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How The Big Three's Logos Went Missing From A Detroit Billboard

Last fall, Imagine Detroit Together started a page on the crowd-sourcing site Loudsauce to raise money to install a painting on a billboard. According to them, the project is meant to show what can happen when we all work together. And the final version had to be censored before it could be installed.


The painting in question has three logos, The BIG Three logos: Ford, GM, and Chrysler. As you may have noticed above or read about previously on this site, the Billboard now has question marks where the original painting had logos. It was installed on January 13 for a four-week run intended to coincide with the Auto Show. But the Auto tie-in is out. How did this go down? Is it really just another case of censorship versus art?

From the beginning, the project met with a resounding "that will not fly," from Toby Barlow. Toby works at Team Detroit, the agency that handles advertising for Ford. He and James Feagin IV of Imagine Detroit Together exchanged an extensive (you-might-need-a-nap-in-the-middle-of-it) chain of comments on the project fund-raising page. Feagin defend the use of logos as art meant to show something positive while Toby took issue with the representation of race in the three characters, the violation of the copyrighted logos, and the suggestion that the Big Three working together violates anti-trust laws.

Toby may have written on the fund-raising page "it's offensive and it is wrong and it is stupid. And I do not use that language lightly," but end the end, it was not him or anyone at Ford that quashed the logo use. In fact, when we called Ford's press department this morning, they were not aware of the project at all according to Craig Daitch, who did say that at first glance that this appeared to be a liability. The Ford legal department did not get back to us before our post deadline.

The censorship cause was taken up by Lamar. This company owns the billboard, which is typically rented out for $4,000 for a four-week run. Through Loudsauce, the team led by Feagin secured it for about half that. Having raised $3,572 for the project online, Feagin says the rest of the funds would be used for tee shirts to thank contributors (there were 55) and other supplies to get it up as well as the Loudsauce cut. Feagin secured the billboard, located just off Second Ave near I-94 in a location they say is visible to 100,000 commuters each day, through Loudsauce's connection to Lamar. But with the funding secured and the team all ready to go, Lamar said they would not give permission for the project to be installed on their billboard.

At least not without three signed letters on company letterhead from Ford, GM, and Chrysler authorizing it. That or $2 M in loan insurance from Feagin and his team. Feagin's feeling is that Lamar must really have not taken them seriously in initial conversations about the project or that they misunderstood it. He maintains that this is Art and should be covered by Free Speech.

But clearly the billboard company, Lamar, which also leases ad space to the Big Three, smelled the threat of a lawsuit.

So what are we left with? Corporations prevailing over art? Again, Ford says they did not know about the project until Curbed emailed them the link. But certainly the threat of a loss in billboard advertising and/or the threat of a lawsuit prevailed over art. But was the art in question troubled from the start?

The painting is by Detroit-born artist Miguel “BeloZro” Yeoman. He made a video describing his art in which he says "Art has always been a woman who has been there for me. She's never lied to me, she's never cheated on me." Yikes. Moving on! The video is actually pretty important for understanding the motives behind the project and also features James Feagin and Jerry Paffendorf.

Again, this image is supposed to be about uniting. But isn't it just like art to be so open to interpretation? Yeoman says it was about three companies that "beat the shit out of each other" saying "fuck it" and working together. These three men appear to be white, but Feagin says the so-called "albino male aryans" (as dubbed by Toby) are actually futuristic workers modeled after the artist, who happens to be Mexican."

So as of now, this art is up, it is visible from I-94 and we're talking about it. Success? While we won't send you a tee shirt for participating, we'd like you to vote below.

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