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Shepard Fairey, I clearly remember the first time I saw your iconic “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker. Oh, and please see the last lines of this post.

I went to high school in the midwestern cultural hub commonly known as Ann Arbor, Michigan and have nothing but the fondest memories of that place. My girlfriend’s family had a farm on a dirt road about 30-40 minutes west of town, and when we weren’t recklessly driving the tractor about their property we were hanging around the halfpipe her little brother had built into the loft of their barn. Her brother was and still is an epically cool guy. I clearly remember seeing the Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker in his possession around 1991, not knowing what to make of it, but instantly thinking “this is rad”.

17 years later (um, right now) Shepard Fairey is being sued by the Associated Press after getting the same “this is rad” reaction from a decidedly larger audience than the early 90s skater crew. In case you’ve been living in a hole or under a rock, his Obama “Hope” poster is pretty much the iconic image of 2008, but the AP claims Fairey owes them “damages” since it is an interpretation of an AP photo. This evening the media remix dream-team assembled at New York Public Library to weigh in on the currently confused state of copyright law vs. artistry. Lawrence Lessig has got Fairey’s back in this nonsensical (IMHO) battle with the AP, and tonight he delivered commentary very similar to what he says in the TED talk below. Steven Johnson, author of the Invention of Air spoke as well and served as moderator.

I love that this conversation happened in a public library, but I wish that we had gotten to discuss the library as an institution that must support and encourage creativity, new media literacy, and remix culture as part of our service delivery. Public libraries have traditionally provided access to static information content. Books. Magazines. Films. DVDs. Engaging and learning from media is no longer a passive activity, and our public libraries, facilitators and champions of recreational learning, need to adjust to that.

There are some public libraries out there with ample funding, talented staff, and a risk-taking attitude that are addressing media literacy with their services. As an example of people doing things right, have a look (try not to drool) at the Creation Station at the Darien Library (CT).

DLCR Creation Station 2

Here’s what you are looking at:

  • Mac Powerbook (MS Office, Audacity and has all Mac apps)
  • Flip Cam
  • Edirol voice recorder (rechargeable unit, no batteries)
  • Sony CyberShot
  • Flip tri-pod (works with both the cameras)

Darien Library’s Creation Station has no loan permissions and is (for now) only used in the building. Kids call, email or come by to use it, and it is also used in library programs.

The question for you, my readers: is the Creation Station a frill, something that should only be offered as a bonus, add-on, special service in some public libraries, or is this kind of toolset an integral part of what libraries should be doing to address the new media literacy needs of our kids? You already know what I think. So why is this Creation Station just being offered to kids? If my library had a fleet of creation stations, they’d be packed with twenty and thirty-somethings from open to close. Is this service as important as I think it is, and how can we make this jump from being 20th century book repositories to vital hubs of participatory culture and knowledge sharing?

Finally, Shepard Fairey: Thanks for the talk. I want you to make a poster for my library. I work at Brooklyn Public Library. I’m easy to find. Help spread the good word- public libraries support remix culture.

Comment Pages

There are 11 Comments to "Shepard Fairey, Lawrence Lessig, Steven Johnson REMIX it up at NYPL."

  • Emily says:

    I’m thinking about it! There are so many core programs and projects that come first (babies, toddlers, preschool, book disc.) that I run out of time for new projects (and acquiring new skills.) The creation station would be a great part of writing/podcasting club. Maybe an underemployed techie parent in my community will help me set it up?

  • Septic One says:

    Shepard Fairey should be called out on stealing from minority artists and for twisting the message of other artists. I read articles that open my eyes to how horrible he is as a man. He does not allow artist to comment visually on his art but takes, takes, takes all he can from minority artists and photographers. If he thinks that fair use is creative freedom he should accept that artists will comment on his work visually and profit from it just as he does. NPR did not ask him about any of his contradictions and ICA did not either. He is a hypocrite and steals culture for his own profit and messages. He is a rightest selling a leftist message for his own fame and fortune. Support the ASL group in exposing this fraud. Please read and see what he does from the words of this man who has been critical of this artist,


    And the Supertouch article bashing Mr. Vallen is bogus. They only bash Mr. Vallen becauses Vallen is a true revolutionary artist and mentor of the streets. They do it because Mr. Fairey makes them money.


  • I think something like the creation station is a good idea, but I might choose slightly different combinations of equipment.

    Our local library will loan out laptops (for use within the library). It would make sense for the laptops to be configured for Skype video or recording video for Youtube (et al.). I have a good (<< $100) Logitech USB webcam with a built-in microphone that works fine for video calls, and I presume would also work for Youtube. Also it’s possible that the webcam built-in to current laptops is good enough.

    If you want to make an audio recording (e.g., for a podcast or video narration, or to attach to an email), you’d want a good microphone (and a quiet, low-echo place to record). I think it makes sense for the microphone to be connected to the laptop rather than a stand-alone recorder.

    If you want to take a good photo of something, it helps to have a tripod and one or more lights. It would be good if the same setup worked for both objects (e.g., for selling on eBay) and for portraits.

    So, I think something like this is a great idea that would be useful to adults as well as kids.

  • Nate Hill says:

    @ Septic One:

    Thanks for the links!

    I think that it is great that Fairey (be he a weasely scumbag or a genius artist) is capable of:

    a) creating at least 3 powerful, iconic images within my lifetime
    b) getting everyone talking about fair use issues in a time when technology makes it incredibly easy to make copies of and distribute media
    c) drawing attention to and making people consider the creative process, influence and inspiration and their relationship to effective marketing and distribution practices

    Is he a hypocrite? Maybe he is. Does it matter? Probably not. He’ll tell you that he’s never had a unique idea in his life. I know I haven’t either, have you? I’d say the really interesting thing that is happening as a result Fairey’s fame and antics is c), and I think that is where his real artistry lies.

    Fairey (with Lessig’s assistance) is effectively publicizing the story of his creative process, a process which is not evenly remotely unique in our digital media-saturated world. Like Lessig points out, if we can’t find a way to decriminalize this type of activity appropriately, we are making criminals of an entire generation of creative minds. At this point, I’d suggest that attention itself is Fairey’s agenda, and I’m not that surprised that some hipocracy would be in the mix. @Septic One, Shepard Fairey is a troublemaker, a rabblerouser. That is what artists who are asking good questions do; they stir things up and piss you off. Aim your disgust at helping create the kind of policies that you think are correct. That is all he wants you to do.

  • Nate Hill says:


    Thanks for the equipment suggestions. It would be interesting to do some kind of needs (or wants) assessment with library users to ask them what kind of things they might want to create or remix digitally at the library. Us librarians get so excited about gadgets, and particularly in this case the cost of some of these tools is high enough it’d be shame to make purchasing mistakes without asking the users what they might want to do.

    So… just like my book collection at my library would not serve the needs at the Darien Library (or yours- where do you work?), the tech needs for content creation would differ as well.

    Any other libraries have creation station setups like this?

  • Nick Franklin says:

    Well, Nate, as I thought you knew, because you and I have spoken about it on more than one occasion: I and a group of others at Brooklyn Public Library have been doing similar programs involving consumer electronics and media creation to those you discuss in this post for some time now.

    As to the question of its relevance to the mission of public libraries: after doing a few programs around this theme, I’ve come to realize that in some communities, the consumer electronics used for projects such as these are not really obtainable by kids or their families, mostly because they cost too much. While that’s slowly changing (the price of gadgets is gradually decreasing, their necessity in daily life is increasing), at best I may be advertising the gadgets to potential consumers, and at worst flaunting luxury items to those who are unable to have them and, therefore, use them properly.

    Encouraging children and teenagers to create their own content is a very powerful thing that schools and perhaps libraries should continue to do. But it should really be more of a priority for institutions to make the professional (not amateur) technology more available to students so that they are able to learn and create quality media. Perhaps is should also be a goal to remove some of the mystery and fascination that seems to surround these gadgets (largely artificial and perpetuated by manufacturers to foster brand loyalty amongst their consumers).

  • Nate Hill says:


    Thanks, yes, I do know what you do. Cheers!

  • Terence says:

    Two things the creation station need sto be really effective. First, a scanner. Soooo much creativity still happens offline and needs to be digitized. Second, a studio space. If someone wants to shoot, say, a film short, yet they can’t take the equipment off premises, then where do they shoot their film? In the reference room? Oh, and second-and-a-half: they need the open-source pre-production multi-media program Celtx (http://celtx.com/).

  • Rich says:

    I think Terence has a great point about offering some kind of studio space. My library is in the planning stages to build a digital media lab open to the public. Most likely, we’ll have several Macs, creative production software, scanners, mics, and other peripherals. We’d also like to make cameras, tripods, etc available for checkout (maybe 1-day overnight, but not sure yet). One of the issues for us will be how to offer a studio space that’s really usable and flexible to people with a limited amount of total space available. I’d be interested in what other libraries are doing with digital media labs. I think the Digital Arts Lab in Salinas is a good example, as is one at Loyola U. in Chicago.

  • Nate Hill says:

    @Terence: scanner. no doubt.

    I love the idea of a studio/production space in the library. Where does “information commons” meet “digital media lab”? Can they be the same thing? I’m just thinking of my library and all of the databases and digital content we spend precious dollars on and need to promote as well as train people to use.

    @Rich do you have plans to do public technology training sessions in your media lab? Will there be courses on Photoshop or iMovie or something? How about less glamorous stuff, like internet basics, or resume workshops? Portfolio classes? Do you feel like there is some responsibility to use this media lab to promote information products that your library subscribes to, or is that a totally separate issue?

  • Brendan says:

    To really see the extent of Fairey’s corporate corruption, read this: