The Midnight Moment is an artistic takeover of the digital screens in Times Square – advertising’s biggest outdoor venue – where three minutes each day are dedicated to a digital art exhibition. For September, the art is by someone from the advertising industry, thanks in part to Advertising Week, the event that takes place later this month.
Midnight Moment is a synchronized art exhibit across many of the billboards of Times Square nightly from 11:57pm to midnight. Its annual viewership is over 2.5 million and some groundbreaking artwork has graced the screens over the last decade. This year, for the entire month of September, they will be featuring a piece of work from Crankbunny, an advertising creative and animation director currently freelancing for Mcgarrybowen.
The September work is a collaboration between Times Square Arts, which is part of the Times Square Alliance, the promotional arm of the area, the Times Square Advertising Coalition, Advertising Week and the Out of Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA). Crankbunny’s art was chosen from hundreds of submissions, with the goal of highlighting the creatives of advertising during a month that celebrates everything advertising.
“We wanted to give a gift back to the people in the advertising community because there are so many creative people in the advertising industry,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, tells The Drum. “We wanted to give them a chance to do their own artwork. We thought that would be a nice treat for them, and Advertising Week also thought that was a great thing to do.”
Crankbunny, aka Norma Toraya, created the illustrated animation Super City You, depicting New York City’s skyline overtaken by fantastically flowering plants. It celebrates the diverse and enriching cultural landscape of New York City.
The art gets displayed on 60-plus screens throughout Times Square, and coordinating that effort nightly takes great attention to detail, according to Tompkins.
Every one of the hundreds of digital signs in the area is controlled by a different entity, so the Alliance needs to coordinate with the owner of the building, plus the company and person that’s selling the signs on behalf of the building owner. In addition, all the signs are controlled separately and have different formats, so, as Tompkins states, “it’s not just like uploading a picture from the internet. There’s a lot of technical issues”.
Plus, the artist must be cognizant of the formats and sizes of the screens and perhaps alter their art to allow for the curved Nasdaq screen or the thin vertical portion of the American Eagle sign.
But having art on a mostly commercial space is worth the effort, says Tompkins. “With the multitude of signs, this takes advantage of the unique digital advertising environment of Times Square. If you can get an artistic image on 40% of the screens, which is about where we are right now, it really grabs your attention.”
Times Square has been an advertising destination since before there were Mad Men. The first electric advertisement was installed in the space in 1904, with the likes of Budweiser and Trimble Whiskey taking advantage of the new format. From there, the Camel cigarette ad, which featured a mouth exhaling smoke, wowed crowds.
The Sony Jumbotron was installed in 1990 and soon after the signs changed over to digital. Tompkins states that the Midnight Moment grew out of something the Alliance started a little over 10 years ago, which is doing public art in Times Square.
“About 10 years ago the pedestrian plazas were created, and suddenly there was a place in Times Square where we actually had space to be able to put on art projects. From the moment we started doing public art projects, people kept saying ‘we want to put something on the screen’,” he says.
The first artist the organization worked with was Robert Wilson, a renowned New York artist, and since then notable artists like Laurie Anderson, Joshua Frankel and Yoko Ono have been featured on the Midnight Moment takeover of the screens.
The installation by Crankbunny helps usher in Advertising Week for the second straight year, in the space the event occupied for over a decade before moving to Lincoln Center.
“Times Square is the world’s greatest stage and it’s the right crescendo for our 16th year celebrating one of New York’s most creative, iconic industries – we are excited to once again partner with the Alliance,” Matt Scheckner, chief executive officer, Advertising Week and Stillwell Partners, said in a blog post by Times Square Arts.
The Drum Arms returns during Advertising Week, September 25-26. Find out more here.