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EnjoyBanking: An Interview With New York's $treet Artist$ (SLIDESHOW)

Posted: 05/08/09 12:38 PM ET

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For months, I've been spotting countless friendly and ironic stickers popping up across the city's art-friendly zones. These cutesy bubble-lettered slogans scream "Enjoy Subprime Lending," "Enjoy Credit Crunch," "Enjoy Bailout Package," "Enjoy Golden Parachutes," or some other economic absurdity that has become all too common in our daily newspeak.

I was very intrigued by the idea that the streets of New York are being used as an arena for economic discussion. While it's a truism that everything is about money-and I'm really not trying to be cynical-this direct debate (as opposed to the coded one we are accustomed to) is unusual for the street, where ambiguity often reigns. It also was quite refreshing to see street art being used so cleverly to do what it does best--the institutional critique.

A few weeks after their first sticker attack appeared, the masterminds behind this economically-charged street art surfaced on Twitter and Flickr to post their thoughts and images for the world to see. After a few weeks of watching to see where this project would lead, I spotted one gate impressively plastered with the bubbly words near Houston (it was part of NYSAT). I just had to reach out to learn more about the EnjoyBanking Project, as it is known, and its reasons for sprinkling New York City with economic wisdom (or are these warnings?).

According to the organizers, "EnjoyBanking is a multimedia art + in4mation campaign responding to the changing economic landscape."

The following interview was conducted via email with David from EnjoyBanking who, along with a few partners, runs the campaign on what he claims is "a full-time basis."

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Hrag Vartanian: Is there something specific, other than the obvious economic meltdown, that triggered the EnjoyBanking campaign?

EnjoyBanking: You are partially correct--the financial meltdown is a direct catalyst for the campaign. However, the true heart of the campaign lies in responding to an underlying cause of the collapse: misinformation. Mainstream media outlets, particularly financial news networks, exacerbated the banks' many problems with panic-driven fear mongering. The media coverage truly inflamed what John Maynard Keynes termed "animal spirits"--a concept Bob Shiller has underscored in his insightful new book. The rampant sensationalism of the 24/7 news cycle helped network ratings but did little to inform the general public about the roots of our country's structural economic imbalances, including over-consumption, under-investment, and declining savings. Creative education and stimulating artistic/editorial content will enhance financial literacy and restore confidence in the future of free enterprise.

HV: How many people are involved in the project?

EB: A diverse cross-section of talent from New York's creative economy--visual artists, writers, economists, photographers, historians, musicians, and filmmakers.

HV: How have you defined the parameters of the project?

EB: Limitless.

HV: Why did you choose typography as the medium for your message?

EB: Considering the saturation of these terms in negative headlines, juxtaposing them with an exuberant aesthetic speaks to our overall ethos. Demystifying financial jargon and media sloganeering clearly lends itself to the medium.

HV: Are you at all concerned that this recent awareness about the dangers of the financial systen is only temporary? What if the economy improves and people forget the dangers of short-sighted corporatism?

EB: Not in the least bit. EnjoyBanking strives towards economic revitalization; recovery is the sine qua non of the campaign. For the economy to prosper over the long-term, it is imperative that people become more informed about, connected to, and included in intelligent production and consumption. More people being consciously active in the economy spells a healthier economic future for us all. The platform and content EnjoyBanking develops will adapt to dynamic economic conditions and cycles.

HV: What role do aesthetics play in the EnjoyBanking campaign?

EB: The campaign is a visually-driven forum that draws on all facets of art and creative media to spark enriching discourse about the economy and how it affects us all. Paul Rand's design vision for the now famous IBM campaigns made computing more accessible to stubborn technophobes; in similar fashion, EnjoyBanking seeks to democratize and demystify a previously inaccessible and daunting subject: the economy. So, as your question implies, aesthetics clearly play a central role in the campaign.

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HV: How about political action?

EB: EnjoyBanking is entirely apolitical and non-partisan. The campaign is solely driven by reason and objectivity.

HV: Is the campaign only active in New York?

EB: New York is our base, though the subject matter is relevant across the globe. Our present focus lies in New York, but we hope to globalize as the message grows.

HV: Does the Enjoy Banking campaign have goals and, in your opinion, what would qualify it as a success?

EB: EnjoyBanking intends to create a spirited platform for artistic and intellectual exchange. The campaign's website (enjoybanking.com), set to launch in June, will become a bustling marketplace of ideas surrounding art and the economy. We want to create artistic and informative content that people both like and learn from - that is our real vision of success.

All photos are used with the permission of EnjoyBanking.

This post originally appeared at the Art21 blog.