Friday, March 19, 2010

The Mad Men of Los Angeles

Christine Pelisek has written an incredibly articulate article on the nature of LA's illegal outdoor advertising problem. She spoke to us and included the Weave It! piece we did while out in LA not too long ago. The one thing I would note is that while illegal signage is problematic, it is the use of public space for commercial interest that is really the issue. We should remain aware of this and not give up once illegal signs are removed. Eventually we should take after Sao Paolo and ban it all, period.

The Mad Men of Los Angeles
Living the good life, thanks to the big profits from illegal outdoor advertising

by Christine Pelisek

Supergraphic multimillionaire Barry Rush couldn't have been pleased to hear a few weeks ago that Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich had taken the audacious step of jailing a compatriot in arms, a Hollywood landlord who, for an undisclosed sum, cut a deal with a shadowy firm that draped an illegal supergraphic around a historic Hollywood Boulevard building. [More Here]

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Digital Billboards, Diversions Drivers Can’t Escape

Did you know that nationwide there are 450,000 billboards? I'm assuming this number only includes free standing signs on highways and other roadways and that it does not include billboards in cities that are affixed to the sides of buildings and other similar derivations. The article below from the New York Times speaks about this important issue the country is now facing as digital technology becomes more affordable for outdoor advertising companies. The question of whether or not digital signage is a safety hazard is a hot topic, and cities across the country are weighing in as a precedent has yet to be set. As far as we are concerned this is a moot issue. What is more important is the right this type of signage has in our public in general. As for the safety issue and digital billboards' tendency to be more distracting than traditional signage, we think this is a pretty easy call. If they werent more attention grabbing, outdoor advertising companies wouldnt be paying immense amounts of money to erect these huge television screens and advertisers wouldn't be paying the 600% markups associated with this type of technology. Remember the whole point of advertising is to grab and hold your attention in order to get you to do something you might not otherwise do, period! There is no debating this fact.

VIA The New York Times

Safety advocates who worry about the dangers of distracted driving have a new concern beyond cellphones and gadget-laden dashboards: digital roadside billboards. These high-tech billboards marry the glow of Times Square with the immediacy of the Internet. Images change every six to eight seconds, so advertisers can flash timely messages — like the latest headlines, coffee deals at dawn, a cheeseburger at lunchtime or even the song playing on a radio station at that moment. [More Here]

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Businessman held on $1-million bail in supergraphic case

The LA times is reporting that a businessman was arrested and is being held on $1-million bail for posting an eight-story movie advertisement in Hollywood. It is about time arrests became an integral part of dealing with the perpetrators of crimes against the public. There may be issues with safety in regards to supergraphic signs but no one addresses the issue of our collective public health. On a daily basis commercial messages assault the senses, steal valuable space in our minds, and manipulate the public interest to fit commercial desires altering the very fabric of our society. This makes all advertising in public a crime as far as I am concerned and it should be met with the appropriate police response.

Businessman held on $1-million bail in supergraphic case

In a dramatic escalation of the war against illegal supergraphics in Los Angeles, authorities have jailed a businessman accused of posting an eight-story movie advertisement on an office building at one of Hollywood's busiest intersections. [More Here]

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Artists Reclaim Public Space: A Conversation with Public Ad Campaign Founder Jordan Seiler

A while back I was asked to speak with Danny Valdes on his first radio broadcast of Radio Provocateur on WVRB radio. You can listen to our talk here. This discussion turned into an article for The Indypendent that you can read here. We were happy to see the first comment on the article was posted by Reverend Billy himself.

Rev Billy Says:

That is an energizing vision for New York City. We are mired in a post-great- city provincialism now. New Yorker’s creative life is encased in inbred careers. The arts are unheard-of, for instance, outside of their subcultures of critics, parties and backers. Relinquishing public space is key to the impotence and de-politicization of the arts. My own home art form is theater, and literally nobody has any idea what theater is doing. Meanwhile, the totalizing saturation by varieties of corporate theater on our streets and sidewalks is permitted even when it’s clearly illegal. We’re trained to respond with, what, “good for jobs!” “private property!” “the struggling economy!” Democracy, and a subset of democracy - call it “the greatness of a New York” - depends on re-taking public space.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Billboards on Co-ops/Condos: How to Make Money on Signage & Avoid Fines

Frank Lovece, a reporter for the 28-year-old New York co-op/condo-board magazine Habitat, interviewed me about billboard etiquette in NYC a few months ago. The article is a what to do and not do when thinking about renting the side of your co-op to an OAC. It is pretty straight forward, but if you are not familiar with how the process works, an interesting read. As the article is mainly about how to go about renting without getting in trouble with the law, we were contacted as an advocacy group familiar with some of the aesthetic and social issues surrounding outdoor advertising. Quoted at the end of the article, our question was just because you can make money off of selling our collective public spaces, does that mean you should?

Jan. 4, 2010 — Nearly one million dollars.

That's the amount of fines the city levied against 59 Fourth Avenue, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, for two years of illegal billboard signage. And though that figure is divided among the co-op there and the two companies that brokered and mounted the hanging vinyl billboards for the movie Twilight, TV's King of the Hill and Boost Mobile phones, it's still an enormous sum for any co-op or condo board to absorb. [MORE]

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Monday, January 4, 2010

LSD Interview With PublicAdCampaign

I was interviewed over the phone by Cyrus at London Street Art & Design a few weeks ago. At the time I didn't realize the entirety of our conversation would be used verbatim. Normally I wouldn't want my stream of conscious ramblings to be printed, but amidst the incoherence glimpses of my un-adulterated thoughts come through. There is some interesting content on some fantastic artists in the 3rd issue of this web magazine and I suggest taking a look.

"Much of the essence of street art and conscious living in general has the reclamation of our warped public spaces at its core. The endless pervasion of our realities by apathy and advertising alike has slowly eroded a sense of self defined community and a creative pride in the world we live in. Yet while many artists pirate the medium of public advertising to sow seeds of self questioning, few have been as dedicatedly activist as New York’s Jordan Seiler and his Public Ad Campaign. From hijacking legal advertising to creating forums for open and enlightened debate to taking on the behemoths of vested interest themselves, he has tirelessly worked to open up the conversation about the nature of our society and shine a light on indifference and conditioning. He spoke to us." [MORE]

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Flair Magazine-Interview With PublicAdCampaign

You often meet interesting characters on the set of fashion shoots, but Jordan Seiler has a really unusual story. A photography lighting technician, he is also a very busy artist. He created PublicAdCampaign, a project that promotes, as works of art, the illegal occupation of public spaces designated for advertising. His goal? To protest against the distorted use of public spaces by the part of corporations and to return them to the public.

How did you start?

On a whim. I was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and when I went home to New York and ride the subway, I thought that I would prefer seeing one of my images there instead of advertising.

What’s behind PublicAdCampaign?

Lots of money is made through advertising in public spaces. Unfortunately, we artists cannot afford to pay to exhibit our art; we can only do it illegally. Also, I would definitely like the streets more if we eliminated advertisements: it would reduce the corporate control of these places. They would return to the public, which could use it differently, more artistically.

What is your latest project?

My latest project is National Bestseller.

What is it about?

We took over the advertising spaces in phone booths with the pages of some bestsellers. It wasn’t so much about sharing the content of the book as much as the desire to return this space to the public. Books are loved and shared by many people and so it is only right that they substitute the corporate messages. It is a more democratic form of information.

And the next project?

I’ll be working with over a hundred artists and activists: we will take over 130 advertising billboards around New York.

Is there a political message behind this protest?

We move illegally and without permits, so this too is a form of “opposition”. We want the city to be returned to the public. It would be great if everyone could use it to display new and creative ideas. Public space is one of the last democratic spaces, where each one of us has the same power and the same “value” as the next person.

Working in fashion, you must have worked on the set of advertising campaigns. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Advertising is a tremendous force that guides our desires and persuades us to buy things that we might not even have thought of. When this content is in newspapers or on television or the radio, we can ignore it. But if it’s displayed on billboards, then we can only be subjected to it and we become unwitting slaves to the message, incapable of choosing. I don’t have a problem with advertising per se, but with how it is imposed on us in public spaces. So working in this industry is not a contradiction since I’m not participating in the creation of its content.

Do you know of similar initiatives in Europe?

In France they are at the forefront of this type of protest. I don’t know if this also exists in Italy.

Paola Salvatore

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The city that went to war on advertising

Sao Paulo banned all outdoor advertising in 2007 on the understanding that getting rid of the commercial blight was in "the highest degree of public interest, seeking as it does to promote the public good essential for a better quality of urban life".

VIA The Independent

Sao Paulo has banned billboards, and residents are using a hotline set up by the Mayor to report any and all offenders

By Hugh O'Shaughnessy

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Stealthily, cleverly, implacably, the officials of Sao Paulo – its 20 million inhabitants make it one of the world's largest cities – are after their prey. Since the first day of 2007, morning, noon, night and at weekends, Argus-eyed, they wait and watch for it on foot and in their vehicles. Their weapon is the Lei Cidade Limpa, the Clean City Law. [MORE]

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

World Gone Ad - Plastique Magazine

Plastique is a UK based fashion and art magazine that was kind enough to feature the PublicAdCampaign project in their last issue. A while back we posted the original text that we wrote for them. Here is the final layout and text, slightly edited to be more understandable than my original gibberish.

To all those that came out to the Lucid NYC event last night, thank you so much. To those who are still waiting on the NYSAT project micro site, we will have something up very soon, although it will be unfinished until we can figure out what can and cannot be posted to insure the protection of all those involved.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Clarin Article Translation

Clarin did an article on public space issues and talked to PublicAdCampaign to get some pertinent info. We posted the article a while back but are now just posting the translation, done by a PublicAdCampaign reader, because it talks about the second NYSAT project upcoming before the event on October 25th.

To whomever did the translation, thank you....

I'll give this a shot...

The movement started in New York as a way to recover public space.

By: Maria Paula Bandera

For a long time art has found strength in cities. Walls, posters and doors are like a blank canvas for street artists, who have now found a new medium for displaying their art: public advertisements. Jordan Seiler is a New York artist who, through the web site Public Ad Campaign, organized a creative protest against the invasion of advertisements in the public sphere. The initiative, known as New York Street Advertising Take Over, mobilized close to 80 people, who, dressed as municipal workers, took to the streets of New York and hung their own art on hundreds of public advertisements. Seiler told Clarin "the second part will be coming soon."

"We're all conscious of the manipulation generated by advertisements. Often, we can avoid those messages by turning off the TV, turning the page of the magazine, or turning down the volume of the radio, while in public spaces there's no option. That's why it's necessary to stop the coercion that advertisements exercise in the street," says Seiler. For Seiler, the main targets are the illegal ads - those that don't pay the corresponding fees to the city. Perhaps that's why his art isn't destined to subvert the advertising messages but to "fight for the space that advertisements occupy in detriment to other forms of expression, like political messages or artistic interventions." His works emphasize the transformation of the meaning of advertisements. Street artists are accustomed to avoiding the police; however, when they jeopardize the interests of large companies the manner becomes more serious. Although Seiler has never been arrested, he has received various citations for displaying his art on public telephones.

Or something like that. Then it says some other stuff unrelated to Public Ad Campaign.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Public Space Can Be Used Against You: NY Street Ad Takeover #2

Hrag Vartanian of Hyper Allergic interviewed PublicAdCampaign about the last NYSAT project and it is well worth the read. We greatly apologize to Hrag for our mis-communication that resulted in his lack of direct access to the latest NYSAT project. Hrag has dissected some of the major questions regarding this type of non-violent civil protest project and we greatly appreciate his work and interest in reporting so diligently on the project.
I had been working on a story for six months but some things don’t always work out the way you plan them. What was the story? Last Sunday, Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign organized the second New York Street Advertising Takeover (NYSAT) in New York. The New York Times was there but sadly I wasn’t. [More Here]

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Brooklyn Street Art-Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Public Advertising and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

VIA Brooklyn Street Art

The sparkling noon-time sun felt a little eerie as bed-headed late-night revelers and smartly dressed church-goers poured out to the street to see that the advertising billboards were bare. [MORE HERE]

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NY Post-Painters in Brush With Law

VIA The New York Post


Posted: 4:03 AM, October 26, 2009

Five people were arrested yesterday for defacing billboards in an effort to replace ads with art.

The five were among dozens armed with paint and brushes who spread out over lower Manhattan and whitewashed billboards to "reclaim" public space as part of a protest organized by the Public Ad Campaign.

Three of the artists were charged with criminal mischief and making graffiti. The other two were still being processed last night.

Adda Birnir, 24, and her boyfriend were painting flowers on a whitewashed billboard on Mulberry Street when cops hauled them off.

"They were being completely peaceful," said Birnir's father, Bjorn, 56, who was visiting from California.

About 80 members attacked advertisements throughout Manhattan with white paint and roller brushes, and filled the new blank canvasses with their own creations.

Jordan Seiler, director of the Public Ad Campaign, said his group identified about 5,000 illegal billboards in the city.

"New York is a beautiful, wonderful city," Seiler said "When you fill it with commercial messages, you turn it into a commercial space rather than a public space."

Representatives from National Promotions and Advertising, which posts many of the ads, were monitoring the protest, and, in some cases, called police. A spokesman for the organization could not be reached for comment.

In April, a similar protest resulted in four arrests.

Kaylina Holman, 18, a high-school senior from Brooklyn, managed to paint green and orange abstract shapes on an Eldridge Street billboard without getting arrested.

"I don't think the public needs to constantly have corporate agendas shoved down their throats," Holman said.

Jonathan Askin, a Public Ad Campaign lawyer, said there is a double standard when it comes to billboards and art.

"The city has lost several millions of dollars by not combating unlawfully posted commercial billboards," Askin said. "The enforcement is arbitrary."

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

The NY Times Has Something To Say

An artist called Gaia was part of a group that removed advertising posters in Lower Manhattan.

Published: October 25, 2009

It was a bizarre cat-and-mouse game, played on Sunday across scores of makeshift billboards in New York.

One group of artists and activists spread across Lower Manhattan, transforming innumerous wheat-pasted posters — the ones that readily sprout over scaffolding — into their own canvas.

They would whitewash the posters and then create their own work, or allow anti-advertising advocates to spread their own messages.

But just as quickly as they whitewashed and put up art, workers arrived to put up new posters where the artists had obscured the old ones.

And so it went, back and forth, with drama, confrontation and even a few arrests by day’s end.

The takeover efforts were organized by an artist, Jordan Seiler, who founded a group called the Public Ad Campaign to question and challenge the use of outdoor ads in public areas.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday, Mr. Seiler and about a dozen other participants met in his Chelsea studio, where they went over lists of targets: 114 street-level billboards that Mr. Seiler said were operated by companies that he believed were putting up ads without proper permission from the city.

A spokeswoman for the City Department of Buildings, Ryan Fitzgibbon, said on Sunday that it was difficult to immediately address Mr. Seiler’s claims.

“If outdoor advertisement is allowed, a permit from D.O.B. must be obtained in order to post an advertisement or a sign,” she said. “Advertisements are not allowed on construction fences.”

It is no secret, however, that such advertisements abound, and on Sunday morning Mr. Seiler pointed to a construction fence near his studio that was covered with dozens of pasted posters.

“We’re bombarded by ads every day,” he said. “Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.”

At 10:30, Mr. Seiler and his confederates broke up into pairs, bringing along five-gallon buckets of white paint and long-handled rollers to use to spread the paint over ads.

There were ads for drinks (Bulldog Gin, Hendrick’s Gin and Dr Pepper), movies (a comedy called “Black Dynamite,” along with a documentary about President Obama called “By the People”) and albums (“World Painted Blood” by Slayer was pasted next to “Soulbook” by Rod Stewart).

Some passers-by liked the commandolike cover-ups; an artist named Jane Gennaro, who was not connected to the project, approved of the men painting over an ad for the video game Grand Theft Auto, saying, “We need to get rid of all the visual noise.”

But on West 25th Street, a man chased two of the whitewashers, shouting, “I will sue you.”

In any event, the newly painted-over spots were not to remain blank for long. Within hours, men driving pickup trucks with New Jersey license plates put up new ads where the artists had obscured the old ones.

One of those men, on West 25th Street, refused to identify himself or the company he was working for, instead responding to an inquiry from a reporter with an epithet, and the directive, “Take a walk.”

Over the next hour or so, control of the billboards changed hands several times, with the pickup truck drivers pasting up ads for movies and parties, as — sometimes separated by only a block or so — groups of artists pasted their own images over the ads.

Meanwhile, Mr. Seiler said, five people taking part in the project were arrested on unspecified charges.

Near the end of the afternoon, one of the artists, who gave his name as Gaia, donned a disguise consisting of a black eye mask and a plastic bag that he pulled over his head like a hood. He then pasted up an image he had made of a snarling grizzly bear.

“Hopefully, this gets a chance to engage in some dialogue with the viewers,” said the artist. “In two hours it’s going to be gone.”

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The Streets Were Alive Today In NYC

The streets were alive today in NYC. Cronicas Barbaras caught a bit of the action. Look her up cause she has been privy to all of the best.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

La "intervención" de la publicidad, una nueva forma de arte callejero

An article in Argentina's largest paper Clarin was published yesterday and it includes PublicAdCampaign. My Spanish is pretty poor, even after some 5 years of study in junior high school and high school, so if anyone is itching to translate this we would love to know exactly what it says. A big thank you to Maria for her interest and concern in this growing worldwide movement.

photo by Adam Amengual

La movida comenzó en Nueva York. Es una forma de recuperar el espacio público.

Por: María Paula Bandera

Hace tiempo que el arte se apoderó de la ciudad. Paredes, posters y portones son como un lienzo en blanco para los artistas callejeros, quienes ahora encontraron un nuevo soporte para desplegar su arte: los carteles publicitarios. Jordan Seiler es un artista neoyorquino que a través del sitio web Public Ad Campaign organizó una creativa manifestación para luchar contra la invasión publicitaria en el espacio público. La iniciativa, conocida como New York Street Advertising Take Over (NYSAT), movilizó cerca de 80 personas, que, disfrazadas de empleados municipales, tomaron las calles de Nueva York y colocaron obras de arte de su propia producción sobre cientos de publicidades.

"Todos somos conscientes de la manipulación que genera la publicidad. Muchas veces podemos evitar esos mensajes apagando el televisor, pasando de página en una revista o bajando el volumen de la radio, mientras que en el espacio publico no hay opción por eso es necesario detener la coerción que la publicidad ejerce en la calle", dice Seiler. Para el artista. el blanco principal son los anuncios ilegales, es decir aquellos que no pagan el canon correspondiente a la ciudad, quizás por eso sus obras de arte no tienen como propósito subvertir los mensajes publicitarios, sino "combatir el espacio que ocupan en detrimento de otras formas de expresión como los mensajes políticos y las intervenciones artísticas". Sus obras se destacan por transformar el sentido de los mensajes publicitarios. Los artistas callejeros están acostumbrados a escapar de la policía, sin embargo, cuando se perjudican los intereses de grandes compañías el asunto se torna más serio. Si bien nunca fue arrestado, Seiler recibió varias citaciones de la Justicia por desplegar su arte en las cabinas telefónicas.

Claro que para luchar contra el avance de las publicidades en el espacio público no hace falta ser artista. Así lo demuestran el "Proyecto Burbuja" y el "Pop Down Project". Se trata de dos movimientos mundiales, aunque sólo el primero tiene representación en nuestro país. Valentín Muro y Mateo Ferley son los responsables de haber importado la idea. Para participar sólo basta con ingresar al sitio Web ( e imprimir las plantillas de lo que ellos llaman "burbujas" -aquellos globitos que se usan en las historietas para insertar diálogos-, después sólo hay que pegarlas en las publicidades. "El Proyecto Burbuja transforma los molestos monólogos corporativos en diálogos abiertos y públicos. Alientan a cualquiera a llenar las burbujas con cualquier expresión, libres de la censura", reza su manifiesto. Oriundo de Bariloche, Muro cuenta que llegó al proyecto de casualidad, navegando en Internet encontró el sitio de "Bubble Project", la Web madre del movimiento. "Me interesé tanto que en una noche lo traduje todo al castellano. Apenas terminé se lo envié a Ji Lee - el creador de la idea original- quien se entusiasmó con mi iniciativa de divulgar el proyecto en castellano". Fue en su ciudad natal que Muro pegó las primeras burbujas y, cuenta, "la respuesta fue prácticamente nula. De hecho, la primera burbuja que llenaron estaba en inglés". Ferley señala que "en Bariloche, la mayoría de las burbujas eran arrancadas. En Buenos Aires hubo una respuesta más participativa". Sin embargo, si se comparan las intervenciones en Nueva York o Milán, la participación por estos pagos todavía es muy baja. "Creo que se debe a que la gente tarda en darse cuenta que la burbuja es una herramienta para intervenir la publicidad y responder al bombardeo del mercado", agrega Ferley.

El "Pop Down Project" hace referencia a otro tipo de publicidad, los "Pop Ups" que aquejan a los cibernautas. En la Web es fácil: un click en la cruz y el aviso desaparece, pero en la calle las cosas se complican. Filipe Vilas Boas, creador de la iniciativa, cuenta que estaba viajando en el metro de París cuando se sintió "abusado por la contaminación visual y mental que generaban los anuncios".

El funcionamiento es similar al del "Proyecto Burbuja", con un lema que podría sintetizarse en "hágalo usted mismo". Para participar, los seguidores del "Pop Down Project" ingresan a la web (, imprimen las cruces y las pegan "donde quieran, en una publicidad que no les gusta o que los perturba. Sin miedo, ya que están brindando un servicio comunitario".

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good Magazine's Top 100, Or So.

The recent issue of Good Magazine just came out and we are in the top 100, or so, people "changing the way we live". We couldn't be more proud to be listed amongst some amazing projects as well as on the same page as Jason Eppink, a fantastic artist and good friend. Check your local news stands and pick up a copy today, it is well worth it.

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PublicAdCampaign In PubliPhobe Newsletter

I was just made aware of a newsletter put out under the name publiphobe by a wonderful member of the debunkers collective in France. This man has been involved in 53 acts of civil disobedience associated with outdoor advertising in public space and has been arrested 38 times. That is insane. Glad to know him, and if I follow through with plans to go to Paris for my 30th birthday, I will meet them and tell you all how things go. Below is an excerpt from the newsletter and the translation below

The organization PublicAdCampaign - which apparently has existed for about five years - is led by Jordan Seiler, a New York artist. Its goal is to protest against the invasion of public space and mass transport by advertising and the influence of private interest on the mind. The methods used are similar to those in France: painting over, covering billboards with personal artwork, identifying illegal billboards… Like in France, Jordan and his friends come up against, at best, the inertia of public officials, or, at worst, repression (arrest, preventive detention, etc.). A french anti-advertising activist met Jordan during the summer 2009. The transatlantic connection is thus established.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Plastique Magazine-Argument For An Ad Free Public Space

photo by Adam Amengual

I wrote this small piece for Plastique, a fashion and culture magazine out of London. In it I quickly summarize my feelings towards media and my intentions behind the PublicAdCampaign project. A big thank you to Brylie for giving me a reason to put pen to paper and delve more deeply into the motivations that breath life into this project.
In today’s modern, market driven existence, every once in a while you have to think about who you might be without continual suggestion from advertising and commercial media. After all “you,” having been presented to you many times over by a marketing world intent on capturing your gaze and hoping to bend and transform your desires, might not in fact be the you, that you want to be. This conundrum is a result of living in a world where reality is consistently represented, over and over, by enterprises without your personal interests in mind through a myriad of media channels. Because of this, without fail, our lives are directed by a wind that recommends our desires, and imagines our selves. This isn’t a revelation, media influence is a very real and powerful force that shapes and directs the world we live in. This force affects even those lives that choose to consciously censor programmed expectations, and discern for themselves a reality in which they choose to exist. The force we are talking about is commonly referred to as marketing: the process of representing and illuminating one’s products or services in a dark world. Today more than ever, the cacophony of media lights shines bright in new and subtler ways. The saturation of media, like too many lighthouses guarding the shore, renders the waters of mass culture almost un-navigable for those attempting to avoid this confrontation, and impossible to ignore for those who make no such choice. How then do we determine who we are and what we are to become when the innocence of our decision making process is affected without our control on a daily basis?

I myself fall somewhere in the middle of two opposing reactions to a media saturated world. I digest my TV commercials (for lack of a DVR), peruse magazine print ads with the same rigor as I do the articles, am awed by the event based spectaculars at the forefront of marketing madness, and continually find myself traveling through my city, paying more attention to the lofty billboards than the blind man risking life and limb to cross the street. My choice to imbibe these intoxicating messages is done both consciously and unconsciously as I navigate my way through life in the modern metropolis known as New York City. And though my travels through the mediascape are overwhelmed by a frenzy of messages, I know to want less, to challenge the consuming images that surround me in the public environment. It is in this space of our social lives that the decision to determine who we are, without the aid of behavioral psychologists and new marketing techniques, takes place. Within this space we can demand our own representation and illuminate our own visions of the reality we wish to live in, something we cannot do in the private theaters operated by magazines, television channels, movie houses and corporate theme parks. If only we could pull our attentions away from the full-building-wrap Bacardi advertisement obscuring 25% of our field of vision.

And herein lies the problem. We cannot shake the unconscious reception of marketing memes when our public lives are constantly confronting them at every turn. We are thus faced with a decision: Do we take the laws that protect these private messages, presented to us in the most public of spaces, to be set in stone; obey their every command and continue to live in the shadows of private concerns? Or do we take it upon ourselves to alter the landscape in which we travel, adorning the walls we live with so that they suite our needs and present our own image of a reality we have determined for ourselves? Faced with this dilemma, I have for the past eight years illegally reclaimed public advertising space for art and open public communication, breaking into and altering the mediascape to reflect my personal concerns. Along with providing an alternative to the private communications that overwhelm our public experience, I have found that visually interacting with public space has increased my sense of responsibility for, and dedication to my city. Rupturing the hypnotic control of these alternate ideologies has been a path to defining the city and myself on my own terms. By becoming a part of the process of production I have championed my own thoughts and desires; it is these that the public should reflect before the will of external industries and the media empires that promote commercial needs above all else.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clear Channel Goes Digital In NYC Burbs

VIA Media Daily News

Slowly but surely, digital signs are closing in on Manhattan. With a stronghold in Times Square, the signs are now moving to surround the island from the north. The newest deployment brings a digital display network to the downtown area of White Plains, NY.

The array of eight digital signs, each with a display surface measuring about 20 square feet in area, were installed by Clear Channel Outdoor on municipal property belonging to the White Plains Department of Parking, under the terms of an existing contract between the city and MD Sales & Marketing.

In addition to displaying static advertising images on an eight-second loop, the signs feature scrolling digital text that will allow city officials to communicate important messages to the public. For example, signs directing parking and traffic during concerts and festivals or posting Amber Alerts and other emergency advisories.

From the advertising perspective, downtown White Plains offers an audience with attractive demographic attributes.

In addition to the city's 56,000 residents, the downtown sees heavy traffic by commuters coming and going from the White Plains transit hub, as well as en route to various government buildings, bringing the weekday total to over 200,000.

White Plains is surrounded by converging highways, including U.S. 287, U.S. 684, U.S. 95, and U.S. 87, as well as the Bronx River Parkway, the Merritt Parkway and the Sprain Brook Parkway. Many commuters travel to Westchester to catch Metro-North Railroad trains at the White Plains or North White Plains stations, which are located 30 to 45 minutes north of Grand Central Station, with combined through-traffic of about 3 million in 2006.

In June, Lamar Advertising Co. unveiled a new billboard in the Bronx using low-power digital signage technology developed by Magink. The new sign, located at 640 Soundview Ave., allows Lamar to display multiple ads with only a modest amount of electricity.

Magink displays are not as bright or distracting as other types of digital signage, meaning that local residents are less likely to object to their presence.

To create an image with Magink, an electrical charge is sent to a billboard covered with helix-shaped organic molecules. These rearrange themselves in different shapes following the distribution of the electrical charge. After the image is formed, no more energy is required to keep it in place, unlike LED billboards, which require a continuous source of power.

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Finally, an Easy Way to Dominate Times Square

VIA Ad Age
NEW YORK ( -- Securing prime outdoor advertising real estate just got easier. Clear Channel Spectacolor, the digital signage arm of the company's outdoor division, unveiled Times Square Domination, which will aggregate ad sales for five of the New York location's largest digital billboards. Clear Channel pulled together sign owners Spectacolor, Nasdaq, Reuters, News Corp. and ABC Sports and Entertainment to cooperate and sell the signs together.

"Buying all these signs at one time has been effectively impossible," said Tom Hennigan, president of P.R.omotion, the company that will lead the ad sales of the Times Square consortium, which also debuted a new website.

The growth and competition among digital billboards comes amid the decline of static signage in Times Square, which has seen ad rates plunge anywhere from 15% to 25% in recent months, with less turnover between campaigns.

Ryan Laul, managing director for Hyperspace, a media agency that buys digital out-of-home for Motorola, Schick, CVS and other brands, said more clients have moved toward digital billboards in Times Square because of the creative flexibility and shorter lead-time to secure inventory.

"Digital display technology allows you to sync up campaigns so that all the signs work really well together," he said. "In some cases you may want to buy every screen for one full, dedicated hour, or 200 minutes a day and spread it evenly, or two minutes an hour. It allows us to really dominate an area for a product launch or a timely event."

Not for everyone
Ray Rotolo, senior VP-managing director of Havas' Chrysalis, cautioned that Times Square as a market isn't always the best place for some clients. "The clutter factor is becoming a major issue for some," he said. "But we've tried roadblocking before, and for some clients it's worked. [The Times Square Domination] changes the game because there's audio involved, and it's become almost a live opportunity to interact with the people that are there. The question now is, how can we really creatively look at this and make it work the best for us?"

A buy across Times Square Domination's five screens, based on current rates, would likely run well into the $500,000 to $750,000 range, according to buyer estimates, although terms of deals under the new unit have yet to be discussed, Mr. Rotolo added. Pricing in the area has also gotten more competitive with the recent addition of major digital billboards at Walgreen's on 43rd Street and Broadway and the American Eagle sign on Broadway and 46th Street.

The Times Square audience (565,000 daily visitors, 47 million annually) also tends to spend more time in the area with the recent renovation of the last-minute Broadway ticket seller TKTS booth on 47th Street and Broadway, and the closing of the area to car traffic.

Another addition soon to come is the Times Square Network, a new cable-esque programming network Spectacolor will debut in 2010 on its digital video screen above the W Hotel.

Michael Steinberg, Spectacolor's VP-sales and marketing, said the network will feature news updates from current editorial partner CNN and fully sponsored original programming, including entertainment news, cooking segments and a tentative series profiling one of the the neighborhood's notorious personalities, the Naked Cowboy.

"We want to have out-of-home advertising become a destination in New York," Mr. Steinberg said.

Spectacolor President Harry Coghlan was also open to testing the digital billboard ad-network approach to other markets such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, should the initial results in Times Square pay off. "It's a portable concept that could work with technology as a backdrop," he said.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Billboard watchdogs clean up skylines

VIA The Christian Science Monitor

Standing amid the assortment of new and old buildings in downtown Toronto, Rami Tabello clearly relishes his role as crusader: “Take a look at my handiwork,” he boasts, pointing to a rectangle of discolored brick several stories high on...[MORE HERE]

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Billboards Spur a Fight: Free Speech vs. Beauty

VIA The New York Times

Billboards on the Long Island Expressway in Queens. Billboard companies are appealing a court ruling allowing the city to regulate the signs on highways

Published: September 13, 2009

Seen from the Long Island Expressway, the Manhattan skyline glows on the evening horizon. The Empire State and Chrysler Buildings rise above the rest, their art deco spires lit up like lighthouses marking the way.

Then the highway dips, and the view changes.

Martha Stewart’s face is plastered on a billboard promoting her new television show. An enormous cartoon dinosaur nudges a terrified woolly mammoth in an ad for “Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” A bright orange board advertises AT&T, and others hawk Honda Civics, Mercedes-Benz, Holiday Inn and the TV series “The Good Wife.”

The sight of marching billboards is also familiar to anyone who drives on the Gowanus Expressway, the Henry Hudson Parkway and other city highways. But unlike the ads-cum-attractions in Times Square, many of these billboards are illegal.

Since the 1940s, at least on paper, the city has restricted, or banned outright, the placement of billboards along its highways. But because of haphazard enforcement and what a federal judge described as “subterfuge” and willful lawbreaking by sign companies, the rise of the billboards — some even on city property — went on unchecked.

By the time the judge, Paul A. Crotty of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued a decision in the spring that upheld the city’s right to regulate the billboards and excoriated it for not doing so sooner, no one could even say for sure which of the more than 600 highway billboards had the right to be there.

“The City’s enforcement of its zoning regulations has been inconsistent and less than vigorous,” the judge wrote in his 62-page opinion. “The billboard industry has taken advantage of this lax enforcement and has consistently ignored the regulations on billboard sign location.”

Billboard companies, which have earned far more from advertisers over the years than they have paid in fines, have appealed the ruling.

“Right now, it’s not as prevalent as it used to be,” Vanessa Gruen, director of special projects at the Municipal Art Society of New York, said of the advertising. The society has been keeping tabs on billboards in the city for more than 100 years. “But these companies still make enormous amounts of money, and over a long time, they have gotten used to it, and they are not ready to give it up.”

The debate over billboards goes back more than a century, and its contours were established early: free speech and enterprise versus aesthetics and safety. In 1902, The New York Times, in its periodic editorial Street Signs, declared that billboards had become a problem.

“A frightful spectacle, made so more by the wilderness of discordant and shrieking signs,” it read.

Over the years, the city eventually triumphed in limiting signs near most parks and residential areas. But along the arteries leading into New York, the wild west of the city’s advertising acreage, enforcement was difficult — even when zoning laws finally passed in the 1940s banned most billboards within 200 feet of major highways.

In 1979, when the federal government was threatening to withhold $25 million in highway funds from a cash-strapped New York because it was not enforcing its own highway advertising rules, City Council members performed a legislative trick: they grandfathered in every existing billboard — about 150 at the time — so none would be in violation of the law.

Today, there are at least 634, according to court documents. But not all the post-1979 billboards are illegal. City laws make exceptions for billboards attached to, or on the grounds of, the businesses they advertise, and for signs bearing public-service announcements.

But the judge wrote that some billboard companies built legal signs, with city permission, then converted them to so-called off-site commercial billboards, rendering them illegal.

“Other times,” he wrote, “the billboard companies would not bother with subterfuge and simply erected signs with no permitting at all.”

The city and billboard companies agree that many of today’s signs would be considered illegal, but neither side has been able to say how many.

Many billboards have changed ownership several times. Companies also have complained that city paperwork showing which billboards are legal is in disarray, while the city has blamed property owners for requesting documents over the years and not returning them. Billboard companies typically pay property owners for the right to operate signs on their lots, then charge rent to advertisers.

In an attempt to begin enforcing the law more regularly — and to get a handle on the size of the problem — in 2005 the city began requiring billboard companies to show proof that their signs were legal. It also began enforcing fines of $10,000 and up per violation.

Six billboard companies sued, including Clear Channel Outdoor, which has 84 signs along arterial highways, earning about $10 million in revenue per year from them, according to court records. A lawyer for Clear Channel said he would not comment on pending litigation.

The city argued that it had the right to control the spread of billboards for aesthetics and to limit distractions to drivers. The companies sued because “they basically realized their history of not conforming, and that it will have consequences,” said Gabriel Taussig, the city’s chief administrative lawyer.

The companies argued that the laws restricted free-speech rights, and noted that the city itself and other public works, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak, had nonconforming signs on their own land. The companies also complained that the city was asking them to produce records of signs dating back more than 25 years after requiring no such record-keeping in the past.

“The city’s regulation of highway billboards has more holes than Swiss cheese, demonstrating plainly that its asserted interest is nothing but a pretext for the city’s true purpose for its regulation: to eliminate competition and make money for itself,” lawyers for some of the companies wrote.

The city said that it did not believe until recently that it had the power to regulate billboards on land owned by the M.T.A., a state agency or Amtrak. It also said that after the companies’ lawsuit was filed it began removing billboards on city land close to highways, including three on the High Line, an unused railroad track near the West Side Highway that it acquired in 2005 and is now a park.

Although the judge ruled in the city’s favor, the view along the city’s highways is not likely to change quickly.

Since April 6, the city has pledged not to levy any fines until the appeal is decided — a process that could take up to a year.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Outdoor Ads: How to Keep Out of Trouble

The following article appeared in Adweek and was written by Steve Birnhak, CEO of InWindow Advertising. I must say, despite operating many illegal street level storefront billboards, the company has a concerned vision of their place in the public sphere, which is unusual to say the least. That said, this call for responsibility does not fully address the concerns of the public and is more a guide for trying to stay out of trouble.

What I'm not sure Steve, or the InWindow understands, is that advertising doesn't have to be aggressive, lewd, or out of place, to be aggressive, lewd, and out of place. In this article Steve talks about certain types of advertising which take advantage of new technologies and which have the potential to be "annoying". He is right. Loud, shocking, moving, bright, distracting, and arresting advertising is being fought by public advocacy groups all over the country. Digital ads especially are being questioned time and time again because they are distracting and potentially dangerous to the public.

Because these forms of outdoor advertising are new, they are immediately questioned by the public. Confronted with them for the first time the public must okay their addition to our shared spaces and in many cases we aren't granting them the right. Steve, running InWindow, I assume believes his advertising ventures to be socially acceptable and not obtrusive. They are after all silent, still images, often a mere 80' by 30' tall. What I think is misunderstood is that the public, put in a position to question the legitimacy of all outdoor ads would likely do so. The billboards, phone kiosks, bus stops, newsstands, subway platforms, subway cars, taxi toppers, bus ads, corporate graffiti etc. are no less obtrusive to us, they are simply too much a part of our city fabric to be noticed. In fact they are just as out of place as the new technologies which are meet with such strong opposition.

PublicAdCampaign hopes to not only fight new forms of insidious corporate messaging, but also shed light on the public's right to curate its the shared public spaces. We can as a whole, determine the look and feel of our public environment, our concerns and our desires, despite how fixed in place many aspects seem to be.

VIA Adweek

Feb 9, 2009 By Steve Birnhak

Not too long ago, outdoor advertising was thought of as a static medium defined by billboards and lifeless signage on highways, buses, phone booths and the sides of buildings. While the interactive nature of other facets of advertising dramatically increased, outdoor was not believed to be a tool for actively engaging the target and, short of incorporating some kind of lascivious or shocking content, creating memorability.

In a relatively short time, however, outdoor has caught up. Today's marketers can zap coupons, promotions and all kinds of content to a passerby's mobile phone using Bluetooth technology. Ads can respond to the movements and gyrations of the pedestrian, causing them to not only notice an ad, but also to spend time in front on it. Holographic and augmented-reality technology, like those recently introduced in street-level, storefront displays are sure to capture attention.

As with any other segment of advertising, some of the strides made within the outdoor niche have been met with controversy and opposition. The new technologies and tools available to marketers seeking compelling and noticeable outdoor campaigns have also created challenges and landmines that need to be heeded so as to avoid unwanted attention from angry residents or politicians looking to make a name for themselves on the local news.

There are some fairly easy ways to avoid trouble:

Consider the neighborhood: Is it residential or commercial? Determine whether the neighborhood is more likely to be quiet during the day and vibrant at night or the other way around. Think about noise sensitivities if your display uses sound. Adjust the "live" hours of your display to ensure that it is not disruptive, but still active during peak traffic hours.

Mesh with the neighborhood: You should also take into account whether the cosmetic nature of the display not only meshes with the look and feel of the neighborhood, but also contributes to its aesthetic quality. If you're not familiar with the neighborhood, a good idea would be to speak with someone at an outdoor ad firm who is an expert in the area so you can determine ahead of time whether your display is likely to cause any problems.

Use technology properly: In terms of technology use, recognize that as useful as something like Bluetooth can be for instantly connecting with a passerby, it also could be annoying if used improperly. The teenager returning from high school might love to receive, via Bluetooth, an offer to trial the latest kung fu video game. But will the middle-aged stockbroker? Again, consider the general populace of the target neighborhood when deploying a Bluetooth enabled feature.

Avoid repetition: Finally, ensure that you are not pinging the same person repeatedly since many people often walk the same route each day and, if they are not interested in your promotion, they will not want it offered to them time after time.

Keep things cool: A general note on deploying any interactive technology: ensure your feature, cool as it may be, will not cause any kind of "freak out." Avoid anything that has the potential to startle an adult, scare a child or even enrage a dog, such as loud sudden noises or unexpected movement. This is especially important for displays that are active at night and in urban areas where most people are even more sensitive to surprises.

The opportunities in outdoor continue to evolve, becoming more dynamic and exciting. But like anything else, they must be pursued carefully and with respect for the surrounding environment to take full advantage of the opportunity and avoid any adverse outcomes. And when pursued in this manner, the potential with outdoor to engage the consumer in meaningful, active and creative ways has never been greater.

Steve Birnhak is founder and CEO of Inwindow Outdoor. He can be reached at

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San Francisco Has it Easy Man

I was recently made aware of this article through an interesting post by the The Anti-Advertising Agency. It focuses on the illegal storefront ads produced by Companies like InWindow, but also goes into some depth about how the San Francisco Planning Department is combating their illegal outdoor advertising issue. Obviously very optimistic, the SF planning Department has canvased a large portion of the 1,532 outdoor advertisements in the city. In doing so they have been able to make contact with the owners of these billboards and issue the appropriate warning and or fines required. As I have been told, the response from the outdoor advertising companies in San Francisco has been relatively compliant and unusually civil.

If only things were so easy in New York. We are blessed with an outdoor advertising industry of a much grander proportion and therefor are unable to "canvas" the city as San Francisco is in the process of doing. Because we cannot do so, outdoor advertising agencies are able to operate illegally amidst the confusion. Take for example the sign with 103 violations, or the million dollar sign, which by the way has finally been removed. These kinds of atrocities can only happen when the city is overwhelmed by the problem and unable to properly control companies which can hide in plain sight. We cannot look to our DOB to control OAC's, despite them giving an amazingly valiant effort. We must as a public reclaim control ourselves by any and all means necessary.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Adbusters Article-Fantastic

What I like about this article is that at by the end you know this project was part of a movement, and that gives the movement momentum. Thanks to Sarah Berman and Ji lee.

VIA AdbustersJi Lee –

Last month, dozens of New York artists and activists battled the clutter of consumerism in a guerrilla-style billboard takeover. Mobilized by Jordan Seiler and the Public Ad Campaign, the 24-hour direct action replaced nearly 19,000 square feet of illegal advertising with original, anti-corporate street art.

Blueprints for the ambitious aesthetic revolution took shape years ago, when Seiler found that thousands of New York’s posters and billboards were not properly licensed. Some ads, he discovered, violated bylaws that have been on city books since the 1940s.

“Outdoor advertising is the primary obstacle to open public communications,”Seiler explains on his website, “Through bold acts of civil disobedience we hope to air our grievances in the court of public opinion and witness our communities regain control of the space they occupy.”

Armed with paint rollers, spray cans and video equipment, activists took to the streets on April 25th wearing florescent orange construction vests. (Covertness, it seemed, was not a top priority). The mixed brigade of culture jammers — ranging from artists and architects to software developers and bio-physicists — swiftly whitewashed 126 of the offending advertisements.

Calling themselves the Municipal Landscape Control Committee, the team turned the newly-buffed billboards into multimedia art. Across Manhattan, walls that formerly peddled electronics, designer clothes and alcohol were reclaimed in the name of peace, laughter and high-fives.

For a fleeting moment, it seemed democracy itself had burst through New York’s thick clouds of visual pollution. Instead of noisy and intrusive ads, passersby freely engaged with refreshing open-source canvasses. It was an artful and symbolic warning aimed at billboard companies that unlawfully reap profits from citizen-owned spaces.

Unsurprisingly, the artistic uprising was not without casualties. One artist, two whitewashers and a videographer were arrested by New York police — one of whom is still fighting criminal charges. And, because of the city’s utter lack of enforcement, many of the same illegal ads were replaced the very next day.

Such flagrant disregard for the quality and character of public space has been met with passionate outrage across the globe. In places like Los Angeles, Toronto and Paris, creative communities are developing new ways to investigate billboards and combat illegal advertisements.

The omnipresence of insipid "buy me" schlock isn’t exclusive to the world’s metropolises. Indeed, the battle for a clear and democratic mindscape can be fought and won at all fronts. Visit or and learn how you can take back the streets in your hometown.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

InWindow Outdoor Gets in Your Face

Inwindow Outdoor advertising is responsible for the newest and most objectionable form of billboard our metropolitan environment now faces. They run illegal street level signs which occupy the windows and facades of storefronts recently vacated by yet another business failure. We reported on them a while back and now have been given renewed interest by a recent article in the New York Times.

Steve Lambert makes his opinions clear in a letter he just posted on the AAA site. In it he questions the New York Times' reporting strategies, saying "The Times is mistaken in reporting on this as a “thriving” type of advertising emerging from declining economy. Call it what it is, advertisers desperate for profits, committing organized crime, and hurting the livability of our city." I couldn't agree more.

Here is what Inwindow Outdoor has to say about it's activities:
"Own the Streets

Millions of people travel the city streets every day, walking to work, meeting friends or driving home.

At Inwindow Outdoor, we've pioneered an exciting new medium that impacts their everyday lives. Working directly with landlords, we utilize the best retail locations that are currently ‘For Lease’. The result is a highly targeted advertising vehicle which is both colorful and energetic."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can a Rebel Stay a Rebel Without the Claws?

BOSTON — You will be seeing a lot more art by Shepard Fairey on the streets of New York this spring. But it won’t be in the form of the illegal guerrilla strikes he has been committing since his days as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design 20 years ago, nor anything like his famous Obama Hope poster. For starters, it is in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, for whom he has also designed swanky red, white and black Russian Constructivist-style limited-edition shopping bags.[Read More]

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Friday, March 13, 2009

PublicAdCampaign and PosterBoy in El Pais

If you can read Spanish, indulge yourself in a text that I will be slowly translating over the next few days. This article appeared in El Pais today 03-13-2009, and was written by Barbara Celis, a journalist and documentary film maker. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to both of us about public space and the artistic process.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sign companies claim billboard fines are crippling the ad industry

If there's one thing the post is good at, it's running everyone through the same grinder. They railed PosterBoy when they caught wind of his antics, and it seems they aren't pulling any punches with our city council either. It is abundantly clear that the residents of this city want outdoor advertising signage brought under control. When our elected officials take money from the outdoor advertising industry and then speak on their behalf, they are not only ignoring their constituents but breaking the law.

Adam Lisberg

Monday, March 2nd 2009, 7:54 PM

New York's crackdown on oversized billboards is hurting the ad industry, as sign companies say inspectors are hitting them with huge fines for minor infractions.

"Here is an industry that is synonymous with New York, and it employs a lot of people, but it seems the city is targeting it," said City Councilman Bill de Blasio (D-Brooklyn).

"The fines given to one single billboard can go over $100,000, but the fines issued in the East Side crane collapses were a fraction of that," he noted.

"It's like the world turned upside down."

The crackdown began in 2006 after the City Council, reacting to community pressure, passed tough new restrictions on billboards next to major roads and on outsized ads covering entire building walls.

"It's there to address a real problem," said Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Queens), who pushed those laws through. "We put together a huge coalition to make this happen."

Each violation can cost up to $25,000, and each sign can trigger multiple violations - which city officials said is necessary to deter signs that generate enormous profits.

"They would nitpick on every little thing to come up with eight different violations," said Michael Eisenberg, spokesman for OTR Media Group, one of the city's major billboard companies.

"This is the same Buildings Department that should be cracking down on unsafe buildings."

Billboard companies have sued to block the new rules, and city officials have been reluctant to discuss the dispute while the case is in the courts.

When the Buildings Department targeted large outdoor signs in 2007, it said 20% of building owners voluntarily removed signs when told they were illegal.

Agency spokesman Tony Sclafani defended the crackdown.

"Illegal signs can pose a danger to the public if not safely installed," Sclafani said. "The safety of New Yorkers is the department's top priority.

Follow up Article By SALLY GOLDENBERG

A city councilman running for public advocate took campaign contributions from billboard companies just days after publicly demanding looser regulations on the industry, The Post has learned.

Councilman Bill de Blasio (D-Brooklyn), one of six public-advocate candidates this year, took in $8,000 from billboard companies a few days after he called on the city to ease the reins at a City Hall press conference, campaign records show.

During the January conference, de Blasio criticized the city for what he called an "unreasonable crackdown" on outdoor-advertising companies.

At the time, he said the Department of Buildings "overzealously targets outdoor advertisers and grossly overpenalizes them for nonharmful violations, while serving comparatively smaller fines for numerous potentially life-threatening violations."

"I am proud to support local businesses," de Blasio said yesterday through spokeswoman Gwen Rocco.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Sociologist’s Look at Graffiti

Ill read this book and get back to you on it, but until then I like this quote the NY Times got in an interview with the author.

“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”

By linking the two words art and vandalism through graffiti, the meaning of vandalism is transformed. Vandalism can no longer only be considered wanton destruction and must now be viewed in regards to what its artistic and activist intentions might be. This bodes well for all those moments of civil disobedience we have been tracking lately through this site and should be considered when arguing what we are doing here is merely destroying private property.

VIA The New York Times

By Sewell Chan

EspolandEspo/Stephen J. Powers The graffiti writer Espo created a satirical advertisement about quality-of-life crimes at Bedford Avenue and South Fifth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1996.

Gregory J. Snyder, a Baruch College sociologist, spent years hanging out with graffiti writers, earning their trust and conducting scores of interviews.

The new book based on his studies, “Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground,” reveals that he became more than an observer in that decade and a half: On very few occasions he wrote graffiti himself, scrawling his tag perhaps seven times.

Graffiti writers, the book argues, cannot be understood merely as practitioners of vandalism and social disorder, but also as members of a diverse subculture who, in many cases, have used their experiences to build legitimate careers.

It was as a graduate student at the New School that Professor Snyder built relationships with graffiti writers, carrying around a hardbound sketchbook. At the bottom of each page he wrote a word, which he then asked graffiti writers to represent visually in the space above.

Professor Snyder, 40, argues that while graffiti culture emerged around the same time as hip-hop, in the early 1970s, graffiti in fact comes from a variety of cultural sources:

Whatever their class, race, ethnicity, religion, or age, writers define themselves not by what they look like, or what language they speak, or what clothes they wear, but by what they do. Their identities are as writers first, and as members of ethnic, religious, and other subgroups second.

He adds, “In its purest form, graffiti is a democratic art form that revels in the American Dream.”

The book, just published by New York University Press, argues that graffiti culture has, in some ways, been uniquely democratic. “What is lost sometimes in the cacophony of the debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is that when it’s art, it is free art,” he writes. “You don’t need money, or special knowledge, or the right outfit, or a car, or an ID to see it. This is why the graffiti subculture has inspired such a diversity of young people.”

Even so, Professor Snyder notes that graffiti has been associated with crime and disorder ever since the social scientists George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced their “broken windows theory,” which holds that low-level and petty crimes, if not addressed, create an atmosphere conducive to more serious and violent crimes.

While some scholars have questioned the theory’s validity, Professor Snyder acknowledges that it has become highly influential. It was embraced by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor, and by Raymond W. Kelly, the former and current police commissioner.

“I’m not trying to make an argument that graffiti is art and not vandalism,” Professor Snyder said in a phone interview. “I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s both.”

For many New Yorkers who lived through the period, the word graffiti connotes the giant murals that covered subway cars and stations from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.

A 1971 article in The New York Times, “‘Taki 183’ Spawns Pen Pals,” took note of the fairly new phenomenon. Mayors John V. Lindsay and Edward I. Koch, among others, made the train graffiti a key target. Graffiti came to be “construed as an urban problem,” a point Joe Austin, a historian at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, made in “Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City” (Columbia University Press, 2001).

Yellow Rat BastardGregory J. Snyder The clothing store Yellow Rat Bastard, in SoHo, has encouraged graffiti taggers to leave their marks.

The era of subway graffiti “officially came to a close in 1989, when city officials began refusing to put painted trains into service,” Professor Snyder writes. But efforts to crack down continue. In 2006, the City Council passed a law banning the sale of graffiti instruments — including aerosol paint and broad-tipped markers — to anyone under 21. The law was later challenged for being too broad.

A provocative map in the book points out that unlike other “quality of life” crimes, graffiti does not tend to be focused in poor neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime. Professor Snyder writes:

Graffiti writers write in order to get fame and respect for their deeds, and therefore they write in places where their work is more likely to be seen by their intended demographic. It is not the amount of disorder that determines a good spot to write graffiti, but the number of potential viewers and the unlikelihood that the graffiti will be painted over. These spots tends to be where young people from all over the city are likely to congregate, and thus the East Village, the Lower East Side, and SoHo are the places where most of the illegal New York City graffiti can be found. These are not poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Indeed, he adds, “Despite all of the negativity associated with graffiti, it remains one of SoHo’s selling points, literally.”

Still, Professor Snyder does not deny that graffiti culture is filled with confrontation. “Beef results in crossing out other writers’ names, going over pieces, lots of stories about violence, and sometimes actual violence,” he writes.

“Contemporary post-subway graffiti,” he writes, takes three forms: the tag, a writer’s signature, rendered in marker or paint; the throw-up (or “fill-in”), usually painted with an outline color and a fill-in color; and the piece (short for masterpiece), a colorful mural.

KezamKezamA “piece,” or large work, of graffiti created with the property owner’s permission, by Kezam, a writer from Australia who lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate student in sociology at Yale.

In contrast to the dangerous environments in graffiti’s beginnings — the old Amtrak tunnel from 72nd to 125th Streets under Riverside Drive, for example — large graffiti works today are often produced legally, in broad daylight, on storefronts or in public parks with the consent of property owners or nonprofit groups.

In another step forward, “Many writers have taken their illegal youthful pursuits and turned them into legal adult careers,” Professor Snyder says.

One of the most fleshed-out characters in the book is Espo, a graffiti writer Professor Snyder met in 1996. As editor and publisher of On the Go magazine, which was dedicated to graffiti culture, Espo produced a satirical billboard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a subversive slogan: “Greetings from Espoland, Where the Quality of Life Is Offensive.”

Espo was eventually embraced by property owners who saw his style — with large, neat letters, quite separate from the spray-painted bold colors and complicated letter styles that are more common in graffiti — as a useful ornamentation for their storefronts.

By 1999, Espo had become “an acronym for Exterior Surface Painting Outreach,” a volunteer organization. That year, Espo shed his anonymity, and St. Martin’s Press published his book “The Art of Getting Over: Graffiti at the Millennium,” under his real name, Stephen J. Powers. He also cooperated for a profile published that August in The New York Times.

That did not go over well with the Giuliani administration, however, which had Mr. Powers arrested in December 1999 for his previous illegal graffiti writing. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal mischief.

Espo was not the only graffiti writer to go legit: Others went to college; started magazines, Web sites and real estate businesses; opened tattoo parlors; and pursued careers in art and marketing.

“These kids refused the meager options presented to them by the larger society, and instead perfected extremely risky cultural pursuits,” Professor Snyder writes. “Their success in this form eventually opened up other opportunities, and today those efforts are paying off, literally.”

8-Day WeekEspo/Stephen J. Powers The graffiti writer Espo revealed his identity, Stephen J. Powers, in 1999 and has become an exhibited artist. His 2007 work, “8-Day Week,” was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

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