First and foremost the NYSAT projects targeted a single company called NPA City Outdoor, otherwise known as Contest Promotions. Here at PublicAdCampaign we oppose all outdoor advertising in public spaces, legal and illegal, as it alters the physical and psychological landscape of our shared environment for the worse, treating us as self interested consumers. The choice to target NPA was made for two reasons and was not the result of personal issues with the company. The first is that NPA happens to operate completely illegally in NYC making it a prime target to challenge outdoor advertising’s use of our public environment. This also made it more likely that people would be willing to whitewash approximately 20,000 square feet, or 120 illegal street level billboards, given that they were illegal in the first place. The second reason is simply that all NPA street level billboards can be reached from the sidewalk and are therefor accessible enough to even consider for a project of this scale.

NPA City Outdoor operates over 500 illegal street level billboards in the 5 boroughs of NYC. Despite this the city has been either unable or unwilling to deal with this problem directly. As engaged citizens the participants in this project have taken it upon themselves to remedy this problem. In doing so they have realized their potential as public citizens by taking it upon themselves to create an environment that is a direct result of their actions. In an effort to illuminate the illegal advertising issue in New York, over 100 participants from as far as Toronto and France, took it upon themselves to reclaim these spaces for public communications and realize their potential as public citizens concerned for our shared public environment. In an action coordinated by PublicAdCampaign, participants eliminated the illegal content by whitewashing over all the NPA ad locations below 23rd street, then returning to the newly liberated locations to create public works of art and commentary. The first non violent civil disobedience project happened on April 25th 2009, and resulted in the whitewashing of over 120 illegal ads and the creation of countless public works. There were 4 arrests in the first action. The second project on October 25th whitewashed 116 illegal billboards and was poised to release over 114 public artworks on the city when NPA responded by reposting their illegal content and patrolling the streets for our participants. The second project resulted in the arrest of 5 individuals. All of the arrested have had their cases dismissed and locked because NPA failed to sign the depositions, preferring to sweep the controversy under the rug as quickly as possible.

The NYSAT projects were coordinated through a completely grass roots, word of mouth email operation. As the word spread, participants were asked to keep very quiet about upcoming events and only pass information on to parties they knew would be sympathetic to such a cause. The NYSAT projects were done in full daylight for a few reasons. The first is that hiding in broad daylight was less suspicious than operating at night when our actions might look less than appropriate. The second, and more important reason, is that by operating during daylight hours, participants had the opportunity to engage the public. Many participants were asked what they were doing while in the process of whitewashing or creating their work. This afforded them the opportunity to explain the project and use the public space to begin a dialogue between individuals. Lastly operating in daylight allowed the city to see the NPA illegal advertising locations whitewashed, removed, and set back to zero. These blank canvases then became empty spaces on which the public could project their own thoughts and desires.

To pull off such a large scale project, and do so with minimal risk to everyone involved, required our participants be highly coordinated in their efforts. Planing began months before the event with the locating of NPA’s exact locations. Each advertisement was photographed, measured, and the address recorded. From this information a huge Google map was created. The map was broken down into 13 distinct sections, each with approximately 1,500 square feet of billboard area, just enough to cover with a 5 gallon bucket of white paint. For each section a team of two individuals was assigned. These teams were responsible for the whitewashing and were given very specific instructions. Each team was asked to meet at one of 3 locations in the city at 10:00am on the day of the project. Here they met a mobile drop vehicle and were given a whitewashing kit (paint, cart, rollers, extension poles, and safety vests) as well as a map and a checklist of all the locations they were responsible for.

Participants then took about an hour and a half to complete their route. Operating during the day, these participants were given a “letter of permission” from the Municipal Landscape Control Committee, or MLCC, a made up agency. The first reason was that this letter was adhered to the sides of the whitewashed advertisements so that passersby could better understand the legality of these advertisements and why they were being whitewashed. The second was to insulate participants from police who might otherwise think they were up to no good. The letter read…

The MLCC has recently become aware of the fact that NPA City Outdoor is operating over 500 illegal street level billboards in NYC, as well as many illegal wildposting locations. Despite private contracts, and other previous arrangements made between NPA City Outdoor and building owners, the above-mentioned advertising locations have been found to be illegal due to lack of permitting and failure to adhere to New York City zoning regulations. Under the Department of Buildings sign code § 26-256, these advertisements are subject to civil penalties and violations of up to $15,000. The Municipal Landscape Control Committee has organized the whitewashing of all NPA City Outdoor street level advertising locations until further structural removal can be implemented. The continued posting of advertising content at these locations will result in further legal action against NPA City Outdoor.

This letter in fact often gave whitewashers and artists enough time to finish their work before it was realized that what they were doing was not a sanctioned event. On top of this the public was educated on illegal signage in New York.

Prior to the event, participants in the second wave of action were asked to pick up to 2 locations from the Google map we had created. Once selected, participants were told when these illegal advertisements would be painted and dry. It was then their responsibility to create their work, photograph it, and enjoy the process of expressing their thoughts in a public venue that once held private messages.

Along with the actual actions of whitewashers and artists, a large crew of videographers and photographers were assigned to specific participants as well as larger areas. Because NPA has an interest in keeping their advertising running and not allowing our protest to gather momentum through public acceptance, they were postering over our artwork, sometimes within a few hours. It was important that documentation be abundant so that this site and the projects goals could continue to move forward even after the action was complete. Obviously a lot of details have been left out and if you have any further questions we ask you to contact us directly. If you have an interest in bringing this type of non-violent civil protest to your city we would be happy to discuss things with you.

This website is dedicated to the incredible efforts of all those who participated in both NYSAT events. Here is a list of some, but not nearly all of those individuals that made this project possible.

-Will Sherman for his help in designing this website, whitewashing, photographing, and generally being amazing-

-PosterBoy for his inspiration and help developing the initial concept for this project-

-Paper Tiger Media for being an amazing group of talented individuals-

-Keith Haskel for providing non-stop video support-

-Luna Park, Jake Dobkin, Ray Mock, and Clarence for photographic support-

-All the whitewashers who went beyond the call of duty on this project-

-Adriel Mesznik for his continued support and initial help creating the NYSAT Maps.-

-Everyone who participated or contributed in any way. We cannot thank you enough!-