Doing Billboards & Murals

What Are Billboards & Murals?

Billboards and murals are large-scale compositions of differing mediums that are known for capturing the attention of the public through the use of eye-catching colours or slogans.

Where murals are generally associated with the art world, billboards are more likely to be correlated with advertising companies. The two are similar in that their sheer size allows for them to have a striking impact on onlookers. Billboards are generally posted on steel frames mounted off the ground along highways and roads, and are arranged through the use of marketing agencies. In contrast, murals are most often displayed on the walls of buildings and structures within an urban development.

Why Use Billboards & Murals for HIV/AIDS Education?

The prominence of billboards and murals within a community, as well as the amount of awareness they can draw, make them idyllic for enlightening the public to HIV/AIDS issues. The style of the billboard or mural may be edgy or conventional. A specific message about HIV/AIDS can be clearly portrayed for the target audience.


    ✓ The loud nature of billboards and murals is sure to raise interest in HIV/AIDS related topics
    ✓ Both the planning and implementation processes can be exciting
    ✓ Murals can be produced through countless materials and means; all that is necessary is creative vision


    x Billboards tend to be one of the most expensive forms of advertisement
    x The implementation of a community mural may not be possible if permission is not received from the necessary proprietor

Making a Billboard or Mural

Before Getting Started

Creating a billboard or mural design can require a community effort and is a wonderful mechanism for uniting individuals. As the presence of large-scale art in a municipal area will likely require varying levels of planning, there are many logistics to take into account before going ahead with the design.

Setting Up a Billboard

Billboard structures are usually owned and maintained by advertising companies. The cost of a billboard display will vary depending on the owner, size, and location of the structure. Before going ahead with a billboard advertisement, it is important to:

  • Know the available budget: billboard advertisement is expensive so finding an agency that is willing to compromise may be the best option.
  • Discuss the billboard design with an experienced designer; a designer will know the necessary tools and technicalities that will have to be taken into account.
  • Contact several billboard advertising agencies; many cities have competing agencies, and speaking with more than one may help in deciding which would be the most economical.

Setting Up a Mural

Murals are an excellent means of raising awareness, for they can appeal to many demographics. Youth may be excited to help with the implementation of a mural, and there are many ways in which they may participate.

  • Choose a location for the mural. Areas that are highly visible to the public are more likely to get attention than those that are hidden. Possible locations could include building walls, bridges, sidewalks, schools, and community centres. Be sure to have the appropriate municipal permits or the permission of the property owner.
  • Choose appropriate materials. In most cases, murals are located outdoors; the paints or other substances used must be able to stand up to the elements. Paints, ladders, and brushes are the most basic of materials required for a mural. Crayons and chalk, as well as other found objects, may be used in less traditional approaches to mural making.
  • Research mural styles. If the goal of the mural is to appeal to youth, then stylizing the mural for that particular audience is a must. Current and contemporary techniques, such as graffiti or stencils, are a good indicator of what will attract a youthful audience.

During the Display

Throughout the construction of the billboard or mural, documentation of the events should be taken. Every step of the way, from developing the design blueprints to carrying out the final draft should be recorded in some manner. Having documents to look back on can lengthen the lifespan of the project as well as its results. Some ideas for documenting the event:

  • Photographing participants as they create the art and interact with one another
  • Allow for participant feedback through the use of a guestbook or webpage
  • Notifying local radio, television, or newspaper companies of the event may prompt media interest

After the Display

Once the billboard or mural is on display, any records of the processes involved in the creation may be posted on the Internet, or displayed within the community through the use of community centers, libraries, schools, or shelters. Depending on the circumstances, the erected billboard or mural may stand for an extensive period, becoming a symbol of optimism within the community.

Incorporating Multiple Art Methodologies
Blending various art forms can have a powerful impact on the project at hand, as well as enhance the final product. Some art forms that can be incorporated with billboards and murals include:

  • Comic Strips
  • Drawing
  • Hip Hop Culture
  • Poetry/Writing
  • Photography

Billboard & Mural Projects for HIV/AIDS Awareness

Many organizations have recognized the potential and taken advantage of billboard and mural use. The art created by these various groups serves as a wonderful resource when trying to develop one’s own HIV/AIDS awareness project.


In 2005, the first French association against HIV & AIDS and viral hepatitis (AIDES) launched a campaign to fight discrimination that involved painting frescoes/murals in the middle of French cities (Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, Angers, Angoulême, Nantes, Saint Nazaire, Montpellier, Poitiers, etc.) to touch a very wide public locally. These frescoes were painted by urban graffiti artists and based on visuals created by the TBWA\Paris agency. Each visual was associated with a text highlighting the problems of living with HIV & AIDS today. For more information, go to

Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program

The Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (DHAPP) has established billboard signs in various African countries aimed at uniformed personnel to promote condom use, awareness, and prevention. The signs use strong slogans that send influential messages in the hopes of stopping the spread of the disease. The website can be seen at:

La Raza Group

La Raza Group began as a collective group of artists in Montreal who believed that art and social change were heavily correlated. In 2007, the group decided to head to South Africa to pursue a “Murals Against AIDS project”. John K. Grande, One of the members of La Raza has said, “Art can transform society, play a role in bettering our understanding of one another. It involves seeing our place in relation to each other and seeing the larger world context”. To learn more about the project and the group, visit:

Spread the Know

Located in Philadelphia, Spread the Know was started by a group of urban artists called the Barnstormers. Painting on street blocks and in subway stations, the messages portrayed by these artists hoped to encourage the public to get tested for HIV. The use of eclectic designs and colour schemes has helped to not only draw attention to the matter at hand, but also to inspire those who set sight on the works. For more information, visit:

Photos of Billboards and Murals Used for HIV/AIDS Awareness

Billboards, Murals, and Social Change Bibliography

AIDS Action. (1987-2006). Retrieved July 2007, from

Canadian AIDS Society. (2002, August 24). Retrieved July 2007, from

Caruso, H.Y., & Caruso, J. (2003). Mural painting as public art. Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education, 5(1). Retrieved November 2009, from

Concerned Citizens for Humanity. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2007, from

Concerned Citizens for Humanity. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2007, from

Fraser, J. (1991). The American Billboard 100 Years. New York: Harry M. Abrams.

Mueller, M. K. (1979). Murals: Creating an Environment. Worchester: Davis.