Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Ritual Project Vs A Love Letter For You

I was recently made aware of a very interesting art/advertising collaboration called The Ritual Project. In it, Stella Artois contracted Sky High Media, or Colossal Media, to paint each frame of a billboard sized time lapse, depicting "the perfect pour". Colossal media is co-founded by Adrian Moeller, who also co-founded Mass Appeal magazine in 1996, and is also the company responsible for the Banksy murals in Soho that appeared late in 2008. The project is as much about the team of mural painters as it is the advertisement, highlighting the skill involved in this dying artform. Watching the herculean task of painting each frame of the time lapse only to see it buffed before the next frame is painted, really gives you an incredible sense of the work and dedication it takes to create such large scale works. In fact the "performance" aspect of this project was well understood by Stella Artois, as evidenced by this tag line from the website.

"Whether pouring the perfect Stella Artois, or recreating it as a massive piece of art, the magic lies in watching it come to life."

I couldn't agree more. If there is magic associated with this project, it surely isn't in the final product. As a resident walking by this project as it took place over the many days required to complete the time lapse, I would have been excited. I would have been less interested in the image being created of a Stella Artois glass, but while the painters were racing against time, I could have enjoyed watching them play with the side of a building in such a creative way. After all, unless you knew about the project before hand, watching painters paint, then buff, then paint a nearly identical image over and over again would have been odd and amusing to say the least. In this way the project would have kept my attention and provided me with an interesting interaction in public space, something we continue to think has a positive affect on our public environment.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

Another recent project you might know about is Steve Powers' A Love Letter For You in Philadelphia. This immense mural undertaking, created over 30 murals along the Market-Frankford elevated line in Philly. The project depicts a series of "love letters" or pronouncements of love with heartfelt sentiments like, "If you were here, I'd be home" and "Your everafter is all I'm after." Although I was not in Philadelphia for the production of these murals, I can imagine the performance aspect of the project was in some way similar to The Ritual Project. As a resident one would watch these murals going up one after the other, unaware of the intention behind them as they seem almost out of place in their sincerity and eloquence. As with the Ritual Project, one could enjoy the mystery of it all while watching the streets you live on change before your eyes.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

Both projects to me provide a wonderful moment for public curiosity that enlivens public space creating a sense of interest in the public environment where there might not have been any before. What is interesting to me, and illuminates some of the differences between using the public space for advertising VS artistic production, is what is left behind. In the case of The Ritual Project, we are left with an advertisement, an expected call for our attentions, and an expected outcome in an environment often used as a venue to sell goods and services, and a disposable image. In the Love Letter project we are left with something much less fleeting. The murals are unexpected moments of kindness and their permanence allows us to enjoy this feeling on a daily basis as they become landmarks which define the neighborhoods in which they exist.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

And this might be on of the most important differences between advertising billboards and artistic mural productions, despite them both being painted by highly skilled artists. Endurance, permanence, and investment are all qualities of the Love Letter Project that the Ritual Project lacks. Both projects may have been interesting to watch but what Mr. Powers has created will last and continue to give to the city long after the actual production is over. Not only do these murals become ways in which the public can identify areas of the city, but they begin to define the city more broadly. No one would say, "Take a right at the Stella Artois advertisement", but they might say "Take a right at the, 'For you I got daycare money and carfare honey for now on.'" mural. This is in part because advertisement is fleeting and makes no real investment in the space it occupies, but also because the artwork does just that and therefore becomes a part of the space in which it exists and the lives of those who live there.

photo courtesy of Steve Powers

The difference between these two projects I feel exemplifies why advertisement, no matter how interesting, beautiful, or artistic, falls short of using our public space in a meaningful way which ultimately adds to the city fabric. Public space can be used or spent in the typical sense, or it can be altered in ways which increase its value for everyone that interacts with it.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

City Newsstands Seek Special Treatment on Outdoor Advertising

This compelling press release was sent to me from the wonderful people over at SCRUB. Like Ban Billboard Blight in LA, SCRUB is a voice for Philadelphia's public space. Through community organization and mobilization, they attempt to keep the outdoor advertising industry and the special interest groups which accompany it in line. Obviously this is quite a task and this post from them is a great example of how they motivate public awareness of issues that often would fly under the radar and yet would be responsible for the complete alteration and function of Philadelphia's public spaces. How issues like this are not more openly debated and made aware to the public is beyond me. You have to tip your hat to people who are so concerned with their public space that they make it their personal mission to do what the city government should be doing for them.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Mary Tracy 215-731-1796

Philadelphia - Transforming Philadelphia's newstands into illuminated, ad-covered, video streaming, digitalized kiosks is an idea being promoted by the Newsstand Association of Philadelphia. City Council's Streets and Services Committee will hold a public hearing on the newsstand legislation, Bill 090015, on Wednesday, February 25th at 10 o'clock, Council Chambers, Room 400. The Bill, if passed, would dramatically alter the public face of Center City by exempting newsstand owners from prohibitions on non-accessory outdoor advertising signs that have been in place for over two decades.

By carving out one special interest group, newsstand owners, for an exception to outdoor advertising restrictions, City Council will have opened the floodgates to others who will want "equal treatment" under the law. Sign laws that have prevented the expansion of outdoor advertising will be challengeable. Anyone from food stand operators and street vendors to building owners and other small businesses may justifiably seek to make similar profits from erecting non-accessory signs.

There is no compelling public good served by granting customized zoning to newsstands. It will come at the expense of a deteriorating visual experience for us all and the demise of Philadelphia's model sign ordinance which has kept our City free from wall-wraps, guerrilla advertising campaigns and other types of advertising intrusions in the public space.

Please contact members of the Streets and Services Committee regarding Bill No. 090015. Or, come in person to the hearing on February 25, 2009 at 10:00 in City Council Chambers, Room 400 and voice your opinion.

To testify contact Councilman DiCicco's office to be put on the list. (See contact info below). If you cannot attend, SCRUB will be happy to submit your testimony or letter at the hearing. Please email us or fax 215-732 -5725.

Here are the phone numbers of Council Members serving on the Streets and Services Committee:

Councilman DiCicco, Chair (215) 686-3458
Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez, Vice-Chair (215) 686-3448
Councilman Green (215) 686-3420
Councilman Greenlee (215) 686-3446
Councilman Jones (215) 686-3416

This photo is a simulation to show non-accessory advertising on a newstand as proposed under Bill 090015 which includes a six inch advertising banner on the top, and a 28 square foot (7x4) illuminated advertising sign below. A streaming video advertising panel and digitalized banner would be placed on sidewalk side (not shown)

A summary of advertising permitted on newstands under Bill 090015:

-A 24 inch wide video monitor with streaming video advertising
-A six inch band of advertising signage placed around the top of each newsstand covering all four sides of the newsstand; the side facing sidewalk can be digital and illuminated
-One large, illuminated, poster sized signs (7x4 feet) facing the street side
A logo or sponsorship type sign placed on the grating with the approval of the Art Commission
-An Illuminated sign (18 x 36 inches ) on each of the newsstand's two sides facing the street and sidewalk.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

New York Sign Company Breaks Philadelphia's Laws

SCRUB is a public voice for public space in Philadelphia. Much like the Municipal Art Society in New York, they lobby and protest illegal usage of public space and deter companies attempting to take advantage of a relatively unaware public.


Philadelphia - On Tuesday February 3rd, at 9:30 AM, a New York City billboard company, FUEL Outdoor, will ask Philadelphia's Zoning Board of Adjustments to grant a variance legalizing two outdoor advertising signs located at 339 North Broad Street. The signs violate several provisions of Philadelphia's laws regulating signage and are located near residences. Even more importantly, SCRUB anticipates that FUEL Outdoor will use this case as an attempt to eviscerate Philadelphia's Zoning code's sign controls.
SCRUB's preliminary survey of signage installed by FUEL Outdoor in Philadelphia revealed that the 339 North Broad Street signs are among 92 illegal signs installed in 48 locations around the City. See the results of our survey and interactive map.

FUEL on Spring Garden

An example of FUEL's illegal signs. This one is located at 301 Spring Garden Street.

FUEL Outdoor's small billboards are similar in size to the infamous "eight-sheet" billboards plastered on corner stores and vacant buildings around Philadelphia neighborhoods for over two decades until 2007, when 958 eight-sheet signs were finally removed.

FUEL's signs are slightly smaller than the "eight sheet" billboards removed in 2007...but just as illegal.
Like the eight-sheets, FUEL Outdoor's sign structures are erected without pemits and are installed in places where outdoor advertising is prohibited by the Zoning Code. The signs are bolted onto walls or free-standing poles.

FUEL Outdoor merged with MetroLights and the company gained national attention when they filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles in response to a ban placed on the construction of new billboards. Metrolights (now FUEL) challenged the constitutionality of LA's sign laws.
Just recently, however, the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled in favor of Los Angeles, serving a crushing blow to FUEL which had won previous lower court decisions. FUEL has filed a similar lawsuit in New York City. The lawsuit challenged the validity of sign regulations.
Mary Tracy, executive director of SCRUB, expects that FUEL Outdoor will attempt a similar legal strategy here in Philadelpha. She is confident that the City's laws would prevail. "We anticipate that the Nutter Administration will not cower to bullying tactics employed by FUEL and any other renegade sign company that disrepects the rule of law."

SCRUB's legal counsel will be representing the affected community group and adjacent neighbors at the Zoning Board, urging Board members to deny the request.
Concerned about illegal FUEL signs in your neighborhood? Feel free to attend the hearing or contact SCRUB for assistance.

Zoning Board of Adjustment
Tuesday February 3, 2009 9:30 AM
1515 Arch Street 18th Floor

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Coming soon to Philadelphia: Digital Ads on Buses?!?

Lets all remember Titan Outdoor also has the only contract to display ad content on the 3,300 buses in service for the MTA.

If Titan Outdoor has their way, Philadelphia's neighborhood streets will soon be home to hundreds of buses outfitted with eye-poppingly bright, flashing, blinking, digital advertising on the sides.

Titan Outdoor manages advertising on transit vehicles and in stations for SEPTA. In September, Titan Outdoor and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced their plans to install digital advertising panels to the sides of 100 Chicago buses. SCRUB's hunch is that Titan will be wooing SEPTA to do the same here.

Not everyone in Chicago will be subjected to these rolling LED displays. CTA has determined that Chicago's upscale Lake Shore Drive will be off-limits for the rolling digital ads. The rest of the city, however, is fair game. News coverage of the Chicago deal suggests that the ads will change based on the neighborhood. This raises important questions about this program if implemented here in Philadelphia, a city with a history of advertisers who target low-income neighborhoods with messages for alcohol, sugary beverages and fast food.

Additionally, there is the clumsy mismatch between SEPTA's appealing "Go Green, Go SEPTA" campaign and the sizable carbon footprint of digital advertising. From data we have seen, SCRUB's estimate is that 100 digital bus ads is the rough equivalent of two 1,200 square foot digital billboards. It would take the planting of approximately 9,000 trees each year to off-set the carbon impact of 100 digital bus ads. This is "going green"?

And, what about safety? The traffic engineering community is extremely concerned about driver distraction and road safety. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a study in 2006 that found that drivers who take their eyes off the road for two seconds or longer have a significantly increased crash risk. Can Philadelphia's pedestrians, cyclists and drivers afford to have yet more dangerous distractions on our city streets?

SCRUB supports SEPTA's efforts to provide the region with public transportation and appreciates their on-going financial challenges. But, we have also witnessed SEPTA's willingness to go along with just about anything Titan Outdoor suggests - such as the illegal 4400 square foot Duncan Donuts wallwrap placed on the 1234 Market Street building, the widely-reviled advertising wrapped Colt 45 bus, and most recently, the Market-Frankford El stations plastered in ads for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Let's hope that this time, SEPTA has the good sense to say "No thanks."

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Illegal Colt 45 ads in Philidelphia

Illegal advertising murals in Philadelphia have sparked community challenges as citizens attempt to get them removed. Article

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