For over a decade, the artist's billboard on Woodward Avenue at nine
and a half mile (near Revolution and Lemberg Galleries) has taken
back a bit of public space long appropriated by commercial advertisements.
We are, it seems, while driving or walking in public space, confronted
by brightly colored images and eye catching models, all telling us
what to buy or how to think. The Ferndale billboard has been a rare
breath of fresh air, highlighting a diverse field of art from that
of small children to the highly conceptual.
The billboard provides an artist and the art world in general with
a great deal more exposure than they might otherwise get. Undoubtedly,
more people encounter this ever-changing art exhibition than pass
through the DIA during a "Blockbuster" exhibition in the
same time period. Heck, during the single day of the "Dream Cruise"
perhaps over a million people pass by this installation. Of course
there are those who ignore it and never even realize that it's there.
But many look forward to the next artist's premiere like the changing
of the seasons. Some are angered by the message an artist may bring
to it. And some have their day brightened by a bit of color or lingering
to a lack of funding it is likely that this storied landmark may once
again become just another placeholder for ads shouting at us what
we should buy.
For supporters of this space, this may not be a total cause for despair,
as this space has changed hands several times over its history and
perhaps a new patron may come to its aid. The billboard began its
artistic existence when Revolution Gallery opened its doors in 1994.
At first the billboard was primarily designed to run in conjunction
with the current exhibition. The artist showing was given the opportunity
- the challenge - to take on a different venue and make an artistic
leap. If a particular artist didn't end up designing the space, Revolution
centered it around a particular theme to tie into the show - or an
entirely different conceptual piece altogether.
Paul Kotula of Revolution, states that this "gave Revolution
a chance to let people know what was going on inside their space."
It also helped to "control what went on the side of the building,"
and was a means of offering "a gift to the community." Truthfully,
none of them really wanted commercial advertisement on that wall.
After several years of running the billboard, Revolution passed it
on to Real Detroit Weekly, who maintained it for a brief spell. Then
in 2000, neighbor gallery Lemberg took it over, putting their own
stamp on the space. In 2002 a non-profit entity called "the Public
Art Project" was formed to handle the operation of running the
billboard. With funding for the arts being cut drastically on the
state level and not enough coming from other donors, the organization
simply can't come up with the money at the present time to host the
space and offer the artist a stipend.
was fortunate enough, after writing about wildly different takes on
this outdoor canvas - to make my own mark on this 7 by 23 foot outdoor
canvas. (For more info click here.)
One of the more interesting experiences in making the piece has been
explaining it to people outside of the art community. One woman kept
asking me, quite sincerely, "What's it for?" When I said
there was no product, no service to sell, she seemed mystified. "Do
you hope to get some job out of it?" Again, I had no specific
answer. While it might lead to future exhibitions, all I could tell
her is that it might be a joyful diversion for someone's daily commute
- a little reminder of the creative expression we are all capable
of - something perhaps hard to remember while stuck in traffic.
The billboard represents a positive outlet for creation and an important
aspect of our community. One hopes that not only does it find continued
patronage and persist in being a showcase for artistic expression,
but that its existence spurs the development of other venues for art
in our public spaces.