The next time you’re walking the streets of Provo, look at the nearest lamppost or telephone pole. Chances are, it’ll have an event poster taped to it. In fact, if you happen to be on a corner or a busy street it’ll probably be plastered with layers and layers of posters plugging dozens of different dance parties and concerts.
If it’s no surprise that the streets of Provo have become a kind of populist art gallery for guerrilla graphic designers, what may be news is that this trend is relatively recent. Though Provo has long had a surprisingly strong music scene, this most recent wave of street publicity began in earnest more or less two years ago. Until that time bands often made fliers for their events, but few groups focused on a consistent branding campaign and the typical street corner usually only sported yard sale signs.
One of the first groups to change Provo’s street poster environment was local band Shark Speed. If you’ve ever seen an offbeat photo of a person holding a message board, it was one of theirs. Lead singer and guitarist Thayne Fagg said that posters were a big part of the music scene for each band member while growing up in Las Vegas and Arizona, so “when we formed and started getting ready to play shows, it was naturally the first step.”
More recently, Electric Dance Party (a.k.a. EDP) has adopted an aggressive poster campaign. Before designing an EDP ad, DJ Nam Nguyen usually collects samples from nightclubs, music festivals and electro record labels. He then passes those samples on to EDP’s resident graphic designer Denzil Egan, who in turn comes up with his own creation. Later, Egan and Nguyen sit down together to make sure only the essential information remains. According to Nguyen, “the time from concept to final product takes about 7-10 days.”
The transcendent feature of these different posters is that they collectively represent the slow maturing of Provo’s youth culture and art scene. Shark Speed, EDP and others aren’t only advertising their events; they’re also serving up their own interpretation of an aesthetic typically found in bigger, supposedly cooler cities. In that sense, each new set of posters serves as a kind of love letter to Provo, arguing that it is a hip place to be because people are doing creative things all the time.
Similarly, the best posters in Provo create impromptu, fleeting art exhibits that are inevitably open to the public. In a town that has trouble keeping its independent art galleries open for any respectable amount of time, posters manage to show off some of the best local graphic design. They also take art out of the relatively bourgeois white cube of a museum and thrust it into the street.
Not all posters are great and most get covered up or torn down within days or weeks, but their presence has upped the ante in the effort to catch people’s attention and create stimulating experiences in Provo. So the next time you’re out take a closer look; that conversation is one the most interesting things on the streets.
Jim Dalrymple is a regular contributor to Rhombus, whose writing generally centers on popular culture. You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.
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