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Brief Published: 1 Jul 2013

Orphan Signs: Roadside Inspiration


Albuquerque-based art collective Friends of the Orphan Signs (FOS) is a project-based group in the US that repurposes vacant road signs with poetry and work by local artists. FOS also invites community participation by broadcasting requests for texts and images on some of its signage.

“People in Albuquerque care a lot about their old road signs,” FOS founder Ellen Babcock told Stylus. “Their presence, even when they are mute skeletons, speaks of an essential part of the history of this place.”

Albuquerque was a popular stopover for road-trippers driving from Chicago to LA on Route 66 in the 1960s. Back then, sign companies competed to create eye-catching signs until the city imposed regulations prohibiting extravagant designs, fearing driver distraction. Now, many of the signs in the area are derelict.

Local reaction to the adopted signs has been largely positive. “We have enjoyed enthusiastic support from the communities we work with,” Babcock says. “There is something about a sign and its state of universal address, that it is talking to anyone and everyone, that encourages people to speak up.”

Billboards and repurposed public spaces are effective platforms to connect with communities and revitalise cities, as seen with Peru’s Water Billboard, the Air Architecture billboard sculpture on the US/Canada border. Stylus highlights similar efforts in Detroit: Blank Canvas for Creativity, which examines the city’s creative rebirth in the wake of the recession.

Friends of the Orphan Signs