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Is OOH a good citizen?

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Good Citizenship

Is OOH a good citizen?

by Martin Firrell,  Artist, Martin Firrell Company

So much is done by so many OOH companies to give back to the communities in which they operate. There are the obvious ‘hard’ returns like infrastructure, cleaning and environmental sustainability. And then there’s the ‘soft’ stuff, the donation of space to local causes, charities and so on.

Sometimes these efforts are not fully understood by the public or the authorities that award contracts. Some assume that the OOH industry is only about client money and advertising. This misapprehension can fuel the efforts of community groups who sometimes oppose new digital screens. They are almost certainly missing out because they are not seeing the whole picture.

The poster and the arts have a long and fascinating shared history. According to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, one of the earliest known examples of the poster dates from 1477: a simple block of text promoting a handbook for priests.

As long ago as 1866, the French poster artist Jules Chéret (1836 – 1932) created the very first color lithograph poster and, though often criticized at the time, Toulouse-Lautrec’s work in the medium is now acknowledged as seminal from an art-historical perspective.

My own practice as a public artist spans 4 decades. My relationship with OOH began in the 1990s and has allowed me to express myself freely as an artist and to present my work in public space for all to see.

In my view, art is a powerful force for good and should operate at the center of everyday life, not at its margins. This is why I value the OOH medium so much. OOH is part of the cityscape, freely available to all. OOH is a joint and shared experience. There is no element of ‘one thing said to this group over here, another thing said to that group over there’. OOH is not sneaky. It is direct and clear, operating in plain view.

My career is living proof that OOH can be about infinitely more than advertising and that everyone benefits from this richness – advertisers, communities, arts and artists, and culture itself. OOH can sell a product but it can also sell an idea, it can open hearts as well as wallets

I believe art can make the world more humane and I think justice is the most beautiful thing of all. But art can also feel distant or remote from many people’s lives. Visiting a gallery can be daunting and prohibitively expensive. Working with the OOH industry in different countries around the world, I have been able to show artworks that support women’s equality, climate awareness, LGBT+ equality, fairness and access to justice. Together, we have shown art to people who may live too far from a conventional art gallery or cultural venue. Instead of requiring people to travel to a gallery to see art, we have brought the art to them – where they live, work and shop.

We have populated DOOH over many years with socially engaged, freely available art. This consistency of effort adds up to a different picture of OOH: OOH as a concerned citizen, brave enough and engaged enough to stand up and be heard about issues of vital importance to society and humanity at large.

The public artist Martin Firrell is internationally renowned for showing socially engaged artworks in collaboration with the OOH industry.

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