A Billboard.....A Dilemma
8:00 a.m., 17 degrees
I have my own billboard. With my art on it! It’s not something I ever thought of having. It’s not something I sought out. But an opportunity was presented to me and it caused a lot of soul searching. Why, you might ask. Well, first let me tell you how it came about:
Adams Outdoor approached the Arts Council of Greater Lansing last summer with an idea that had worked very well in Pennsylvania. Use un-sold billboards to promote art and artists. What a great idea! There minimal cost for the Arts Council and the artists. The ACGL approached their recent grantees with the idea and 6 of us chose to do it.
Now let me take you on my journey to get me to the point where I would say yes.
I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s. So much was happening politically at that time. People were divided on every issue imaginable. If I could be really simplistic (because I can’t and won’t spend the time getting into it all!) I would just say that people were either rock solid about doing things the way ”it” had always been done (whatever “it” was) or they were rock solid about not doing “it” in the same, established manner. Let me focus on pollution.
For too long people had viewed the planet as their own personal waste can. Air pollution was awful, water pollution was awful. Litter – oh, don’t get me started! – was everywhere. Everywhere! No one thought once, let alone twice about dropping whatever they wanted to get rid of on the ground. Tissue, newspaper, cigarette butts, cups, cans, bottles, couches, tires…………you get the idea. No one cared. Well, finally someone – a lot of someone’s – did. Laws were passed, recycling started, Earth Day happened (April 22! http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2011 A Billion Acts of Green!).
Ever heard of “Visual Pollution”? Litter on a stick? Highway junk mail? That was what billboards were called. They were everywhere. Every kind and size. No zoning, didn’t matter what it blocked, how close together they were. They were one right after another all over the place. And if they fell down, well, it became litter like all the rest. Then along came The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 (and it’s many, many amendments since then),a campaign started by Lady Bird and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
According to http://www.pbs.org/ladybird/shattereddreams/shattereddreams_report.html
“Lady Bird and her husband had driven many times from their home in Texas to Washington, DC, and had been frustrated by the increasing number of junkyards and billboards along the way. In his State of the Union address in 1965, President Johnson addressed the issue by saying "a new and substantial effort must be made to landscape highways to provide places of relaxation and recreation wherever our roads run."
The interstate highway system was built largely during the Eisenhower administration, and the billboard industry had been booming ever since. In 1958, Congress had passed a highway bill that gave states an extra half percent in funding if they controlled billboards, but the incentive appeared ineffectual in stopping highways from being blanketed with billboards.
Lady Bird wanted the highways clear of billboards and junkyards, and filled with green landscaping and wildflowers.
"Public feeling is going to bring about regulation," she told reporters, "so you don't have a solid diet of billboards on all the roads."
The power of the billboard industry, however, was a tough match for the White House and the battle to pass the Highway Beautification Act was fierce.
The eventual bill was a compromise between the White House and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. It stated that billboards would be banned "except in those areas of commercial and industrial use." Further pressure from the industry caused an additional amendment that required the government to provide "just compensation" to owners for losing their billboards.”
The magnitude of illegal and nonconforming sign removals under the HBA of 1965 was first identified in the 1966 nationwide inventory conducted by the Bureau of Public Roads. From the list of the 1.1 million outdoor advertising signs on state inventories, nearly 840,000 were found to be illegal or nonconforming and 260,000 were located in commercial and industrial areas (conforming signs). Can you imagine? 1.1 MILLION billboards and 840,000 were illegal or nonconforming!
Fast forward to today. I grew up with all that. I remember all that! It's why I am a conservationist, a passionate proponent of nature and preservation of wilderness. My artwork is of the beauty of natural areas. What am I doing even thinking about putting it on a billboard? My conservation organization memberships will be revoked! They will disown me!
But, I’m also an artist. Funding and support for the arts are so low as to be almost non-existent. The Arts Council that gave me a grant to produce artwork promoting the beauty and conservation of our waterways was asking me to help promote them and promote art on a billboard.
And so after a lot of heartfelt, purposeful thought, I agreed. The piece I chose was also purposeful. Stones Unturned. When I wrote about that piece I said that sometimes opportunities are presented to us in the pursuit of success but we don’t have to take them. We can leave those “stones unturned”.
But, sometimes we do have to take the opportunity. This time I took the opportunity.
Sometimes, well, I guess Lady Bird said it better than I can:
"Ugliness is so grim," Lady Bird Johnson once said. "A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."
I hope people think it is lovely. I hope it will make people smile and seek out beautiful places. I hope people will be thankful for those beautiful places. I am. And I'm thankful for the opportunity.