It's election season, and with it come hordes of campaign signs that crowd every street corner, fence post, and obsolete storefront. They scream at pedestrians and drivers from the sidewalk: "Vote for this weasel over this snake-in-the-grass" or "Vote on this proposition, unless you hate children, kittens and old women."
But this year, if you look hard enough, you might find something optimistic sticking between these sleazy mini billboards -- a small placard of the Arizona flag with "Bienvenidos" stylishly written in the middle. In English, "Welcome."
The man behind the signs is Yote, a street artist who describes himself as "a white guy born in the '80s." Originally from Northern Virginia, the printmaker moved to Prescott to finish his undergrad degree in 2007. He says school currently occupies most of his time.
But what inspires Yote most are the "politics of direct action," which he says has been the driving influence in his work.
For the past few months, he's participated in "The Painted Desert Project" alongside street artists Jestonorama, Roa, Gaia, Chris Stain, and Overunder, which has brought artwork to roadside structures throughout the Navajo Nation. He says the goal is to bolster the economy and share printmaking techniques with local young people.
And now, Yote wants to bring another form of solidarity with his "Bienvenidos" signs. He says that with the Spanish word on the Arizona state flag, he's forcing the viewer - even audiences just cruising by the freeway - to envision a Grand Canyon State where everyone feels welcome.
"The project began as a response to my own grieving over the passage of SB 1070, the infamous state law that creates an atmosphere of fear in Arizona," he writes. "When SB1070 went into effect, many immigrant families and businesses had already left Arizona. The Bienvenidos Project came from the persistent climate of hate and fear directed toward immigrant communities in Arizona. The Bienvenidos project poses the question, is a different future possible?"
For his first run in 2010, Yote made the signs from hand-cut stencils. But he says it became time-consuming, so he sold a small edition of the prints online and used the funds to produce the signs commercially.
Yote recalls being fascinated by graffiti in D.C. as a child. By the time blogs like Wooster Collective (which has featured Yote a number of times) started gaining popularity in the early 2000s, Yote was paying close attention to graffiti and street art all over the world.
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"I strongly believe I am participating in the largest art movement in history and believe graffiti, specifically, will be talked about that way in the future," Yote says. "I volunteered at a local infoshop for a couple years and Anarchism, the animal rights movement. I became interested in working outside the system to create change, and that easily transferred to my art and my participation in the art world."
Lately, Yote has been actively volunteering with SaveTheConfluence.com, helping paint a billboard that raises awareness about respecting sacred sites and the poorly planned development along the East Rim of the Grand Canyon.