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Dallas Art Project To Install Posters And Billboards Nationwide
by Kristen Taylor 27 Jan 2015
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One of the original four billboards from the “Dialogues on Race” project displayed in Dallas. Art by Christopher Blay and Gerardo M. Robles.

The conversation on race is far from over. In fact, it’s growing, due in part to Dallas organization Make Art With Purpose (MAP). MAP makes art that encourages positive social change. For its most recent project, “Dialogues on Race,” the group installed four unique billboards and two murals in Dallas late last year — images meant to spark conversations on the issue.

After what MAP’s founding director Janeil Engelstad called a “great response” to the project in Dallas, the organization realized it had an opportunity to take that conversation nation-wide. Now, MAP has paired with New York-based design firm Worldstudio with the aim of bringing the project to 25 other cities across the country.

“Dialogues on Race” will be part of Worldstudio’s program, Design Ignites Change, which combines design with social issues to create projects like badges to encourage gay youth or iPhone games for lazy environmentalists.

“By coming together, we are able to do something we wouldn’t be able to do alone,” Engelstad said.

The expansion, which is still in its planning phase, will begin in New York, where the group’s goal is to display ten art pieces, whether in the form of subway posters, billboards or electronic messages in Times Square.

In the past, the artists have been hand-selected by Engelstad, but she’s now helping form an advisory board to streamline the process. MAP will still focus on connecting with artists who frequently use social justice-related themes in their work. It’s also imperative they’re comfortable collaborating and communicating efficiently– as Engelstad points out, people look at a billboard for an average of only eight seconds.

After being selected, the artists will be paired across ethnicity or race to explore aspects of race and racial identity most important to them.

“Some communities will be interested in looking at police brutality, other people at the black/white divide, other people at immigration,” Engelstad said. “There are lots of themes connected to race that could be explored in different communities depending on what these artists identify.”

The project is not an open “Dialogue” in name only: Each installation will be followed by an open meeting with the artists, community members and social activists.

“I go in with the idea of respect and allow the community to become co-creators and collaborators,” Engelstad said. “It allows for mutual understanding and creating a place for a conversation that may not have been there otherwise. The educational component is really key to the way I work and the way MAP works.”

While most art projects examine race through a historical lens, “Dialogues on Race” will focus on revealing and challenging the public’s current attitudes.

“Racism exists in many ways,” Engelstad said. “Some people don’t recognize racism in themselves or in existing structures in society. A billboard isn’t going to solve any problems. It’s a beginning. It’s a way to get attention. Hopefully with this work we can show people we don’t live in a post-racial society. I want the billboards to be a catalyst to move this work along.”