Drive between Boston and New York City on Interstate 95, and you’ll encounter a forest of billboards: for casinos, car dealerships, restaurants. Now, throughout September 2018, three bold red-white-and-blue billboards break up the familiar landscape of advertisements—by encouraging motorists to vote for science this fall.
Spaced out over a mile just south of New Haven, Connecticut, these billboards were created and designed by a collective of graphic designers known as Class Action, one of six winners of $10,000 grants awarded by Art for Science Rising, an initiative of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The three billboards read, sequentially:
And a fourth billboard has been placed in Indiana and Florida.
In a joint statement (their preferred means of communicating) the collective says they hope the billboards’ stark simplicity will jar drivers into considering the meaning of their words.
“We hope our messages remind people to consider candidates in the upcoming elections for their support and affirmation of scientific facts as the basis for decision-making. We want our messages to be an interruption and a prompt for additional thinking,” they say.
Class Action comprises five graphic designers who have been working together on what they term “visual activism” since the early 1990s. They applied to be part of Art for Science Rising based on a shared fear that truth and facts are in jeopardy in today’s political discourse.
“This is particularly frightening to us when it comes to crucial scientific information, such as the denial of climate change,” they say. “Acting as citizen designers, we sought to create our own counter-propaganda. We were motivated by the opportunity to attract and engage viewers, to alert them to their civic role in supporting science.”
The members of Class Action come from various religious traditions. They recognize that faith and science are not mutually exclusive, and wish to underscore this with their messaging.“We were attracted to this spiritual world/physical world duality,” they say. “Faith and science have coexisted in modern times until recently.”
The collective partnered with Barrett Outdoor, an advertising billboard provider, to rent the three billboards along a well traveled mile-long stretch of Interstate 95. “We sought a highly public venue that would have the potential to touch a large number of viewers of many different mindsets,” they say. “Our messages will be seen literally millions of times.”
For those abundant travelers, stuck in traffic or whizzing by the billboards, Class Action hopes they will be first surprised, and then reflective. The element of surprise, they say, can penetrate through people’s defenses, allowing the message to land. And once “vote for science” sinks in, people who see these billboards should then start thinking, says Class Action.
“It means considering the implication of candidates who deny science—what will they base their decision-making power on, if not rigorous research and facts? If an elected official’s decisions are not based on scientific evidence, they are merely personal opinions tainted by political agendas,” say the artists.
Class Action is hopeful that their billboards will be picked up and displayed elsewhere in the country in the run-up to the midterm elections.
“By reaching people in a public environment,” they say, “perhaps the message has a better chance of acceptance than a political argument would, for example. Art can provide a completely new perspective.”
Class Action joins the Union of Concerned Scientists and its 500,000 supporters in confronting the current administration’s efforts to sideline science. Our work seeks to influence the way public issues are understood and to motivate participation in civic dialogue by providing a refreshing perspective that can lead to insights. This project breaks down ideological divisions and asserts that spiritual and rational thinking are equally important and must co-exist in a democratic society.
The billboards employ everyday expressions of optimism about the past, present and future that are familiar regardless of one’s religious beliefs. Our message reminds American citizens that the midterm elections are critical regarding upcoming decisions on science-based policies. The three billboards are positioned on Interstate 95, one of the most highly trafficked thoroughfares in the country, throughout September 2018. More info at classactioncollective.org
Vote for science!