The Baltimore LED Art Billboard
July 29th, 2014 by The Professor
It began as a vision for Will Shanklin 8 years ago. At Artscape 2014 it was officially unveiled. This amazing structure is providing a much needed relief from the usual billboards crowding our streets and is creating visibility for a huge collection of artists in the region FOR FREE. Will Shanklin, the artist and visionary behind the billboard’s development and operation sat down for a chat with me right before the official launch of the billboard at Artscape 2014. He shared his idea for the billboard, it’s future and how it can impact art and Baltimore in a positive way.
So how does an artist get onto the largest digital arts & entertainment billboard in the USA? Contact Will directly and send him samples of your artwork. Yep, it’s that simple. He is trying to concentrate on artists in the Philly-DC corridor and is developing a group that will eventually serve as a jury to sort through the submissions and select the ones that go up. For now, it’s Will doing all the work so contact him via the website link at the end of this post. Will has done a great job so far of selecting an interesting, diverse and talented group of artists for the lucky viewers that see the billboard every day. Each artist gets more than just an image on the billboard. They are tagged at the bottom of the image and fully displayed on the website at http://ledbaltimore.com/featured-on-the-board/. This allows the artists to show a broader collection of their work, talk about originals, reprints, commissions and more. All of this is provided at no charge to the artists, which, frankly, is the most amazing part of the whole process. Artists would pay to be a part of this and Will is making this about access not about money.
So, you may ask, as I did, how does this happen without money? It doesn’t, of course. Will has rent to pay on the space, electricity to run the billboard and a hefty angel loan to repay (it cost close to a million dollars to put this whole project in place). Do you want to give him some money? Please do. Mostly though, what he needs are committed advertisers, who will take their products and slide them in between all the great artists on display. So art vs. commerce? A bit of both seems pretty good in this case. The artists gain access to a highly visible space at no cost and, eventually, hopefully, Will gets to pay rent and eat with the help of some advertisers. If you know an advertiser that wants to jump on board, send them his way, he needs a few more before the board costs are even covered. Some people are miffed at the idea of mixing ads among the art, which is understandable, if unrealistic. Unless an angel donor drops a million dollars to make the billboard free, someone still has to cover the monthly expenses of location, maintenance and electricity ($1500/month alone!). Will seems to have found a great compromise. A limited number of advertisers and a lot of free art. The billboard pulls a lot of eyes on a daily basis and the addition of art makes it more compelling to view than a typical advertising billboard. That should help convince some folks to advertise, or maybe a couple of grant makers to contribute operational costs, to keep this alive. It’s new, it’s intriguing and it’s doing something good for the Baltimore skyline.
Where does it go next? I wondered this as we talked about the website and expanded submissions and more. Will is already far ahead with the plans. The next big feature will be a mobile application that synchs what is on the billboard to your mobile device in real time. You will be able to click on the image and go straight to the website for more information on the artists, or get deals from the advertisers. This could be another chance for an advertiser, such as a mobile app developer, to get involved. Or, as I suggested to Will, a great chance for students at an area university (hint, hint) to get involved in the development for course credit or internships. At the moment the project is run by Shanklin Media, which is essentially 2 people (Will and his father). As this project has consumed so much of his time over the last several years, Will has had to sideline a lot of his artistic time. That’s a shame because he’s an amazing artist in his own right.
I asked Will to try to describe his art and the process of making it. As you can see it has a very organic feel to it almost like muscle and tendons woven in the images. Until very recently he only worked in pen as that allowed him to focus the vibrational forces he feels and prevent himself from viewing anything on the page as a ‘mistake’. In pencil he would be tempted to ‘correct’ something that seemed to be a mistake on the page, but in pen he feels more confident that it was meant to be a part of the piece. Will feels a vibration that drives his hands to create whatever it is that is coming. He doesn’t try to guide the image but allows it to flow and thereby remain uncorrupted as it develops on the page. When not doing a commission, he sometimes has an idea of what he’s interested in creating but he tries to prevent that interference in his process. There is a tremendous precision in his art, even with it’s visual flow, that seems that it would require intense focus and silence in order to concentrate. Instead, Will is guided by the vibrations around him as part conduit and part stimulus. He finds his most creative works often come while in a club and a band is performing live. If you see someone painting at your next local show, it’s probably Will.
Follow the latest artists and info about the board on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ledartbaltimore or look at their complete portfolios, sign up to advertise, or learn more at the website http://ledbaltimore.com/