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Make America Great Again, Spider Martin, Pearl, MS, 2016. Photo: Wyatt Gallery / For Freedoms. Click above for more images.

Public Art Project to Commission Political Billboards in All Fifty States

For Freedoms, the artist-run political action committee founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman in 2016, is launching a $1.5 million initiative that is being billed as the largest public art campaign in United States history.

Called the 50 State Initiative, it will bring together more than two hundred partners and 175 artists, including Tania Bruguera, Sam Durant, Theaster Gates, Marilyn Minter, and Carrie Mae Weems, to collaborate on programming in advance of the midterm elections.

Beginning in September, political billboards will be installed across the country. Instead of featuring the names of politicians running for office, the signs will be emblazoned with messages that the artists choose to communicate. For example, a billboard by Trevor Paglen will address the ethics of data collection, and another one by Zoë Buckman will aim to encourage women to vote in order to effect change. The billboards will coincide with art exhibitions and artist-led town hall meetings that will strive to inspire Americans to participate in the political process through art and creative collaboration.

“Our goal is not to support a political party or push a partisan agenda, but to empower everyone across the United States to feel welcome in civic conversations,” For Freedoms said in a statement.

The organization intends to fund their most ambitious project to date through fifty-two Kickstarter campaigns—one for every state, as well as Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Its goal is to raise $3,000 for each campaign. Any extra money will be put towards funding additional programming.

Institutions participating in the initiative range from the Club Art Collective at Montana State University in Billings to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier to the Institute of Human Rights at the University of Alabama to Aperture Foundation in New York.

According to a video published on For Freedoms’ crowdfunding page, if three hundred people from each state donate $10, then the project will be fully realized. In a video produced for the project, Thomas says, “We want our billboards to be catalysts for people to think differently, to engage with ideas with compassion and nuance.” Artist Emma Nuzzo adds, “Together we will advocate for artists to express their unique vision of what freedom means.”

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