Signs of the times | Billboards to display work by Milwaukee artists

Pegi Christiansen, Special to WiG

From Oct. 1 through Oct. 10, original work by Milwaukee artists will rotate on 18 digital billboards in the metro area to raise the visibility of the local public art scene.

IN:SITE, which promotes temporary public art, is partnering with Clear Channel Outdoor and Lamar Outdoor Advertising to organize the 10-day campaign, part of Digital Billboard Art Month.

Each billboard will display images from one or two artists selected to represent local nonprofit visual art organizations. Billboards also will include the artists’ and nonprofits’ names.

“Over the 10 days of the campaign, well over 1 million people will have the chance to see these pieces of art,” said Jay Guidinger, sales manager of Lamar of Milwaukee.

IN:SITE hopes the campaign will encourage viewers to seek more information about the artists and nonprofits. The ultimate goal of Digital Billboard Art Month is to act as a catalyst for developing more advocacy, promotion and funding for Milwaukee’s visual arts.

IN:SITE, which did the research and planning for the project, discovered that art on billboards – both vinyl and digital – is growing nationally. In the fall of 2012, IN:SITE contacted 27 visual arts groups to request their participation. Each group was asked to contribute $75–$300, depending on its annual operating budget.

The participants’ contributions paid for Graeme Reid, director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, to review the art submitted. The contributions also covered some of the reception expenses and paid for graphic designer Marly Gisser to develop and oversee the technical submission guidelines.

A public reception for Digital Billboard Art Month takes place 6–8 p.m. on Oct. 2 at INOVA, 2155 N. Prospect Ave. Creative Alliance Milwaukee, the newest incarnation of the 2005 Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee, will act as the reception’s primary sponsor.


Unlike the city’s performing arts groups, which benefit from funding through the United Performing Arts Fund, the city’s visual arts groups face an uphill battle in securing financial support. Created in 1967, UPAF raised more than $11 million this year through corporations, workplace giving, individuals, foundations and the annual UPAF Ride for the Arts. The funding helped support 32 performing arts group in the 2012–13 season.

In anticipation of the 2001 opening of the Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, a visual arts funding umbrella was started. In November 2000, Marilu Knode, then-senior curator for INOVA at the Peck School of the Arts at UWM, held the first planning session for what became Visual Arts Milwaukee, also known as VAM! The Greater Milwaukee Foundation contributed $10,000 to the effort.

VAM! co-chair Mark Lawson, director of galleries at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, cautioned at the time, “It’s important this collaborative energy doesn’t drift away.” But it did. The visual arts community did not continue with other joint initiatives, perhaps because VAM! was disappointed that the media attention in 2001 focused almost exclusively on MAM.

Now Creative Alliance Milwaukee seeks to become a catalytic hub to help grow what its organizers call “creative industries” that have “aesthetic, artistic or cultural content.”

“Visual artists and groups in Milwaukee are an undervalued resource,” said Creative Alliance executive director Maggie Kuhn Jacobus. “The Creative Alliance wants DBAM to succeed so it can continue past 2013 and spur more group efforts.” 

Pegi Christiansen is co-founder of IN:SITE