Friends of the Orphan Signs (FOS) is a collaborative, public art and educational initiative that revitalizes abandoned road signs. These signs, located in empty lots, are called "orphans" by the historic preservation community. We recognize the historic value of orphans and we develop dynamic, community-oriented, public art projects that utilize these structures as sites for temporary and permanent public artwork. FOS develops educational programs that teach conceptual and technical graphic design skills to local communities. Together we design and install collaborative public art pieces that active orphan signs as an expression of neighborhood identity. Friends of the Orphan Signs creates and supports unusual opportunities for underserved local communities to participate in art projects that directly improve the visual character of their surroundings and preserve relics of history.
Many of these sign structures, although relics of past roadside culture, are experienced as eyesores and are likely to be torn down unless their potential for reuse is realized. FOS projects coincide with neighborhood, city, and county initiatives to revitalize various neighborhoods Albuquerque, landscapes which endure persistent urban blight, evidence of violence and gang activity, and a decay built environment. Our projects provide timely opportunities to engage the local community in reclaiming a bit of this landscape.
Friends of the Orphan Signs is a collaborative, public art and educational initiative that revitalizes abandoned road signs in Albuquerque and along historic Route 66. FOS facilitates collaborations with local communities with the aim of designing new imagery to install in the signs as public art pieces that explore neighborhood identity.
Friends of the Orphan Signs has come out of my interest in material salvaging and reuse, and in social practice as an art form that destabilizes distinctions between producers and consumers of visual culture and offers opportunities to engage in open-ended collaboration with many sorts of people. The camaraderie I enjoy from this work is underpinned by an exploration of a particular local history- of sign production. My research takes me into the basement archives of sign companies and into the top floor corner offices of urban planners and City Hall officials as I compile a view of Albuquerque history from this very particular angle, an angle from which to make unique and mysterious contributions to the roadside landscape. The mute address of empty signs can become despairing over time, less so if broken by an unexpected voice.
- Ellen Babcock