File this in a drawer marked Things We Never Thought We’d Say: Go, Clear Channel!
The company has agreed to run billboards for the Soldier Billboard Project, which feature Suzanne Opton’s photos of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The billboards were originally slated to be run by CBS Outdoor, which backed out of a contract that was in the works in Houston with DiverseWorks.
The Soldier Billboard Project went up without a problem in Denver during the Democratic Convention. It was slated to run in Minneapolis/St. Paul, site of the Republican Convention, but CBS Outdoor pulled the contract before it went up there.
“I don’t know why this happened this way,” Diane Barber, Co-Director/Visual Arts Curator of DiverseWorks, tells Hair Balls, “but CBS Outdoor had also been the contract holder for this project in Denver, which is where the Democratic Convention was, and there was no issue. The billboards were put up, the content was the same, but for whatever reason – and we can be suspicious or not – when it happened in Minneapolis, it was a different thing that affected everything subsequent. I don’t know what prompted their decision to approve it for some audiences and not others.”
CBS Outdoor was also supposed to feature the billboards in Miami; they will be put up in Atlanta by another company.
Opton’s photos are close-up, horizontal images of soldiers’ faces. A press release from the Soldier Billboard Project included this explanation from CBS Outdoor’s executive vice president of marketing, written in an email to the artist: “The reason we have advised you that we cannot post these as billboards is that out-of-context (neither in a museum setting or website) the images, as stand-alone highway or city billboards, appear to be deceased soldiers. The presentation in this manner could be perceived as being disrespectful to the men and women in our armed forces.”
Do you think the soldiers look dead? We don’t.
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Barber says DiverseWorks wasn’t expecting the ruckus the project has caused. There have been many news stories about the episode (we originally saw one on Sean Carroll’s blog.) “I am surprised this is creating a controversy at all,” she says. “My opinion of the billboards and the artist’s intent is to show soldiers as human beings…Her intent with this project is not political in nature, she states that outright.” The controversy, says Barber, is a “fabricated controversy.”
When the contract with DiverseWorks was pulled, says Barber, “we instantly started thinking of alternatives.” One idea was to make banners and get friends to host them at different locations around town. But then they got a deal with Clear Channel. As Barber says, “Go figure.”
The billboards will go up here in conjunction with the opening of the DiverseWorks season on September 12. Look for them along I-45.
– Cathy Matusow