Art speaks on a large scale

by Chip Southworth / Jeff Whipple
by Liz Gibson
by Sara Pedigo
by Thony Aiuppy

We live in the information age, bombarded with images and messages from all directions. On television, on the radio, via signs and advertisements, on the internet. We have apps and podcasts, Twitter and Facebook. Information is brought to us through a myriad of channels, and with these modern methods of communication, there is increased accessibility. Bringing art into these communications media is an unexpected and sometimes profound way to see things that are traditionally reserved for a gallery or museum. A local public arts experiment, the Highway Gallery, proposes that we do just that. The Highway Gallery is a month-long exhibit displaying art on one of our 21st century channels of communication, the digital billboard.
Although uncommon and occasionally met with contention, displaying art on billboards is not a new concept. In fact, artists like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger have a long history of appropriating traditional signs and billboards into spaces for art. While those artists use the written word as their primary medium, public art projects similar to the Highway Gallery are open to art of most every medium and genre. These include nonprofits like the Billboard Art Project or Your Art Here. Acting as open calls to artists, the projects have launched exhibits of art on billboards from Atlanta to Indianapolis.
Starting July 27, Jacksonville will be joining in this innovative public art dialogue, with 15 Clear Channel digital billboards around town exhibiting artwork by local artists. The Highway Gallery is a collaboration between Florida Mining Gallery ( and Clear Channel Outdoor of Jacksonville. The exhibit seeks to engage our community with local contemporary art, temporarily transforming the mechanics of modern communication and questioning where contemporary art should be shown, and for whom.
Using what is typically commercial advertising space, the exhibit will feature 10 Jacksonville artists selected by a jury of four local proponents of public art. The selection committee consists of Jacksonville artist Jim Draper, Public Art Program Administrator for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority Cabeth Cornelius, J.Johnson Gallery Assistant Director Wesley Grissom, and Cultural Council Board of Directors member Ginny Steiger. Says Grissom of the exhibit, “This is a unique opportunity for local artists to receive exposure on a super-sized scale. The project will also offer our community the chance to enjoy something attractive and thought provoking while driving around the city, contributing to the cultural as well as physical landscape.”
Steve Williams, Director of Florida Mining Gallery, describes the project as “an innovative collaboration between business and arts in our community.” Williams has a unique perspective on the importance that collaborations such as these can have as he also happens to be an artist and is president of Harbinger Sign. He views engaging communities with contemporary art as an integral part of a thriving city and collaboration between business and arts as an important aspect of that engagement. Florida Mining Gallery and Harbinger share space in a new contemporary building redesigned for both art and business, so this project is a natural one for Williams.
This public art experiment seeks to challenge and involve its audience, to begin a dialogue between community and artist. Large-scale art on billboards provides a break from the mundane, an opportunity to reframe how we view our environments, and a chance to engage with art from a different point of view. If you’d like to weigh in on the selection process for the winning art, visit Florida Mining’s Facebook page ( for a chance to vote on the art submissions.
The art will be on display through August on digital billboards around Jacksonville, with the locations and artists varying throughout the month. Florida Mining Gallery and Clear Channel Outdoor of Jacksonville will be updating those interested on the locations of the art via Twitter and Facebook. In addition, the original artworks will be on display simultaneously at Florida Mining Gallery, with an opening celebration for the artists on Friday, July 27, at 7 pm, and will remain on view and available for purchase at the gallery until August 31.