OGDEN — The billboard is completely black, except for large white block letters that somewhat cryptically read “ALL LI ES MATTER.”
D. Scott Patria, executive director and curator of programs for the local arts organization O1ARTS, said the billboard is meant to start meaningful conversations among its viewers.
And it worked, even within his own family.
“I saw it as ‘All Lies Matter,’ and my wife saw it as ‘Allies Matter,’” Patria admits. “And both are true.”
A reproduction of that billboard — and nearly a dozen others — is part of an exhibit opening Friday at Platforms, the outdoor exhibition site for O1ARTS. The show, “Four|For Freedoms,” is based on a national arts project started three years ago in New York City by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman. The 50 State Initiative was aimed at increasing political engagement across the country through town hall meetings, art exhibits, workshops and artist-created billboards.
The national project, as well as the Ogden exhibit, take their names from the Norman Rockwell paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stated four freedoms promised to all Americans — freedom of speech/expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to worship.
Organizers of the national initiative have recast the iconic Rockwell paintings with a more diverse and inclusive citizenry.
Patria says the Ogden exhibit fits in well with the stated social mission of O1ARTS.
“We work to call attention to — and spur dialogue and action around — the environment, human rights, immigration and topics like that,” he said. “We believe art is the vehicle for civil conversation and engagement.”
Patria says he hopes to see the Four|For Freedoms exhibit getting people talking about both art and social issues.
“Who knows the conversations people might have, at that moment, for that purpose,” he said. “That would be the absolute best thing — two people who met there at the exhibit, with different prejudices about what they’re seeing, who went to coffee — or whatever other beverage — and had a conversation.”
Patria said he realizes some viewers may find some of the billboards outside their political comfort zones, but he thinks there are plenty of nonpartisan works in the exhibit. For example, one of the billboards features an image of smoke coming out of industrial smokestacks.
“Everybody in Ogden, I would think, would agree that the inversion is a problem,” Patria said. “Now, who is responsible and how to fix it, there are different opinions. But we’re all in this one together.”
Another billboard features the slogan “HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.”
“And that one’s completely nonpartisan,” he said.
In addition to the 12 artistic billboards curated into the Ogden show, Patria said the exhibit will feature informational text and three “articipate” public content areas in both English and Spanish. Visitors can use dry-erase markers to write their thoughts on their favorite freedoms “of, to, and from” on what resemble campaign signs.
“Every day I’ll come by and document it, then wipe it down so it’s fresh for others,” Patria said.
The exhibit opens with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday at PLATFORMS, at 25th Street and Adams Avenue, as part of the city’s First Friday Art Stroll. Patria said they hope to have a voter registration table set up at the outdoor gallery during the stroll. He said they’ve also been toying with the idea of having some sort of a community potluck dinner as part of exhibit, to draw the community together.
The exhibit will be on display through the end of August.
Patria said the PLATFORMS outdoor art site is perfectly suited for this kind of show. He said O1ARTS used to have a gallery on Wall Avenue, but a lot of folks told him that they don’t “do” galleries — that they’re too intimidating, or that they think of galleries as only for the wealthy.
“Platforms is a reaction, in part, against that idea in the arts,” he said. “It’s something that’s fun and accessible, and involves the community.”
Patria believes exhibits like “Four|For Freedoms” and the previous “Before I Die” show are examples of the “art with a purpose” that O1ARTS strives for.
“It’s about ‘articipation,’ about engagement,” he said. “It’s about the community stepping forth and talking to each other. We’re not trying to thumb our nose at anyone — or even tweak anybody’s noses. We’re just trying to promote honest engagement and discussion.”