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Billboards honoring American’s essential workers

October 10, 2020

Carrie Mae Weems’ design at Times Square Arts.
Image courtesy of: ArtNet

Across the United States, for the past five months, artists and designers have been creating billboards to honor the country’s essential workers. 35 creatives collaborated on a project titled, “Messages for the City,” where encouraging messages would appear on diagonal screens across New York, Chicago, and Boston.

One of the inspirational messages seen in “the Crossroads of the World” in New York City.
Image courtesy of: NBC New York, photographed by: Angela Weiss

The project began on April 17, at that time the digital screens throughout New York City’s five boroughs featured the inspirational message to the city’s essential workers.

Nowhere has the message been more clear than in Times Square, where the unusually quiet streets are lit by messages of gratitude and hope for all. The artwork, in addition to serving as an acknowledgment of the essential workers’ huge contributions, are also paying homage to the less public essential workers such as grocery store clerks and sanitation workers. Many of these employees are migrants.

A benefit print by Pedro Reyes, “We Will Kiss Again” (produced by Brooklyn Editions) the net proceeds will be donated to The New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York. An additional part of the campaign was showing solidarity with the Big Apple’s nearly 2 million immigrant workers.
Image courtesy of: ArtNet

The project was organized by Times Square Arts, For Freedoms, and Poster House. The public art campaign hopes to “encourage a sense of community and pride among New Yorkers, and give artists the opportunity to express their gratitude and optimism through the power of art” (courtesy of Lisson Gallery).

The group of 35 artists initially began with the graphic designers, Ola Baldych, Milton Glaser, Mirko Ilić, Emily Oberman, Paul Sahre, Paula Scher, and Zipeng Zhu who were asked to contribute to “Messages for the City.”

The Ohio city allocated seven billboards throughout the city for the emotional and inspirational displays.
Image courtesy of: My Town NEO

Clearly, it is not only big cities that have adopted this trend. After the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake Police Memorial service, the city announced billboards will be displayed instead. Steve Amos, chairman of the Cuyahoga Falls and Silver Lake Police Memorial and Honor Guard Foundation said that the billboards honoring firefighters, dispatchers, police officers, healthcare workers, essential workers, and volunteers will be paid for with the money normally used to stage the cancelled ceremony. Amos said, (courtesy of: My Town NEO), “We want to give back to the community and thank them through the billboards”

Nekisha Durrett’s billboard display for “Messages for the City.”
Several companies have donated ad space on their digital billboards in Times Square for the project.
Image courtesy of: ArtNet

Poster House director Julia Knight said (courtesy of ArtNet), “Designers have historically been the bridge between message and audience, communicating clearly and memorably often complex ideas to huge numbers of people. Their work has inspired us to come together to confront massive challenges in the past, from wars to public health crises like the AIDS epidemic, and it was immediately clear that this would be another such monumental event.”