For more than three years, the image of Donald Trump towered over a strip of Grand Avenue that’s a staple of the downtown Phoenix arts scene. But now, the billboard that once bore his face flanked by mushroom clouds and swastika-like dollar signs has been covered by different artwork.
California artist Karen Fiorito installed the anti-Trump billboard she titled Trumpocalypse back in March 2017. The work was commissioned by Beatrice Moore, an artist, Grand Avenue property owner, and historic preservation advocate who expected to leave the piece on view until Trump was out of office.
Instead, she commissioned Fiorito to create a new design that’s focused on voting, which was installed on Friday morning, June 19. “I wanted to do something more positive instead of attacking somebody,” Fiorito says of her new design.
Now, the billboard features crisp red and white stripes that reference the American flag, along with text that highlights key issues on the politic landscape such as equal pay and affordable health care. In lieu of stars, the design has a single word (which is also the title of piece) written in white inside a blue block of color: VOTE!
“The important thing is for people to realize that this is a very significant election with some major issues,” says Fiorito. “I wanted to get people who aren’t on one side or the other to think about it, and try to impact people who aren’t voting.”
Her design includes the website for Vote Save America, an initiative of the Pod Save America podcast. “We reached out to them because we wanted people to have a convenient resource for election information,” Fiorito explains.
The piece measures 10 feet by 42 feet, which makes it hard to miss.
But that’s only half the story.
The billboard has two sides, and Fiorito made fresh art for both.
There’s a smaller panel measuring 10-by-24-feet on the back of the billboard. Three years ago, it featured a Fiorito design with five hands spelling out the word “Unity” in sign language, set against a backdrop resembling rays of sun on the Arizona flag. Later, Fiorito changed the rays to rainbow hues.
Now it has two rows of nine faces each — done in somber black, white, and grey tones rather than vibrant colors. They’re the faces of black people who’ve died in police custody — including Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. She’s calling the piece Say Their Names.
“Beatrice called me after the George Floyd protests began, and said it would be cool to do something to add to the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Fiorito. “I wanted to put faces with all these names so people would realize they have families and had careers.”
She’s compiled a list of all the people pictured on the billboard, along with brief bios and synopses about the circumstances of their deaths. Below the 18 faces, Fiorito added two lines of text addressing the number of black people killed by police officers since 2015, culling from an online database called Mapping Police Violence.
Fiorito recalls getting death threats after Trumpocalypse was installed. But she’s seen more positive reactions, too. Last year, a small group of community members who prefer to remain anonymous added a flat red nose to give Trump a clown-like appearance, after reaching out to be sure Fiorito wouldn't mind the change.
Then, they ramped it up with a 3-D version that had to be removed Friday morning before the new design was installed. “It became something I couldn’t even imagine it would become," Fiorito says of their modification. "I really liked the community engagement.”
Making the billboard design was a relatively simple affair, according to Fiorito. “I design everything in Photoshop, then send the file to a printer in Montana.” Once Fiorito okayed the digital proof, her designs were printed and shipped to Moore, who arranged to have them installed. That way Fiorito didn’t need to travel with COVID-19 in the mix.
Moore notes that the Trump design will still be there, underneath the new voting theme design. "I always said the artwork would stay up until Trump was out of office," Moore says. "When Trump is out of office, we'll uncover Trump and do something to celebrate his departure; we're not sure what." By contrast, she expects the unity theme artwork to "stay up for a while after Trump leaves."
Friday’s installation was well-timed. Just two days prior, the ex-cop who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks was charged with felony murder, and the Phoenix City Council approved a 2020-21 budget that will give more money to the police department despite objections by community members who want to “defund” the police.
Fiorito is mindful of the fact that people will be out protesting today, during the Juneteenth holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. "I gave a 4-foot version of the billboard to some friends who are activists in D.C.," she says. "They'll try to put it on the White House fence."
In 2018, Fiorito had a London shop make a flag version of the Trumpocalypse billboard so a Facebook friend in England could march carrying the image during a July protest of Trump's NATO visit. Now, she's focused on protests happening closer to home.
“I hope the protesters will keep pushing and use that same energy to mobilize the vote,” says Fiorito. “It’s a really interesting time and we have an opportunity now to really make a change.”
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