How often can you say your artwork is displayed on 14-foot high billboards for thousands to see? A group of 13 University of Toledo art students get that very chance, thanks to a partnership between the UT Department of Art and Lamar Outdoor Advertising.
For the past four years, the College of Communication and the Arts Digital Billboard Art Exhibition has provided UT students with a high visibility opportunity through a submission and judging process.
One of the students featured this year is Crystal Hand, a fifth-year fine arts and art museum practices major.
“Going to Taco Bell at midnight and looking up and seeing your work out in the real world is pretty cool,” Hand said.
Hand has one multi-media project on display this year and has submitted artwork to the competition in the past.
“The final product on the billboard is a screen print of my grandmother’s eyes,” Hand said. “I was just kind of experimenting one day and after one of the prints came out patchy I decided to flip the image 180 and print again on top of it and it was so interesting the way they melted together.”
The exhibition is the brainchild of William “Barry” Whittaker, who has taught art at UT since 2011.
“When I first arrived in Toledo, I was interested in the large number of digital billboards I was seeing around the city,” Whittaker wrote in an email interview. “I hoped to create an exhibition for this publicly-accessible technology. After a number of inquiries, I was able to find a great partner in Lamar Outdoor Advertising.”
The first exhibition Whittaker organized in 2012 was centered on stories from Toledo. According to Whittaker, the project was a series of film-like images that suggested a larger narrative. Since then, there hasn’t been a thematic requirement for the exhibition.
“This sort of exhibition creates an opportunity to display artwork to a much wider audience, many of whom might not normally visit a gallery,” Whittaker wrote. “It is also possible to develop a new kind of project for a space where the public is accustomed to seeing advertising.”
Last year, the project displayed the artwork around the cities of Lima, Findlay and Detroit on digital billboards in addition to the ones in Toledo.
Kayla Kirk, a third-year double major in fine arts and art history, participated last year in the exhibition and the project features two of her pieces this year.
Kirk’s first piece is of her own body, screen-printed and edited in Photoshop. The second image is one she took at a grocery store with her own sticker in the top corner.
Kirk said these two pieces are her favorite out of her work last semester, which is why she chose them for the billboard exhibit.
“It’s great,” Kirk said. “It’s not something a lot of artists my age get to do so it’s really awesome.”
According to Hand, this project is a good way to keep Toledo’s art scene active with student involvement.
“There are so many talented students included in this project. Toledo has a really strong art community to begin with, but not many people seek it out aside from the summer art walks so to keep that fire going through the winter months is important,” Hand said.
The chosen works will be on display January through the end of February. Billboard locations include the intersections of Reynolds and Airport Highway, Glendale and Byrne, Monroe and Laskey and several more. For more locations and to see the rest of the images featured, check out the UT Department of Art’s Facebook page.