If you walk down St-Laurent Boulevard or any major street in Montreal, you’re bound to notice posters up on poles announcing upcoming local music and theatre shows, rallies and even apartments for rent.
You’ll also notice another type of advertising: corporate billboards, mini-billboards protected by glass as part of some free-standing “information booth” and ad trucks driving up the street. These hawk everything from lingerie to Hollywood blockbusters to shows at big venues.
While corporate advertising on public space is permitted and in some cases city-sponsored, small groups and independent artists hoping to let the community know what is going through lampposts, garbage cans and benches are often fined and almost always have to look over their shoulders for police.
Larger organizations with bigger budgets and in some cases corporations that use underground street-level publicity can afford not only to pay people to do their postering but have city fines written into their publicity budgets. Others are paying for advertising legitimately to promote things that already have enough publicity already.
Independent posterers also sometimes meet up with irate citizens upset at all the visual pollution they have to deal with on a daily basis. While complaints about the eyesore of public advertising are justifiable, many of the same people won’t even bat an eyelash at a billboard truck puffing up the street or a giant scaffolding-wrap billboard at a major intersection.
Others may argue that there are now other ways to spread the word, like the walls of bars and restaurants that accept them or online. Both are great options and I would even agree that the internet is probably a much more effective way to publicize and in some ways a more equal place. Unfortunately, the corporations and monied advertisers are there, too while the streets, our public space, belongs, at least legally, to them exclusively.
In Ottawa they have the start of a better idea. No, they haven’t banned corporate billboards, but they have installed postering collars on utility poles throughout downtown which serve as free-standing bulletin boards where anyone can legally hang up a poster for free. You can also hang up a poster on a pole as long as it’s not too close to an official posting spot.
There are rules about how big the poster can be and how many days it can stay up, plus they expect you to remove it yourself, but that is more than fair and something that many Montreal poster hangers would gladly do if it meant they could spread the word on public streets without having to pay a hefty price. Instead, we are left with the same old story, those that are big can pay to get bigger and those that are small have to watch out.
It has been said that a good street postering team for a small event needs three people, one to hold the posters in place, one to tape or paste and a third to watch out for the cops. Is that really any way to have to think about promoting a work of art or an event that you are most likely doing for free in your spare time?