Illustration and Billboard Design – Inspire Oakland 2014 Billboard Contest (Grand Prize)

When introduced with this project, one of the criteria that stuck out to me most was that the billboards speak to the underserved and underrepresented communities of Oakland. And as someone who has spent the last decade doing youth work and community organizing in the Bay Area, the people who come to mind are: people of color, immigrants, working class, people living in poverty, renters, kids in public school, people with family members in prison, and black folks. I struggled with how a billboard could inspire these people, considering they don’t feel a sense of real ownership of this city. How could they when they live under threat of huge rent increases? How could they when they can’t find a decent school for their children? How could they when they see or experience violence on a daily basis? How could they when they are worried about their child or family member being killed by police?
I tried referring to past Inspire Oakland billboards, and while the designs were great, they didn’t feel very inspiring. So I thought about the powerful ways that some of these communities have responded to their situations, and the thing that inspired me most was Oakland’s history and continuing legacy of resistance and fighting for social change. Even on a national level, Oakland is seen as the epicenter of movement and direct action.
These past few months have been a period of shutting things down: the 580 freeway, the West Oakland BART station, the Oakland Police headquarters, the Oakland Federal building, etc. I was inspired by the courage and brilliance of these people to bring to attention the injustices happening to our communities. The action itself is inspirational because it disrupts people’s comfort zones, because while it probably sucks to not be able to get into a building, nothing is more inconvenient than having your child murdered by police, or receiving an eviction notice from your landlord. And at almost all of these actions, a common image was folks being locked together arm to arm, in this case using a method known as “lockboxes.”
So I chose an activist with lockboxes on their arms as the centerpiece of the design, with “Inspire” written on the left, and “Oakland” written on the right lockbox, respectively. Behind the figure is the Lake Merritt skyline, with silhouettes of a group of activists locked together, to further clarify the image. I used Illustrator for the entire design, tracing and/or bringing in patterns and textures. I also tried to play with the angling of the lockboxes and the skyline to create more visual interest. And while most of the color scheme is the same, the lockboxes and the text are a simple and bold black and white.
I feel like the design captures the spirit of Oakland (and the nation) in these times. I think if anything, it has the potential to evoke conversation, whether in approval or in frustration. Most of all, I believe it speaks to the experience and hope for underrepresented and underserved communities in Oakland.
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