“Somewhere along the I-95 in Philadelphia, a billboard spells out two words in Trump’s campaign font: Pardon Me. This is just one of the challenging artist-designed billboards that have gone up across the US this week as part of the 50 State Initiative, arguably the country’s largest public art project. The crowdfunded spectacle allows artists to have their say – and perhaps their influence – ahead of the midterm elections.” N.Sayei, The Guardian
‘One guy wrote us and said: ‘I see this ‘Pardon Me’ billboard every day on my way to work, can you tell me what this means?’ said Wyatt Gallery, the billboard director at For Freedoms, the New York organization behind the project. ‘He asked: ‘What side are you on? Are you pro-Trump or anti-Trump?’ People can’t figure out what side we’re on, or if there is a side. It makes people think more and to reach out and ask us.’
The goal, according to the For Freedoms co-founder Eric Gottesman, is to make ‘anti-partisan’ statements on the billboards, alongside art exhibitions, installations and public programs to deepen what he calls ‘civic participation’.
‘It’s not just voting, it’s about using our voices to speak up about the things we feel strongly about,’ said Gottesman. ‘We believe all art is political, so when artists get engaged, the conversation changes. It’s important for artists’ voices not to be marginalized or only to be seen in these elite institutions, but be more at the center of public life.’
Each billboard is emblazoned with the For Freedoms logo, which is how people find them online. ‘People look us up or call the billboard company to inquire what the billboards mean,’ said Gallery. ‘That’s a huge sign of success, that people are willing to take that step.’
Luis Jacob, a Canadian artist, is showing a billboard in Vermont entitled Land Acknowledgement, which reads Abenaki, the name of the tribe based in the region. ‘This piece engages the politics of indigenous land sovereignty on colonized territory,’ said Jacob, who teaches art at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
As a response to Jacob’s billboard, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs contacted the artist. ‘He said he found the artistic concept behind the image compelling,’ said Jacob, ‘and hoped the project would help build connections between the Abenaki community, artists and institutions, such as VCFA, to improve relations.’
Many of the billboards are along highways of rural areas. In a way, they catch people off guard while driving, often a time of solitude or reflection. But the billboards are intentionally timed to coincide with the midterm elections and ultimately, they could change the way Americans look at art, politics and the role of advertising in public space.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about political billboards. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- This is America’s most ambitious public art project.
- The crowdfunded spectacle allows artists to have their say.and perhaps their influence.
- Each billboard is emblazoned with the For Freedoms logo.
- Some find the artistic concepts behind the images beautiful.
- The billboards are intentionally timed to coincide with the 2018 midterm elections.
- When artists get engaged, the conversation changes.
- It’s important for artists’ voices not to be marginalized.
- This piece engages the politics of indigenous land sovereignty.
- We want to add more nuance in the kind of conversation we have in public about these issues.
- People are taking notice as to what these billboards mean in the context of what’s happening today.
Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
There are more than 50 ___designed by ___, which will be up through the end of November. More than 200___and 400 artists across the ___will be hosting talks, ___and exhibits related to ___art in ___with the organization.
WORD LIST: institutions, political, partnership, billboards, country, projects, artists,
Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Some of the/them billboards are/is specific to/too certain cities. ‘Some artists felt/feeling like a certain part of the country wood/would make sense,’ said Gallery. ‘Others wanted/wants to be/being as close to the Mexican border as possible, or in/on certain regions. We tried to/two honor those wishes to create a/an dynamic conversation.’
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
- The article states, “It’s not just voting, it’s about using our voices to speak up about the things we feel strongly about…We believe all art is political, so when artists get engaged, the conversation changes.” Do you agree that all art is political? Provide reasons for your answer.
- It also states, “People look us up or call the billboard company to inquire what the billboards mean,” said Gallery. “That’s a huge sign of success, that people are willing to take that step.” Explain why Gallery thinks this is a sign of success”
- Overall, are political billboards by artists helpful to potential voters? Provide reasons for your answer.
What’s The Message?
Directions: In groups, have students choose 3 or 4 of the billboard signs presented in the article. Then have them discuss what they think the message is for each billboard. Share answers with the class.
Create Your Own Billboards
Directions: In groups, have students create their own billboards on any topic they like. Group members may use the web for additional information. Have students draw and color their billboards. After, all billboards can be shared by the class or the school.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.