Obama Posters Redux

Aaron Perry-Zucker, whose 2008 Design for Obama poster project was turned into a book after the last presidential election, is at it again with the help of Max Slavkin. The 2012 version is now accepting poster designs for the second term.

Design for Obama launched in 2008 as a dorm-room experiment to create a space for artists to function as artists in the political process and help elect Barack Obama as President. We were delighted that so many artists, campaign staff, volunteers and supporters came together to be a part of building an amazing collection of posters that captured the energy and passion of a moment in history. Even more compelling than the posters were the artists; all with incredible stories and a passion for combining art and politics, either over a lifetime or for the first time.

I spoke to Perry-Zucker about the plans, quality, and hope for this 2012 poster campaign:

After a very successful 2008 poster turnout for Obama, how is 2012 stacking up?

It’s hard to compare so far because the timing and expectations are so different. We’ve been up for about two weeks and have received almost 100 posters. And again, the quality has been pretty high overall, as has been the participation of international artists. We’re ramping up our outreach and social media efforts now to make up for the fact that the campaign is a lot harder and less inspiring on its own this time. But when it comes to creative engagement, I think it’s something of a chicken-and-egg problem; if we can get enough designers to fire each other up, that energy will start to spread outwards like it did last time.

Are you finding the same artists or new ones are engaged?

It’s been great to see so many of the 2008 artists returning, but so far the new artists have been carrying a lot of the weight, especially with new posters. One of our favorite new artists from Brazil, Roberlan Borges, recently asked if there was a limit to the number of posters he could submit!

There was, after all, a fresh and hopeful sense last time around. What is the tenor of the posters this time?

They feel more determined to me.

What is your ultimate goal?

In addition to the immediate goal of reelecting the president, we’re really interested in the broader idea of helping the organized left be more effectively creative, in large part by learning how to work with the creative members of their community to greater effect. Campaigns and nonprofits know how to work with layers and accountants and phone-backing volunteers, and they know how to contract a designer. But when one or a lot of passionate and talented people show up on their door saying that they want to lend their skills to further a cause they believe in, there aren’t a lot of options. And it’s been like this for a while. We are very inspired by the art programs of the New Deal. (They also had a hard time figuring out how to employ artists. Do you pay painters by the hour? By how many paintings they make? Do they have to come into the office?)

After the success of Design for Obama in 2008, we were approached by a lot of organizations that wanted us to build a similar thing for them. We made a few (including www.designforhaiti.com and www.greenpatriotposters.org) but found that in addition to the technology needing to be better, there was a lot of process and strategy work that went into making campaigns like this successful. We’ve since rebuilt our tech to be more duplicatable, and we have a handful of different partners lined up for after the election (including Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream, the Boston-based Say Something Poster Project, and the California Alliance for Arts Education) that we’ve been working with for a little while.

Our ultimate goal is to set a new standard for this type of creative engagement with advocacy organizations and political campaigns. We plan to do this by building a network of connected campaigns and an army of artists and designers that want to use their work to change the world.

Is Spike Lee involved this year?

We haven’t reached out to him yet, but we’re putting together a handful of gallery shows and will be inviting him to the New York one as well as seeing if he’d like to be involved in some other ways we’re thinking about as well.

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For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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