Distinctive Billboards Become New Venue for Art

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February 13, 2015; Las Cruces Sun-News

Motorists traveling on Interstate 10 or on U.S. Highway 70 in New Mexico have been passing billboards with strange symbols on the over the past month. Their odd presence has raised concern among some locals. Craig Melton of Las Cruces was afraid it might be “some kind of threat or warning. You never know, we’re close to the border and you think that ISIS or some other subversives might be trying to get at us.”

In truth, the billboards are part of a work of art known as the Manifest Destiny Billboard Project. Samantha Frank, territorial director of the Los Angeles Nomadic Division, said, “It’s a series of artist-produced billboards and activations that will be shown along Interstate 10 from Jacksonville, Florida, to Los Angeles, California.” The project, a “moving gallery of contemporary art,” began in October and will finish in June.

The symbols that had people concerned “are rooted from old biblical terms used in the Ten Commandments.” The billboards were made from materials culled from the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone in New Mexico and the film set of The Ten Commandments, both known for being “fake archaeology.”

The billboard space was donated by Lamar Advertising and ClearChannel Outdoor. In addition, the National Endowment for the Arts provided a $50,000 grant to help fund the project.

The use of distinctive billboards is increasing as a creative way to get the attention of travelers. In Flint, Michigan, a plain billboard on Interstate 69 simply read, “I’m Concerned About The Blueberries.” After weeks of speculation as to what the phrase might mean, Flint entrepreneur and business owner Phil Shaltz came forward as the person who commissioned the sign. The most interesting part of the stunt? It was not about blueberries at all.

When Shaltz was asked about the meaning behind the message, he explained, “Blueberries are the concerns and the hurdles and the struggles that all of us deal with in a day. This isn’t about me. It’s about doing the little things—the causes we fight about and the doors that we open. It’s about caring for each other and doing a little something, causing an avalanche of good.”

“This is a stunt,” Shaltz said. “It was something I decided to put up to grab people’s attention so they could start thinking about blueberries.”

The “blueberry” campaign launched the “Blueberry Ambassadors,” students who are working to help others and do good things for the community. In fact, the Blueberry Ambassador program received an award this month for helping to make Genesee County “the best place to raise children.”

So, in a society that receives most of its advertising and messages every few seconds through technology, a change in the everyday grabs people’s attention. Not only are these billboards forcing people to make observations, they also cause us to process information and draw conclusions—all while paying attention to the creators and their messages.—Erin Lamb