Drive past all 27 billboards in outdoor exhibit April in Paris of Appalachia | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Drive past all 27 billboards in outdoor exhibit April in Paris of Appalachia

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Sean Rothermel's Lawrenceville house sits directly across the street from a billboard. After diving into painting and photography during the pandemic, one day the idea struck Rothermel to replace the ad outside his window with art.

"Every morning I wake up and see an advertisement staring through my window," says Rothermel, the man behind the April in Paris of Appalachia, an outdoor art exhibition spanning across 27 billboards in Pittsburgh. "I struggled a bit early on in the pandemic and found that creative exploration was a helpful mechanism to cope with the stress."

The billboard across the street was already reserved, but Rothermel's idea grew from two billboards to 27, using the money he was saving to buy a new car.

 "I just felt like putting something positive into the community was a better use of my money at this point in time," he says, "and I think the idea of some guy buying a bunch of billboards to put up art just for the sake of it sounded funny. I knew if I didn't do it I would regret it."


Rothermel purchased space on a majority of the billboards available in the city. At the time, there were only 36 open, so he says the locations pretty much chose themselves. But he made sure to deliberately select as many neighborhoods as possible.
click to enlarge CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
"I had been working remotely for a nonprofit organization based in rural West Virginia the last couple years, and the cultural differences are pretty staggering (just a 2.5-hour drive away)," says Rothermel. "I see something similar across the city of Pittsburgh, and I believe we need to be more intentional about getting to know one another to get through the current situation. I also was very deliberate about creating a cohesive story and trying to weave a sequence throughout the city. Some billboards are in their respective locations to satisfy that sequence, and others actually have a very real personal meaning behind their location."

Each billboard in April in Paris of Appalachia, is numbered and the exhibition is meant to be viewed in order. A map featuring the locations of the billboards, their latitude and longitude, and a short description is available at aprilinparisofappalachia.com.

"[However], I would recommend people interact with the artwork in whatever way feels best for them, as long as they view it safely (both from a COVID-19 and vehicular perspective - follow the law!)," says Rothermel. "Definitely view them out of order if it means going to support a local restaurant or business while viewing." 

There will be food trucks out this weekend supporting the exhibition near 31st and Penn between Lawrence and the Strip District. 

April in Paris of Appalachia will only be up through the end of July, after which Rothermel plans to auction off most of them and donate the proceeds to local and national nonprofits. He is also working with a local designer to turn a few of them into apparel and accessories, with the proceeds going to charity as well. Additionally, one of the billboards can be won as part of a promotion Rothermel is running on Instagram and Twitter.

"The billboards tell a story, and I hope viewers develop their own perception and interpretation of that story," says Rothermel. "I really wanted to create something new, fun, and cultural as a way to let some air out of our current situation, and to have it be a way for people to connect even if that just means agreement on the fact that the artist is a little nuts. I also hope it brings some pride to the city, since we're the first city to have something like this."

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