Why a billboard museum?
Billboards are an essential part of the U.S. travelscape. Their messages have entertained us and sometimes provoked us. They’ve even been called the art gallery of the American highway. And because they are everywhere, their place in shaping and reinforcing our culture is often overlooked.
The sign industry is undergoing a digital revolution. Techniques such as hand painting, sheet tiling and pasting are fading away. These techniques along with the stories of these pioneers and artists of the billboard industry need to be preserved. The art and messages once showcased on the boards is classic and speaks to a time America is rapidly forgetting. These need to be brought back to the public view. Many citizens are dismayed when classic commercial signs that have become a part of the community landscape are torn down or consigned to either bone yards or the landfill.
The Billboard Museum Association, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, was formally organized in 2013 to address these concerns.
Our goal is to create a fun, educational, and immersive experience that captures the imagination by exploring the unique art and rich outdoor advertising heritage of America dating from the late 1800s. Working with billboard and sign companies, and private collectors, the museum will collect, preserve, interpret, exhibit, educate, and instill appreciation for the art of roadside advertising. The museum will appeal to a diverse age group from schoolchildren to budding artists at state and local colleges to senior citizens, and entertain the casual observer through its exhibits. Educational hands-on workshops will include creating billboard art using older techniques, the art of wall painting, sign painting, and neon demonstrations. In March 2014, we held our very first workshop. There were demonstrations of three techniques: hand lettering, mural art, and bill posting.
The Museum will consist of two venues.
First will be an outdoor driving loop with vintage billboard structures, matching vintage or reproduction ads, and other signs. The one-way road will be built to the standards used for the famous 9’-wide “sidewalk” highway located on old Route 66 in the northeastern part of Oklahoma. The billboard structures themselves varied over time and showcasing the various styles/eras is just as important to the experience as the art on the boards. Billboards with projections, lights, 3-D elements, motion, and other effects are known in the business as “Spectaculars” and we will include these, too.
The second venue will be an indoor museum with a variety of exhibits ranging from the history of billboards and the scenic-vs sign-ic debates to telling the stories of the artists who painted them by hand as well as how billboards have been depicted in movies and on television. Initially we will recreate a fictitious Route 66 Main Street community at dusk, complete with store fronts, billboards, and area signs rescued from destruction. We will add other exhibits over time and as expenses allow.
To sum it up, the Billboard Museum will generate the kind of nostalgic excitement associated with summer road trips, family vacations, freedom of expression in advertising, and the way America views itself. It will truly be a celebration of American roadside advertising.