Tickets to a Broadway show can cost hundreds of dollars. But, as any New York City subway rider knows, $2.50 gets you a front row seat to an ever-changing cast of characters delivering monologues, dance routines, musical numbers, and other diversions to liven up your morning commute. With a daily ridership of 5.5 million, we’re a massive captive audience, a potential goldmine for the panhandlers, hip-hoppers and doo-woppers who compete for our spare coins.
But what if you demanded a sea change, instead of spare change? This month, a trio of artists is doing just that, with a pair of posters that ask New York City subway riders to open our eyes, not our wallets. The vivid graphic designs by James Jean and the wife-and-husband team of Ellie and Akira Ohiso are the winners of a poster design contest sponsored by Avaaz, the global civic organization, to promote the September 21st People’s Climate March.
Jean’s poster, “Winds of Change,” features a starry-eyed girl holding a pinwheel, symbolizing wind power, and sun beams behind her evoking solar power. It’s got a glorious kind of fauvist fervor. There’s an undercurrent of unease, with a strong wind blowing through her hair, but the overall tone of the poster is one of optimism.
The Ohisas’ poster, “The Next One Won’t Be Biblical,” takes a more apocalyptic approach. I interviewed Ellie Ohisa via email to get some background on how they created this graphic:
Your winning design for the People’s Climate March poster contest shows the Statue of Liberty being swallowed up by a rising sea, with the tag line “The Next One Won’t Be Biblical.” What inspired you to settle on that slogan?
My husband, Akira, and I had developed a special creative working relationship through a regional eco-local quarterly print magazine called Green Door Magazine. Having a popular following with the mag, we developed the confidence to know how to message to get people to listen. Marketing is all about context. And I think the climate change poster project was about using traditional marketing messages in an untraditional field of environmental issues. We didn’t want to preach to the choir. When Akira was brainstorming on messaging for the poster, we wanted something that was going to reach a wider audience who would typically dismiss environmental issues or art for art’s sake. It was about speaking to people in a language to which they could relate. Commercial messaging that was ‘loaded.’ The environmental undertone of ‘this vs. that’ has mostly centered on religious views either for or against. The biblical reference attempted to pull the religious aspect out of the equation by calling it to attention.
Survival is a recurring theme for you and Akira — you even collaborated on a book called Surviving. How did you both become fixated on this subject?
In our early stages of marriage as I went for a interdisciplinary degree for my Masters as Akira was finishing up a Masters in Social Work, we collaborated on “Surviving,” an Oral History/Graphic Design Book. At the time, Akira was working with Holocaust survivors in NYC who were the non-stereotypical stories presented by traditional media. It was an attempt to learn about our multi-racial/multi-religious selves against the backdrop of a historical context. Surviving became about the ‘then’ but also about the ‘now.’ We had become new parents so it was a poignant theme for us. As our careers have grown we realized some of our strengths were messages that were about bridging gaps not isolating.
You’re the parents of three adorable toddlers. Do you discuss climate change with them?
We have our hands full with Boaz, 7, Jude, 5, and Cy, 3. A lot of our work is honed through the attempt to make a better world for our children. Boaz, our oldest, in his short life has experienced both Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy in the Catskills. He’s a smart kid and asks a lot of questions. As parents whose creative work advocates for awareness and engagement, our home life is infused with some of these principles. And our children pick up on them. They were featured in the recent Avaaz People’s Climate March video about our winning design. Watching the video with them opened up further discussion about climate change. We continue to highlight the fact that they can make a difference. An empowerment approach can allay some fears that some of these strong discussions create for children. Problems in the world: they can have a hand in making them better. All three of our children will be marching for their future in NYC on September 21. I encourage your readers to do the same.