Erase Covid spreads safety PSAs through campy, subversive art
New initiative helmed by local designer Michael Buchmiller comprises 60 artists in nine countries
During World War II, the Work Projects Administration implemented visual art as a medium to promote government programs and spread information promoting the public welfare. Through dazzling graphic images, the U.S. government conveyed public service announcements (PSA) stating everything from “Keep Your Teeth Clean” to “Stop Syphillis.”
Now, 80 years later, the coronavirus era has yielded a new need to convey important messages in a time of crisis, and one San Diego artist has spearheaded an effort to use visual media to do so.
In March, as San Diegans began self-isolating and social distancing, graphic designer Michael Buchmiller was dealing with how to disseminate Centers for Disease Control safety recommendations through his workplace, commercial printer Graphic Business Solutions. But he found that getting information out in a way that people would better digest it might require a more creative approach.
“We thought we should get some kind of PSA poster printed so, if offices wanted to stay open, they’d have CDC guidelines up so everyone stays safe,” Buchmiller says. “But the CDC recommendations were so long and dense that I thought people would just gloss over it. So I thought, what can I do? Maybe it’d be better to give each bullet point on the list its own poster.”
The seed of that idea grew into Erase Covid, an initiative to turn public health PSAs into art. The proceeds raise money for both the artists — many of whom have lost other work due to the toll the virus has taken on the economy — as well as the MusiCares Covid-19 relief fund, which provides financial support to musicians and industry workers during a time of near-total industry shutdown.
Buchmiller began making concert posters in 2001, and has translated a similarly campy illustration style into Erase Covid, including a vintage horror-movie-style image that reads “I can’t stop touching my face!” and another that reads “Health Demands Clean Hands.”
After conceiving of the concept, he started reaching out to other artists in his network to gauge interest in their involvement. In only a matter of weeks, the list of artists involved has grown to 60 in nine countries, with 120 pieces of art currently up on the Erase Covid website all being sold as posters, greeting cards, postcards and magnets (printed by Graphic Business Solutions).
“I’m friends with artists, and I follow a lot of artists on Instagram, so I just started reaching out to people,” Buchmiller says. “Eventually the list got bigger and bigger. I started getting responses from people that would say ‘Yeah, I want in! This sounds amazing!’”
One of the artists involved is Parker Jacobs, art director for children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” His contributions include an illustration of Bigfoot, captioned “Social Distancing Champion,” as well as one that includes Gabba character Brobee saying “Calling Your Friends is Awesome!”
“I thought people would identify with a popular character, and it was really cool for [rights owner GabbraCadabra LLC] to allow for it,” Jacobs says. “Now is a time when we should be calling people and saying, ‘how are you doing?!’ Not just ‘here’s my cat’ or ‘are you watching Tiger King’, but how are you?”
Another artist involved is Elena Fox, best known for being a cake designer at Charm City Cakes, featured on Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes.” Her contributions all feature cartoon cats, some discouraging hoarding and others washing their paws while singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” — whose chorus meets the 20-second hand-washing threshold as suggested by the CDC.
“I wanted to get these messages across in a playful, digestible way that’s clear and not scary for people,” Fox says. “In general, whenever you see these warnings, it can be a little bit clinical or scary, so I wanted to do something more lighthearted.”
While the ultimate goal is to help artists get back on their feet during an economic crisis, offering something fun for people to put on their wall has a secondary benefit of giving people some sense of comfort. Jacobs draws a parallel to a similar experience during a trying time.
“When I was working at Paul Frank Industries during 9/11, I was surprised at how things changed back then,” Jacobs says. “People actually started buying more of our stuff—cute characters that presented a positive message. People are looking around for something to lift their spirits.”
Buchmiller, Jacobs and Fox all say that they’ve spent much of their quarantine diving deeper into their work, but they feel extra motivated putting that effort into something that helps other people.
“There are a lot of people like myself who just sat around, contemplating the state of the world,” Buchmiller says. “Now more than ever, people want something to rally behind—a cause to be a part of.”
To buy posters, postcards and more, go to Erasecovid.com.
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