From highway to high art: Digital Billboard Art Month covers MKE

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Special to the Tribune

For the next 10 days Milwaukee’s highways will become an art gallery. A new city-wide project will explore the billboard as a venue for something more prestigous than a law firm or fast food ad as 18 street-side signs are taken over by local artists. The original artwork will be digitally displayed to promote organizations, museums and clubs, as well as the artists that are helping to bring culture to the city

The event began when Mayor Tom Barrett issued a one-of-a-kind proclamation declaring Oct. 1 to Oct. 10 “Digital Billboard Art Month,” or “DBAM.”

To kick off the event, there will be a reception sponsored by Creative Alliance Milwaukee held Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA), located at 2155 N. Prospect Ave.

INOVA is conveniently stationed just a few blocks away from one of the billboard sites, and guests will be able to walk over to the site to see the artwork up-close and personal. In addition to seeing the artwork in person, the INOVA theater will show a slideshow of all 18 billboard images to accompany a discussion lead by Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Graeme Reid.

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Presented through the Milwaukee-based companies IN:SITE, Lamar Outdoor Advertising and Clear Channel Outdoor, DBAM will feature art pieces for the groups involved in creating, teaching, displaying, distributing, and celebrating art in the city including Woodland Pattern Book Center, Historic Milwaukee, Inc. and Marquette’s Haggerty Museum of Art, among others.

Lynne Shumow, Curator of Education at the Haggerty Museum on campus, is excited to be included in the project. Shumow was approached by Pegi Christiansen of IN:SITE, and immediately jumped at the opportunity to be featured in DBAM.

“We are happy to participate (in DBAM) for a number of reasons,” Shumow said via email, “to promote our exhibition of Milwaukee artists (Current Tendencies III), to promote Haggerty, and to be a part of a project that supports and promotes Milwaukee’s art community.”

The piece for the Haggerty Art Museum was painted by Milwaukee artist Jon Horvath, who is featured in one of the museum’s current exhibitions. Displayed in Valley Park off of N. 42nd Street and W. St. Paul Avenue, Horvath’s piece plays off its canvas, depicting a woman taking a picture of a billboard in front of a bright blue sky.

Each billboard will broadcast its art digitally for what is expected to be more than one million people. Though the pieces will be presented digitally, they were originally created using mediums like printmaking, photography, drawing and even sculpture. Milwaukee artists highlighted include Michael Kautzer, Eddie Villanueva and Dave Watkins.

DBAM organizer, IN:SITE is a Milwaukee based company promoting temporary public street art both as an advertising medium and as a way of spreading art appreciation. IN:SITE is known for taking on larger-than-life pieces. The group has transformed entire city blocks and has created a pop-up history museum to educate the public on an area’s history.

Temporary public art has become popular in large cities for the way it can respond and be molded by its cultural and socio-economic surroundings. For instance, an advertisement for a new record store looks different in a college town than in a business heavy area. IN:SITE believes lower costs, stylistic individuality, unique city placement and the customization options of temporary art make it a great way to advertise.

IN:SITE also promotes the use of temporary art for the way it opens up employment opportunities for freelance artists to get their artwork into the public. The artworks usually only stay up for about six months, allowing for a constant rotation of new ideas, images and styles.

DBAM is unique in that it lets the average Joes view giant, expressive pieces of art from the windows of their Toyota Camrys. So next time you are walking about or driving around downtown Milwaukee, look up and around for the pop of local color and collaboration that will soon adorn the streets and skies of the city.