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Public Art at the Pump

Thanks to Pumpflix and UCSB Art Professor Laurel Beckman, Gas Stations Near You Just Got Groovier


If you find yourself driving around Santa Barbara in the next couple of weeks, expect your typical stop at the gas pump to be, well, atypical. It’ll just take a glance up at those gas station ads to view the unexpected. S.B. Moves, a collaborative video project by artists at UCSB, is hoping to get commuters thinking about art and movement in the short, free spaces within their busy schedules.

Laurel Beckman, an art professor at UCSB, came up with the idea after reading the Angry Poodle Barbecue one week in The Indy. It was about the city’s decision to allow Pumpflix to broadcast ads on 26-inch screens (with blaring speakers to match) at gas pumps across Santa Barbara. Among those who opposed Pumpflix’s move into Santa Barbara were city planners and the Historic Landmarks Commission; all were concerned about the city’s image and aesthetic.

Having done a number of public art installations and collaborations in the past, Beckman saw the installations as more an opportunity for public art than controversy. “I often work in unusual spaces, and I like these kind of hybrid-art community projects,” said Beckman.

With this context in mind, artists were asked to create videos relevant to Santa Barbara residents. The result is 20 short, 15-second videos that will circulate in between ads, weather reports, and community announcements.

The videos — none of them are esoteric. The content is accessible on one or more levels,” Beckman said. “Some of the videos are working with this idea of gas and movement. And other pieces have a subtler, more humanistic take on movement.”

If art and advertising seem like natural enemies, then that’s what makes the media unique, according to Beckman. “[The videos appear] amongst all these types of content; weather reports and whatnot. So it would be a surprise to see something different, if people are paying attention,” said Beckman. “The idea is to bring art out of a gallery and into the world — I love seeing art in alternative environments.”

With an estimated audience of 200,000 viewers a month and an art video playing every four minutes, the project is an opportunity for thousands of people to look up and be surprised by what they see.

I know they’ll happen upon them by accident, and they won’t expect to see something like this. There’s a fair amount of whimsy and fun involved, and I think they’ll be delighted,” Beckman said.

As for anyone hung up on Pumpflix itself, Beckman says the company has been open and helpful from the start. “Pumpflix really needs to be given some credit for being open to doing something like this,” said Beckman.

Beckman is in contact with two national companies that run ads at stations across the country, and, she said, nothing like this has ever been done before. “They run ads and community service announcements, but they’re nervous about showing artist programming. Maybe they’ll take a cue from this.”

The installations are in place until August 17 at 10 Pumpflix gas station locations throughout Santa Barbara. To learn more about S.B. Moves, and to view all the videos featured in the project, go here.

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