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For Freedoms: with 50 billboards across the USA this art initiative disrupts our world


his is not just Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is 50 billboards across all 50 states -and beyond which aims to disrupt the 2018 midterm elections with messages which speak of values and the need to stand up for your rights to all kinds of freedom. Founded in 2016 by Hank Willis Thomas, a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history, and popular culture and Eric Gottesman, an artist who makes images and social interventions that address themes of nationalism, migration, conflict and structural violence, For Freedoms is breaking the barriers and claims our values through "50 State Billboards", the largest creative collaboration in United States history. 

"We’re building the largest creative collaboration in the history of the United States by commissioning artists to take over 50 billboards, and you’re invited to be help make history with us"

This artist-run initiative claims what has long been lost in this age of bigotry and hate. "Our work’s been seen on billboardsposters, in the news and at public events, and it addresses fundamental questions about the link between our culture and our politics" notes the initiative which aims to disrupt. "We’re building the largest creative collaboration in the history of the United States by commissioning artists to take over 50 billboards, and you’re invited to be help make history with us" notes For Freedom and Typeroom is ready to spread their global message to humanity. 

While the movement's over 200 local partners—ranging from museums, universities, libraries, nonprofit organizations, galleries, and media companies—plan their own billboards, exhibitions and town halls, it’s up to the 175 artists to spread the message across all plartforms that these For Freedoms billboards are funded and realized everywhere from Connecticut to Texas

"These billboards will give artists across the country the platform to address today’s politicalcultural, and social issues in their own words, letting them lead essential public conversations in their communities. Our billboard projects will coincide with art exhibitions and artist-led town hall meetings that create new forms of dialogue and engage local perspectives. These billboards are an invitation for you to join the conversation. Our goal is to empower everyone across these United States to feel welcome in civic conversations. We do not support a political party or push a partisan agenda. Artists practice free speech every day, and art plays an important role in galvanizing us to meet, talk, and share with our fellow inhabitants of this country. It’s time we come together, raise our concerns, and move towards a more representative form of self-governance" note the creators. 

"By giving artists the space and platform to raise their voices and concerns, we’re hoping to show that democracy should be a collaborative process that includes—by design—equal representation and validation of the many identities and voices that make up America. For Freedoms is a generative method of civic empowerment that’s assembling a constellation of creativity and support. We the people are closer to one another than we might think". 

“A lot of political speech winds up being binary, simplistic or dumbing things down. In a time when most headlines are about clickbait, this idea of making space for a deeper look into questioning is what our country really needs”

For Freedoms is an art project to encourage and deepen the fundamental public explorations of freedom in the 21st century. Inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941) —freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. On Jan. 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address that would later become known as his Four Freedoms speech. 

As Nazi power was ripping Europe apart, Roosevelt had to convince the U.S. citizens of the need for the country’s involvement overseas. Four Freedoms was his Manifesto. For FDR America was a country that fought and stood for Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear everywhere in the world. 76 years later, on Jan. 20, 2017 Donald Trump came to be the President of USA

Rockwell created this series of four oil paintings based on Franklin D Roosevelt’s "four freedoms" which he declared as "the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world". They included Freedom of Speech, which Rockwell painted as a man standing up in a public meeting, Freedom of Worship, with praying people, Freedom from Want, with a family eating a meal and Freedom from Fear, with parents tucking children into bed at night.

Getting people thinking about grey areas between polarized politics is part of the platform's goal. “We all disagree on things,” said Gottesman. “Reconciling that is at the base of the experiment of democracy in this country.” 

“We’re worried they might be too didactic, too reductive,” said Thomas. “A lot of political speech winds up being binary, simplistic or dumbing things down. In a time when most headlines are about clickbait, this idea of making space for a deeper look into questioning is what our country really needs,” he adds.

For Freedoms hopefully contributes to the general progression and growth of democracy. "We believe citizenship is defined by participation, not by ideology. Through non-partisan nationwide programming, we use art as as vehicle for participation to deepen public discussions on civic issues and core values. We are a hub for artists, arts institutions, and citizens who want to be more engaged in public life".

"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.

With over 175 affiliated artists, the group has erected their anti-partisan billboards across the USA. Maybe arts and creatives are destine to save humanity

"The guidelines were anti-partisan" said Gottesman. "It’s not about taking sides, it’s to ask questions, even if they don’t end in a question mark. Often the response to the billboards is a question: ‘What does this mean?’. We say: ‘What do you think it means? We don’t know, help us figure out what this means together."

"One of the things that we, as For Freedoms believe—and I certainly believe—is that we are not as far away from each other as we think we are" explained Gottesman. "I don’t think locking up babies in cages is a partisan issue; I don’t think molesting women is a partisan issue; I don’t think having a democracy is a partisan issue," said Thomas.

"How do we start to breathe creative thinking and creative action into civic life? It’s not that Eric and I think we’re the best artists, or that we even know the best artists, but we do know that creativity might just save humanity” he adds. 

With over 175 affiliated artists, the group has erected their anti-partisan billboards across the USA. Maybe art will save the word. 

Images via For Freedoms on Facebook