High Art

Charlotte-based ArtPop is redefining the gallery landscape.


Wendy Hickey doesn’t like to see valuable community assets go to waste.

When she saw available outdoor advertising space go wanting, she had a perfect plan to fill the massive canvases with captivating artwork. Her Charlotte-based nonprofit organization, ArtPop, brings day brighteners to hundreds of commuters and creates one-of-a-kind opportunities for local artists to display their work like never before.

In Charlotte, the program has meant prime exposure for 60 local artists whose  work has been on billboards throughout the city over the past three years.

Hickey struck upon the initial idea in 2002, finding an intersection of her professional career in outdoor advertising sales and her passion as an avid arts enthusiast and board member of the Pocono Arts Council in Stroudsburg, Pa.

“I worked in sales for Adams Outdoor Advertising and recognized occasionally unsold space was available on area billboards,” says Hickey, 49. “I thought it would be great to use this space to feature local artists and provide a broad platform for their work in the community. My idea was met with great enthusiasm by Adams, and that year, we featured five artists on billboards, receiving tremendously positive community response.”


120 Billboards and Growing

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Fourteen years and nearly 120 billboards later, Hickey has taken her initial dream and created ArtPop. She established the formal organization last year after relocating to Charlotte in 2013. ArtPop’s mission is to promote local artists’ work through available media space. Hickey envisions artwork on news racks and on buses in addition to lofty billboards.

ArtPop’s popularity has caught on in other communities across the country. Winston-Salem, Tampa, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Peoria, and several other cities have launched programs and are working with Hickey.

“Local arts councils, like Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council, conduct the call, review, and select artists, and provide funding for the production of the art,” says Hickey. Media sponsors provide space and ArtPop coordinates program administration.”

Charlotte has the largest number of artist billboards, featuring 20 annually since 2014. Local media sponsor Adams Outdoor Advertising believes the alliance is part of its corporate responsibility.

“We’re thrilled to make a positive impact in the community and demonstrate good corporate citizenship by bringing attention to local artists,” says Jeannine Dodson, general manager for Adams Outdoor Advertising in Charlotte.

Local glass artist and entrepreneur Carmella Jarvi found the program to be a catalyst in advancing her career into a new direction.

“Being selected as part of the initial 2014 class gave me an opportunity to showcase my work as I moved from a studio artist to creator of public art,” says Jarvi, 47. “ArtPop represents a significant professional endorsement of my work.”

Jarvi felt so strongly about the impact ArtPop made on her career she joined the board and now serves as a community advocate.

“So many artists have reached out to me with amazing stories after their work has been featured,” says Hickey. “They share how they’ve been sought out for commissions and by people interested in purchasing prints. Many tell me it is a game changer for them in terms of their careers, with the spotlight boosting their confidence and providing motivation to continue creating.”

ArtPop is holding its second-annual fundraiser on June 4 at the Vue 50th Floor Sky Lounge.