Artists Lease Billboard Above Irving Street to Showcase Other Artists’ Works

By Noma Faingold

Instead of renting an expensive gallery space, hoping and praying that art lovers, collectors and passersby would seek out a show, artists Sarah Hotchkiss and Zoë Talepolos decided to pool their money and rent a small billboard for a year to showcase four local artists of their choosing. 

Unselfishly, they do not plan to showcase their own work on the six-foot by 12-foot “Premiere Jr.” billboard they rented from Clear Channel for $3,250. This is not an opportunistic endeavor for Oakland resident Talepolos, who is a public art project manager for the San Francisco Arts Commission, and Inner Sunset’s Hotchkiss, whose day job is with KQED as a visual arts editor.

Billboard photo

Instead of diplaying commercial advertising, the billboard above the businesses on the north side of Irving Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, will be used as an art installation for a year. Courtesy photo by Graham Holoch.

It is a grassroots project to promote artists and add some flare to people’s daily routine, such as while commuters are waiting for the N-Judah heading downtown on Seventh Avenue and Irving Street. 

“It would be great if we get people to notice it and are curious and excited to see something different in the local landscape,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s not the same audience who go to galleries. They’re going about their daily business. They get to experience art when they’re going to Pasquale’s or going to get their nails done.”

Hotchkiss, 34, originally from Pasadena, who lives less than one block away, adds, “I get to see it every day.”

Hotchkiss and Talepolos commissioned the first piece, which runs until mid-April, from photographer Lindsey White, who lives in the Mission. All three went to grad school at the California College of the Arts. 

A group of about 30 people gathered outside the Fireside Bar on a windy afternoon, Feb. 9 to view and celebrate the inaugural piece by White, 38, an assistant professor and chair of photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her piece, featuring comic props – a hair piece, glue-on eyebrows and a mustache – floating in front of a blue sky, has both mystery and whimsy. It is accompanied by a handwritten, toll-free number, 1-800-481-8070. It is a retro nod to billboard advertisements, as well as current subject matter White is exploring in her work. 

During the reception, attendees kept asking Hotchkiss, “What happens when you call the number?”

She just told them to call the number. 

No spoilers here. But the concept is meant to be the anthesis of what Bay Area residents see on most other billboards. 

“We’re interested in interrupting what you see on billboards, like a lot of tech ads and things we don’t even understand anymore,” Hotchkiss said. “Lindsey wanted to make something old fashioned.”

White, who is working on a book titled “Controlled Miracles,” to be published later this year, says she wanted her billboard to be “a little existential and weird because that is disappearing from San Francisco.”

The subject matter of White’s art book is magicians from the 1930s to 1970s. She has done a lot of research, including interviewing magicians, and has been given access to the work of the late Irving Desfor, a photographer with the Associated Press, who was known for his photographs of magicians in action. “What I like about magic acts is that you are always going to miss something, even if you are trying to pay attention, and there’s an element of surprise,” says White. “There’s truth and illusion in photography and in magic. What you see is not always what you get.”

The current billboard will be up until mid-April. Hotchkiss and Talepolos have yet to select the next artist, though they have a short list. They are open to using unconventional media for the billboards, such as sculpture. The work will be commissioned, with the artist receiving a modest stipend. They encourage local artists to contact them at

Hotchkiss is not sure what will happen when the contract expires at the end of the year, but “I hope that people will know that this is an art space and they will be looking forward to what comes next.” is sponsored in part by:

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