Galleries and museums are closed, but Nashville still has a new art show — on billboards
Art gives us refuge, respite and hope, especially in times of crisis. So what do we do when we lose access to it?
For Wendy Hickey, you turn billboards into art galleries.
Hickey is the founder of ArtPop Street Gallery, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting artists and giving communities greater access to art through available media space.
When the COVID-19 crisis forced Nashville art galleries and museums to close, she partnered with RBX Media, Blackbird Media and Outfront Media to adorn digital billboards throughout the city with work by local artists.
The digital billboards, including the iconic Nashville Sign, now feature on rotation towering images of paintings, photographs, mosaics and digital drawings by Nashville-based artists Alison Fullerton, David Morel, Jairo Prado and Danielle Duer.
The mission is to give artists a much-needed platform and to “bring the joy of art to the community during this challenging time,” Hickey said. “We know how healing and powerful art is. So for people to be able to still see art at a time when you can’t see it in person is so important. I hope this gives people something beautiful to see and that it takes their minds off of the tragedy that’s going on around us, even if just for a moment.”
The show is a big win for the artists, as well. Having your work promoted in such a major way can be life-changing. And with the art world infrastructure being on hiatus indefinitely, it’s the kind of boost they need now more than ever.
“Artists are always struggling, but they’re especially hurting right now,” Fullerton said. “We aren’t getting paid to show our work on the billboards, but it’s thousands of dollars worth of advertising. It’s a incredible opportunity.”
“With ArtPop, I want to eliminate the starving artist stigma,” Hickey said. “The program builds artist brands and makes them a household name. At the same time, we beautify the landscape, and our billboard galleries are open 24 hours a day, everyday, and anyone can see them.”
ArtPop has helped Nashville artists before. In 2017, five local artists were awarded the benefits of the full program, which begins with a call for artists, who are then subject to a juried selection process. The chosen artists had their work displayed on billboards throughout Nashville for a full year.
Hickey put the rules on hold for this special, abridged edition of the project, however. When RBX offered her space on two of their billboards, she jumped at the opportunity. Soon, other billboard companies offered to help, too. There was no time for a juried review, so she reached out to two of the artists who were selected in 2017 — Morel and Prado — who then connected her with Fullerton and Duer.
“I just couldn’t say no. Nothing came to our organization from this nor did anything come to the media companies either — we’re doing it 100% pro bono,” Hickey said. “It’s a gift from the media world to your city wrapped in a bow from ArtPop Street Gallery.”
Each artist selected a piece they hope will inspire and connect people during this challenging time. Fullerton contributed portraits of Native American women warriors to inspire strength and resilience. Morel’s infrared photograph of palm trees encourages viewers to look at familiar things in new ways. Yaro, who is known for his public mosaic installations in neighborhoods around Nashville, included a detail of a mosaic piece called “Tidal Wave” as a reminder of the power public art has to connect and unify communities. And Duer created a fanciful digital drawing of a health care worker wearing a medical mask and a starry, billowing cape. The piece is titled “THANK YOU.”
“The billboard art gallery isn’t just about art. It’s also a show of goodwill and how everybody is helping everybody through this,” Fullerton said. “It feels like one of those ‘Nashville Strong’ stories.”
“Artists make their communities more beautiful and much of the time go unseen,” Hickey added. “I hope the billboard galleries remind people that there are local artists in their community who don’t have a way of showing their art right now. This is a beautiful opportunity for Nashvillians to learn about them and hopefully commission them for work.”
If you can’t support your local artists financially, Hickey said you can do a lot by just following them on social media. “You can comment kindly on their posts, share them, and help boost their social media exposure,” she said. “And please follow ArtPop Street Gallery, too.”
Source: Spencer Elliott, Nashville Tennessean