Art

For Freedoms' New Billboard in Miami Has a Simple Message: Vote

Courtesy of For Freedoms
Four months ago, the 50 State Initiative launched as one of the largest collaborative public art projects in history. Organized by For Freedoms, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting political discussions by helping create public art, the project set out to display unique billboards designed by artists in every U.S. state.

Last weekend, Miami became part of the movement.

Created by New York-based artist Derrick Adams, the billboard, titled Ode to Bayard Rustin, carries a simple but profound message of only five words: "Ride, walk, drive, march, vote." Find the billboard at the intersection of NW 79th Street and NW Fifth Avenue. The timing for the billboard's installation was by no means an accident: It went up Saturday, October 6, exactly one month before Election Day.

The piece shows a man in profile looking to the horizon, where the sun is setting on a long road. That road is representative of the many trials, travails, and struggles faced and overcome by previous generations who had to fight through legislative subjugation, intimidation, and disenfranchisement for their right to vote. When you look at that historical context, the directive to vote, no matter how you cast a ballot, takes on an even greater sense of urgency and importance.

If recent history is any indicator, it's a message we desperately need. During the last midterm elections four years ago, Miami-Dade had the lowest voter turnout of any other county in the state: A pitiful 40.67 percent of registered voters cast ballots. And though many citizens might not find voting in a midterm election exciting, this year's ballot in Florida could easily be one of the most important anywhere in the nation.

The gubernatorial race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis has become one of the most racially charged showdowns in recent history, one that many across the U.S. are watching closely. The stakes are just as high in the Senate race, where Rick Scott, the governor responsible for turning the waters of Florida into pure poison, is seeking a seat on Capitol Hill.

In addition to posting Derrick William's Ode to Bayard Rustin, For Freedoms has already erected a handful of other billboards around the state. A moving piece by Shaun Leonardo, titled Trayvon Martin, which bears a chiaroscuro drawing of the slain teen in a hoodie with the message "Trayvon Martin... would have been 23 years old... could have voted" has been on display in Tallahassee since the beginning of the month.

Another billboard went up October 1 near the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It's rendered in stark black-and-white and is emblazoned with the words "human beings" in Arabic. The piece, created by Lebanese artist Jamila El Sahili, aims to counter the demonizing of Arabic people in America.

And on October 13, For Freedoms will partner with Pérez Art Museum Miami for its free Second Saturdays program to display La Gran America. The installation by Teresa Margolles consists of 1,000 handmade clay tiles, each produced in the Mexican border town of Juárez using clay from the Rio Bravo. The tiles are memorials to those who have died and die every day trying to cross into the United States, as well as a testament to those who successfully cross and make new lives for themselves.
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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.