Reclaiming Billboards to Promote Public Art

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We get excited about billboards around Mailchimp HQ. And if you’ve spotted any of them, you may have noticed that our tastes tend to run toward the nontraditional: shrimp photography, rice mosaics, dripping paint, and simple blue backgrounds (AKA: “taking back the sky”).

A billboard can be just an ad, but it can also be a giant canvas for a public art project. While we certainly don’t mind if people associate Mailchimp’s billboards with our product, that’s not our primary goal. Instead, we like to think of these spaces as a design challenge. How might a billboard enhance—rather than detract from—the environment around it? Can a billboard help build community? What would people do if we gave them a big, billboard-sized canvas to share their unique point of view?

Over the last several years, we’ve done just that, and the results have made us really happy. Here in our hometown of Atlanta, we use billboards to celebrate the artists who make our city a vibrant hub for street art. My personal favorite is our Krog Street billboard, which we keep fresh with a new design from a local artist every month.

Take a peek at the artists behind a few of our recent designs.

Yoyo Ferro

You might already recognize the work of Brazilian-turned-ATLien artist Yoyo Ferro by his vivid colors, bold lines, and playful imagery. Lately, he’s painted quite a few lively murals around our beloved city, entertained a handful of Atlantans drawing blind contour portraits, and captured our hearts through his illustrations of the ATL skyline.

Tell us about your billboard design.
I love how subtle Mailchimp is with its advertising, and that made the billboard project way more fun to me. My intention was to hide the Mailchimp logo in the center of the piece in a way that only someone who pays close attention would notice, but in case someone didn’t notice it, it would still be an interesting and fun artwork to enjoy. I added an open sky to the center to give the illusion that the billboard is opened and added one of my characters looking forward at a distance to give the symbolism of looking to our future. We’ll be fine.

What advice do you have about how to be more creative?
I treat creativity like a muscle that you need to stretch, exercise, and feed to keep it in shape. There’s a lot of hard work and stress until you get to something you’re proud of.

How do you engage in public art?
One of the best parts of creating a piece on the street is that you get to meet the people that live near and pass by that wall on a daily basis, and my goal is always to come up with a piece that will “wow” them. I grew up in a city with very little to be proud of and always felt disconnected because of that, so if I can spark a sense of pride in where people come from and make them feel inspired, the same way I feel when I see public art, I’m a happy artist.

Check out Yoyo’s other public art pieces or follow him on Instagram at @yoyoferro.

Molly Rose Freeman

Molly Rose Freeman is an Atlanta-based artist working in murals, painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation. Her work uses color, pattern, and geometry to create organic life forms and explore interconnectivity.

Tell us about your billboard design.
I wanted to use Freddie’s head as the center point and grow a pattern outward so it would have some energy to it. And I used shades of red and pink so it would stand out against the sky behind the billboard. It turned out like a psychedelic strawberry kaleidoscope. Couldn’t be happier.

What’s the first piece of art you ever made?
The first piece my parents ever framed was a drawing I made when I was 5 of Minnie Mouse wearing a wedding dress and veil and high heels, standing on a hill surrounded by stars. Very romantic!

What’s the best advice you have about how to be more creative?
Reconnect (or connect) with what makes you feel curious and playful and free. That’s where the good stuff comes from.

How do you engage in public art?
I have painted murals for years and been a part of a larger creative conversation in our public spaces. It is a fascinating arena: always changing, lots of blurred lines and room for personal interpretation, and specific to its geography. It’s interesting to be in this field when the national landscape is both taut and really ripe for change because the mood of the people is often played out in public art.

Molly has a large collaborative mural going up soon on Atlanta’s Boulevard Tunnel. You can follow along on Instagram at @mollyrosefree.

Tommy Bronx

Tommy Bronx is an artist and designer from the Bronx living in Atlanta. He’s inspired by peace, love, and science.

What’s the best advice you have about how to be more creative?
Keep pushing ideas out. You have to get the bad ones out before you can get to the good ones.

Tell us about your billboard design.
I wanted it to be about falling in love. At the time I was really inspired by Western landscapes and old Western films. The piece shows the passion they have for each other in a visually stimulating way.

How do you engage in public art?
I’ve always seen public art as a gift from the artist to the public. I try to paint things I have an opinion on in a subtle, beautiful way.

Tommy’s always posting new pieces on his Instagram; you can follow him at @TommyBronx.

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