We sent questions to the ten Crusade Engagement Grant finalists so you can learn a bit more about them and their program ideas. Next month we will be setting up a poll for a popular vote, and the finalist who wins will receive $1000 to help them start their program (separate from the $10,000 award).

So far, we've posted interviews with Matt Eich and Amy Parrish. This one is from Jason Parker, who wants to put photography on billboards. From his initial application: "This project seeks to introduce fine art photography to Atlanta commuters by bringing the work out of the galleries and inserting it into their daily lives. The gallery world is a closed system, and in order to increase interest in art photography, the scale of exposure must be increased. The grant will be used to purchase monthly cycles of digital billboards in the area."

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

I've been involved in the Atlanta art scene for some time, and had my MFA thesis show at Jennifer's gallery back in 2011. Since then I've been following and admiring her Crusade work.

This project was inspired by my success with a billboard project during my thesis. As essentially a nobody, I figured I could have my gallery show, friends and family would come, and that could be it.

Or I could put my work out in front of a much, much larger audience via a digital billboard and see what happened. I wanted to take the work to people who would not otherwise see it, and disrupt the commute and visual noise that we all experience every day in the signs all around us.

So in among the plumbing and weight loss boards, there was a sign that said, "Thank You", and "Please", and "You are Welcome." My signs interrupted the incessant "BUY BUY BUY" pitches and maybe added a little healthy confusion and let folks exhale just a little bit.

On a train once, passing through England, I was surrounded by high berms on both sides. Suddenly, a dinosaur appeared over the berm! Did I really see that? It was just amazing and a visual relief from the monotony of the dirt mounds we'd been passing through for what seemed
like hours. That brief moment kind of took my breath away, and I want to do that again. My friends traveling with me didn't believe it had happened, but I knew and was happy for the moment (turned out it was some kind of dinosaur park in the village on the other side of the
berm).

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

The project grew out of my thesis work, and is intended as a disruptive element inserted into every day city living, as well as an art awareness campaign. I see far more billboards and roadside ads every day than I do galleries and art. So why not, instead of trying to convince people to go to galleries to see art, take the art to the people and make the world the gallery? Digital boards are economical, easily changed and updated, and reach a LOT of people. While we're all sitting in traffic we might see something beautiful.

What do you think is the greatest struggle/weakness facing artists and the art community right now? What is the greatest opportunity/strength?

The Internet and social media have facilitated information bubbles. Online tools create a filter through which people (potential audiences) can eliminate serendipitous discovery. We want what we want, and there's little opportunity for surprise.

I think the world suffers from confirmation bias, and this affects art. If our minds are already made up, and we've eliminated any information that challenges our notions, then where will new things come from? What changes us? We see the same things every day, and that's what we want to see.

At the same time, technology allows us to take rectangles off the wall and put them (or any shape!), wherever we want. We have to find a way to get through the bubbles, over the walls, and into people's lives to show them something new. Artists are disruptive by nature, and finding
ways in is a real strength.

Why do you think many people find art intimidating, and how can we lower the perceptual barriers to entry for collecting art (and specifically photography)?

The best art is disruptive and transcendent. People in general are creatures of habit and find the unfamiliar intimidating. The popular perception of art, at least where I come from, is "weird", or maybe those flower water colors that somebody's mom painted, or a picture I like.

We see "art" every day, but mostly it's the shrink wrapped prints available at the end of the aisle, or somebody's Instagram sunset, or a "can you believe?!" story on Gawker. So it's either pretty and familiar or strange and threatening. And it's nearly always expensive.

In photography's case, with everyone a photographer now, we are over saturated. When everything is "art", nothing is. So exposing a wider audience to what art is is an imperative.

I don't think it's a problem of quality, but of perception. We see SO MANY pictures, and so little art. We need to take the art to the people. To spur collection, we need to make it more affordable and ease the process.

We also need to create or promote the transcendent feeling that art should provide. As people become more inward looking and isolated, art should inspire outwardness, and curiosity, and willingness, and saying yes. Art, like music, is a state of mind. It is a visual trigger that expands consciousness and helps us see through ourselves to something deeper.

My goal with this project, taking art out of its rarefied gallery context and putting it in familiar situations, maybe providing a bit of relief from the same same, will soothe any anxiety people have about art and help them approach it with new eyes.

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