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Times Square to Art Square

July 30th, 2010 by D.Billy

Times Square. I started crafting my own adjective-laden metaphor for that nexus of sensory overload, but then I realized that it might work just as well to list a few results of a web search for the phrase “Times Square is like”. So…
“Times Square is like Las Vegas times 10!”
“Times Square is like Disneyland. Really!”
“Times Square is like some great cosmic porch light, and we’re all moths to the flame.”
“Times Square is like getting a root canal.”

And my favorite pair, which came up in direct succession:
“Times Square is like no other place in the world!”
followed immediately by:
“Times Square is like Piccadilly Circus in London.”
But I was surprised that it took until the fifth page of search results for someone to say something like “Times Square is like the holy grail of promotion”. ‘Cause hot damn is it ever true.

Photo from Stuck in Customs on Flickr

But a gentleman from The Netherlands by the name of Justus Bruns has decided to make it his mission to turn as many of the Times Square ad spaces as he can, for however long he can, into places to display art. He’s calling the project “Times Square to Art Square”, or TS2AS, and this is his pitch:

Times Square to Art Square Teaser from Times Square to Art Square on Vimeo.

Justus, a recent Industrial Design Engineering graduate from the Delft University of Technology, set up a foundation dedicated solely to collecting donations for the TS2AS project and started spreading the word through Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo. Then before any substantial donations for TS2AS came in, Justus made and sold a series of paintings on scraps of cardboard to finance a trip to New York to try and drum up support in person. That is how I met him and one of his confederates, Alexander Bakkes, when they walked into the office of the art school where I work and asked me to put the word out about TS2AS in any way that I could. This, it turns out, is exactly what they are doing at every art-related institution in New York whose door they can get in.

On one hand, the timing for this project couldn’t be better. The Times Square Alliance (with whom Justus has already met once) has been supporting some great projects recently, like Paul Ramirez Jonas’ “Key to the City”, Molly Dilworth’s “Cool Water, Hot Island”, and Luke Jerram’s “Play Me, I’m Yours”.

But on the other hand, one thing that the TS2AS has to contend with that those other projects did not, is that “The Alliance does not own nor operate any screens in Times Square. Several operators of LED screens have been very supportive of the arts, but the minutes available are very restricted.” (From the Times Square Alliance’s FAQ for artists.) One advertising spot in Times Square costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Most ad buys there are long-term, multi-year deals, and those billboards and screens are like golden geese to their corporate occupants. So what Justus needs to do, it seems, is to build groundswell support and some bank, and try to game the system. In simplest terms, he hopes to make TS2AS enough of a thing that the city and the advertisers will want a piece of it.

Photo hastily bastardized by yours truly under Creative Commons.

Justus Bruns and his crew realize that there are a lot of hurdles in front of them. Perhaps the biggest obstacle apart from the financial question is the knee-jerk skepticism that something this broad and idealistic generates. But they’re off and running anyway, and I admire that. And I can totally get behind is the idea of a small group of people going full gonzo toward giving that whole tourist-mobbed whiz-bang-clustercuss of sensory input a different flavor, even if temporarily, and giving some artists a high-octane dose of neon-and-LED-infused exposure.

TS2AS will take absolutely whatever they can get in terms of support. Their clarion cry is a call for artists, donations, and publicity all rolled into one. So if this sounds like something you’d like to see happen, however improbable it may be, visit WWW.TS2AS.COM (where you can find likes to their Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and spread the word, talk to them about using your art if you’re an artist, and drop some digital coins in their jar if you’ve got ‘em lying around.

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