ASC’s ArtPop makes being stuck in traffic a little more pleasant

You expect to see art in a gallery. You don’t expect to see it when you’re stuck in Charlotte traffic. (But that’s probably exactly when you need something to transport you – mentally – elsewhere.)

People have been seeing giant works of art on billboards all year through the Arts & Science Council’s ArtPop program. Now ASC is doing it again in 2015.

Last year, 50 artists entered their work for a chance to have it featured on a billboard, provided by Adams Outdoor Advertising. Billboard installations will begin in January, and art will be displayed throughout the year.

This year, the ASC got 122 qualified entries from artists in the 10 counties surrounding Charlotte. John Horne, ASC program director for cultural and community affairs, said ASC got queries from artists in L.A., New York, Amsterdam, Australia and Japan.

“Artists contacted us from all over the world to ask, ‘Can I participate?’,” Horne said. “And my answer was, ‘Sure, but you have to move to Charlotte.’ ”

Since this is truly a public art project, the public had a say in which art was chosen. More than 6,500 votes were cast, more than three times last year’s competition.

While the artists who submit work are required to live in the region, the votes can come from anywhere. Horne said the contest went viral and ASC got votes from across the country. “It really got Charlotte national attention,” he said. “It exposed the local art scene to a much bigger audience.”

All 20 winners were vetted by a jury of local arts and design experts, which chose the top 25 submissions, and artists who ranked among the first 15 submissions were automatically asked to participate. The top six vote-getters earned entry to the program.

Leandro Manzo, 45, was the top vote-getter. Manzo’s work is shown at LaCa Latin-American Contemporary Art Gallery. His winning work – the original version – is in a private collection in Buenos Aires. It features a riot of vibrant color and depicts a dizzying street scene where everyone’s doing the tango.

“For me, it is a great gift that has been given to me by the city of Charlotte,” said the native of Argentina in an email. “(There is the) possibility that the work will reach many eyes, many hearts and many souls. These billboards can wake a new interest in art in people who didn’t have it before.”

Manzo said he is currently focusing on mixed media and in oils on large-format canvases.

“Painting is my entire life,” he said. “It’s been my passion for more than 25 years, and I think it will be until my last breath.”

Horne said the submission process is a reminder of the depth of talent in the Charlotte area. “I was peripherally aware of Leandro, knowing he had a show at LaCa Projects Gallery,” Horne said. “It was ArtPop, though, that allowed me to experience and appreciate his work for the first time.”

The next time you’re feeling tense while sitting in traffic, look up. You don’t have to be inside a museum or gallery to get a dose of art.