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St. Louis Artists Use Billboards As Canvas For Messages That Call For Change

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The Luminary / STLMade
"Show U.S. Justice" by De Nichols is one of the eight billboards displayed throughout the St. Louis area.

Activists and artists in St. Louis have found a different way to advocate change.

Eight billboards in St. Louis and St. Louis County feature messages urging people to stay involved in the fight for change.

The billboards are part of a public arts initiative by the Luminary and STLMade: "I watch for good news. I work with folks to create good news.” They feature illustrations, photographs and graphic design encouraging St. Louisans to stay engaged and help create a stronger region.

“[We’re] putting these billboards up around the city in unpredictable locations. It’s region wide, creates this kind of active watching; you never know when you’re going to come across one,” said James McAnally, executive director of the Luminary. “And then the broader implication is that watching isn’t good enough, you’ve got to work with folks to create the good news. This isn’t passive work.”

The STLMade collaboration has been a yearlong effort, but it is particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic and at the end of a tumultuous presidential election, he said.

The Luminary picked seven artists from a field of about 30. McAnally said the project aims to boost the visibility of each of the artists, all of whom have rising careers.

“Through this moment where a lot of galleries and museums are shut down, we really wanted to do a project with local artists where we could pay them and commission them to work in a way where maybe they hadn’t been able to and on a scale where they wouldn’t normally be able to,” he said.

The artists include Collin Elliot, Jen Everett, PSA and Jessie Donovan, Brock Seals, Simiya Sudduth, WORK/PLAY and De Nichols.

Nichols has two billboards. One, near the intersection of Chouteau and Vandeventer avenues, features images of notes and messages describing some of the challenges St. Louis activists face today. A large red note in the middle of the billboard reads, “We must fight for what we know is possible.”

“With these two billboards in particular, they are all fighting for justice, as a region and as a community of different cultures that have been targeted unfairly by our national administration and federal policies, but also on a local level,” Nichols said.

Small copies of the billboard will be posted across the city, Nichols said. Nichols’ work also is displayed on a billboard at Interstate 70 and 10th Street. It uses the words “Show U.S. Justice.” Nichols said the piece highlights the past decade of activism in St. Louis and how activists in the region helped shape activism across the U.S.

“We’re not just saying, ‘Show us justice as people,' but that St. Louis has shown the United States what it means to fight for justice,” Nichols said. “In many ways an expression of pride about our local activism, but also a declaration that we will not stop fighting for justice until we feel it and we know it.”

McAnally said the billboards will remain up until at least Dec. 3.

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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