Every month we highlight a non-profit in the arts that is creating an impact at a national or local level and promote the creation and presentation of art. 14X48 is a non-profit arts organization that posts public art in the New York City area. The mission of 14X48 is to reintroduce public art in communities that might not necessarily be aware or exposed to it, and they accomplish this by refurbishing vacant billboards in and around New York City. Often time, the artists they work with focus on social issues–gentrification, healthcare, access to information especially when facing an election, gender and personal identity, etc.
We caught up with the 14×48 team to discuss their latest project with artist Giovanni Valderas, their mission, and how they got started.
AZ: Why was 14×48 started?
14×48: While we were driving down the BQE years ago, Ben Beinecke and I (Sharon Madanes) couldn’t help notice all the vacant billboards, and so we started talking about the seemingly outmoded advertising form and how underutilized these spaces were. Pervasive vacancies just seemed so out of place in NYC where space has such a premium; so we thought, why not transform these vacancies into public art space? Public arts programming in New York is very robust, but there are very few opportunities for emerging artists; most public art programs are for well-established artists who have been invited to do commissions. We thought this would be a perfect combination–provide emerging artists with opportunities to conceive of and execute public art projects while repurposing vacant advertising space into an outdoor art venue.
AZ: What’s the mission of 14×48?
14×48: The mission came directly out of that car ride and its three mandates haven’t changed since the very beginning. 14×48 repurposes vacant billboards as public art space in order to create more opportunities in public art for emerging artists, to challenge emerging artists to engage more with public art, and to enliven the vibrancy of our urban environment.
AZ: Your latest billboard with artist Giovanni Valderas, QUIÉN MANDA, comes at a critical time. Talk to us about the process and what it entails putting together such a powerful billboard like this.
14×48: Every year we receive submissions that increasingly challenge the way we think about art in the public sphere and about the most topical issues artists are engaging with. With Giovanni’s project, we saw that he held a strong commitment to his community in Dallas and had a strong public and guerrilla art background. His work uses idioms, which are a primary component of advertising tactics, so this fit particularly well with the billboard form. In addition, we always seek to showcase work that is topical and provocative and work to gather support from neighborhood members, city-wide coalitions, and arts organizations. Over the years we have developed relationships with individuals and collectives through projects such as QUIEN MANDA, and our ultimate goal would be to incur policy changes by drawing attention to the power of a message such as his.
AZ: Was the location of QUIEN MANDA important to the project?
14×48: Giovanni wanted to show his work in a primarily Latinx neighborhood, so yes, posting in the South Bronx at the door of Hostos Community College, with its history and legacy in the Hispanic community, was very intentional. His original inspiration was to persuade Latinx constituents to vote more because such communities suffer from a lower voter turnout than many others. As the project grew, the phrase, which roughly means “WHO RULES?” in Spanish, came to signify a general call for resistance. I think it speaks to many facets of our society, from politics to economics, arts, culture, language, and more. The South Bronx is also undergoing a massive wave of gentrification similar to Brooklyn and other parts of the city, and questioning agency in spaces enduring changes such as these is important. Many Bronx residents have taken it upon themselves to create grassroots movements for and by each other, for example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent political victory and likely ascension to Congress.
AZ: How do you go about choosing the artists you work with?
14×48: Every year we host an open call for proposals. A selection committee of previous 14×48 artists, as well as museum professionals, writers, and other artists select 2-4 projects to post in the upcoming year. We receive lots of amazing submissions and reviewing them every year is one of the highlights of 14×48.
AZ: Was there a particular campaign that proved more difficult to launch?
14×48: One difficulty with having donated advertising space is that proposals are often rejected. We’ve encountered this on more than one occasion. Our first billboard of this year, Infertile American Dream by Kei Ito, was censored by one company because it deemed the content too political–the billboard addresses the history of nuclear warfare and the threat it poses today. After many many hours of preparation and work, the production came to a halt, but fortunately, we were able to find another sponsor to post it.
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top image // QUIEN MANDA, Giovanni Valderas