Major contemporary artists, including Carrie Mae Weems, Christine Sun Kim, Jenny Holzer, and Pedro Reyes, have created works for an extensive digital public art campaign in New York in support of essential workers. The works share powerful messages of gratitude and pride, spotlighting key workers’ service during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a follow-up to the campaign last month that saw top graphic designers, including Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Edel Rodriguez, and Jessica Hische create work for billboards in an effort to communicate vital information during the crisis.
The artworks have been on view since Friday on around 1,800 digital screens and billboards throughout all five boroughs of New York, with plans to extend to other cities as well. Each artwork recognises the continued service of essential workers. Christine Sun Kim, for instance, has created a short looping video that reads, “Dear Essential Workers, Thank you”, while Xaviera Simmons’ typography-led video rapidly runs through all of the people we need to be thanking at this time, from midwives to bus drivers to farmers.
The campaign also includes the launch of a new limited-edition benefit print by Pedro Reyes, produced by Brooklyn Editions. Net proceeds from sales of the print will be going to the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYIC), the advocacy organisation that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups in the city. In response to Covid-19 pandemic, the NYIC has launched the #NYunitedFund to help ensure the health and safety of New York’s immigrants working on the frontlines.
“Social distancing is a privilege,” Reyes, a major advocate for immigrant rights, said in a statement. “I chose this drawing as an homage to those workers who work with their hands and on whom we depend to keep society going.”
The whole initiative has been organised by three bodies: Times Square Arts (the public art programme of the Times Square Alliance), For Freedoms (a platform for creative civic engagement, discourse, and direct action), and Poster House (a new design museum in New York focused on poster art). Alongside those already mentioned, the full list of artists also includes Alixa Garcia, Christine Wong Yap, Duke Riley, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Mel Chin, Nekisha Durrett and Paula Crown.
Artwork by Carrie Mae Weems