literally tens of millions of times — so we are bringing art out into the daily paths of many, many members of the general public, including those who might not have the time to get to a gallery or museum, or for whom those locations aren’t accessible. The direct feedback we hear from people who see the work is that the surprise of coming upon one of the boards is fun and that seeing them takes them out of their heads and makes them pause to consider things for a minute.” She adds “Regarding the arts community, we are helping artists get their work in front of millions of people and artists have told us that being in the show helped them get other shows, gallery representation, and I think one artist got their work published in a book. We like to think that in bringing art to billboards in this car-centric city, we are contributing a bit, and a little twist, to exciting conversation going on around art in LA.”
TBC has been considering an expansion to other cities, and recently started to get the groundwork moving on that idea, with the hope that it will happen next year. In the meantime, LA is happy to be a part of the concept.”
“Often when we tell people about The Billboard Creative and what we do the reaction is something like ‘no way, you’re the guys who are doing that?!’ and we also know that people who are aware of us have come to expect an annual show,” Kerscher says, adding that the exhibition hasn’t really noticed any differences in enthusiasm regardless of billboard location.
“For the past few years, we have been focused on putting boards in clusters in adjacent neighborhoods and this year we are focused in the Hollywood and Silver Lake areas,” she notes. “For example we have 6 boards within a few miles of each other on Sunset Blvd. and 8 boards in a couple blocks on Santa Monica Blvd. Our hope is that drivers will see multiple boards in a row simulating a gallery experience.”
This more concentrated focus is new in 2020. “In the past, we spread the boards out more across the city, but we feel it is a better experience for the public if they see multiple boards in a short span and realize that something is going on around them.”
And that something is this: The Billboard Creative 2020. All you have to do is look up.