Local Campaigns take on Colorful LookBy Vicki Byrum Dennis, November 1, 2020
Local artist Toby Tover is proving that election campaigns don’t have to all look alike. The colorful and creative yard signs supporting Steve Young for Mayor and Terry Scott for City Council that have popped up all over town in recent weeks are the proof. The idea behind the signs was a simple one: ask local artists to create original campaign posters and signs for candidates who have always supported the arts.
It originated with Tover, and it was something new for this long-time Benicia artist. “I’ve never gotten involved in a local election before this one,” she said. “But I really felt strongly about helping Steve.”
“Steve’s support of local artists has been so strong for so many years,” she said. “He’s been at all the Arts Benicia events. He and his wife Marty visit our studios and galleries, and buy art from local artists. I felt it was time to step up and give back.”
It helped that Tover also spent more than 30 years in marketing and could visualize how the look of a campaign could be unique, how the branding could stand out. “I’d been thinking how boring signs can be, how repetitious,” she said. “They get lost because they are all basically the same, usually the same color, design, font. There had to be a way to make it different.”
Like with many of her best ideas, Tover found the solution in the middle of the night. “I have insomnia and often use the time to work out some of the problems or challenges with my art,” she said. “That’s when it struck me how the artists in town could help the campaign. How about making unusual and eye-popping signs which could be sold as a fundraiser?”
She texted Young the next day and ran the idea by him. He loved it but had two suggestions. He thought that the signs potentially could be auctioned off and suggested the sign campaign include Terry Scott who is running for City Council.
As chair of the Benicia Arts and Culture Commission and Public Art Committee since 2017, Scott too has worked closely with the artist community, especially in creating public art projects throughout the city. Young and Scott worked together to help bring artist’s Lisa Reinertson’s iconic statue, “Neptune’s Daughter,” to the Benicia waterfront.
With both candidates on board, the campaign project was a go, but to pull it off, Tover needed help. Young reached out to his friends and supporters Benicia artists, Larnie and Bodil Fox and Jenn Hanley, who agreed immediately. Other friends jumped in, and the team quickly organized a plan.
“When I heard about Toby’s idea from Steve I knew it could make a great project, and I volunteered to coordinate with the artists,” Larnie Fox said. “The project did raise money, but more importantly we created colorful campaign materials that spread a positive message.”
Hanley created and facilitated the two auctions. She also designed the digital graphics for the events, oversaw all the financials and handled much of the promotion. Jack Ruszel of Ruszel Woodworks donated the sign materials.
Ultimately, 35 artists created more than 70 signs including two by the internationally-known Reinertson. The response was so great that the team decided to hold two online auctions, two weeks apart in September. After the auctions, the Foxes distributed the signs and installed many in the yards of lucky winners.
The project raised more than $3,500 for the campaigns. Both Young and Scott are delighted with the results and grateful for the support of the community artists. “This is so different from your typical campaign effort,” Young said. “But it certainly reflects how our campaigns have tried to connect not only to the artist community, but to the larger community who could see and appreciate how unique this effort truly was.”
“I loved this project the first time I heard about it,” Scott said. “Isn’t it great to see political support expressed not in anger and violence in us vs. them tones— but expressed as positive statements with hope and color? Each sign is an individual message of political support, but it’s also a message of how many of us Benicians view our world with positivity and hope.”