By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Yosi Sergant is not the type of publicist one sees on TV. The 32-year-old environmentalist rides his bike everywhere — he gave up his Mitsubishi clunker a few years back. And he makes a point to wear no logos. “I’m nobody’s billboard,” he says.
With each decision, he intends to reflect, as his favorite presidential candidate puts it, “the extreme urgency of now.”
Sure, he’s worked on publicity and marketing campaigns for car companies and fashion designers, but since 2006, he has also been applying his lifestyle-marketing savvy to the candidacy of Barack Obama, specifically among those he calls “the creative community.” In the early days, when he’d talk to people, he says maybe one in every 50 even knew who Obama was.
Dressed in a pair of $4 vintage sunglasses and faded shorts he’s had since college, the bearded and bespectacled Sergant is seated at a coffeehouse in his Echo Park neighborhood, talking shop. “Barack Obama is a figurehead of a movement, I would call it the progressive movement. My goal is to get Obama elected. I use the mechanisms I know, which are basically artistic. Look how important the grass roots are. Look at the effect they can have. I drank the Kool-Aid. I am alive with it, I believe — an Obama saying —‘we are the change we have been waiting for.’”
With a degree from UCLA in World Arts and Culture, Sergant had an early career marked by a curious combination of working with both the former prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, and controversial filmmaker Larry Clark. For six months he and the company he works for, Jennifer Gross’ Evolutionary Media Group, served as media consultants to the Obama campaign. But then he ran into street artist and guerrilla marketer Shepard Fairey at a party in February. Sergant engaged Fairey in a discussion about the upcoming election. And when he found out that the artist was an Obama enthusiast, Sergant asked Fairey if he was doing anything to help the candidate get elected. The next day Fairey called, wondering if he thought the Obama camp would mind if he made a poster. Sergant immediately realized the power an iconic image by Fairey could have and decided that he and Evolutionary Media Group could be more effective if they worked outside the confines of the official Obama campaign and teamed up with Fairey instead.
Since then, Fairey has printed and distributed some 250,000 “Hope” and “Progress” posters across America. The Obama campaign ended up commissioning Fairey to launch an Artists for Obama program with a run of 5,000 “Change”Obama posters. And Fairey, who reinvests all the proceeds in the HOPE media campaign, made the image file available for free downloads, so it’s impossible to say exactly how many reproductions of his work are currently out there.
Sergant also sparked 14 national Obama poster campaigns by artists, including Ron English’s “Abraham Obama” traveling mural. And, he created an Obama bicycle-spoke card with an image by artist Margaret Coble specifically for the Portland, Oregon, primaries. “Everyone [in Portland] rides a bike,” Sergant says. “It was a small investment, and it made an impact in the indie-hipster world, ending up in Paperand Bicycle magazines and on countless blogs, with no promotion.”
“I basically gave Yosi the okay to do whatever he wanted to with the design,” Coble writes on her Art by Mags! blog, “knowing that whatever he cooked up, it was going to benefit the campaign and likely had a chance to get some pretty good exposure.”
“The artists all want to lend their voice for a variety of reasons,” Sergant says. “I think people saw what happened with Shepard, not only developing their voice as a commodity but also the ability to effect tangible change. Our leadership has no transparency and has corrupted itself. There is a freshness and uniqueness to the dialogue that is coming out of the progressive movement leadership, and that’s the Obama camp. I think people are attracted to that. I think the country is ready to be talked to as adults. I am passionate, and that’s why I’m a good publicist. I realized I can’t wait for someone to give me an opportunity — I have to create my own.”
That’s exactly what he, along with Fairey and friends from Evolutionary, did in Denver during the Democratic National Convention. Together, they produced and curated the Manifest Hope Gallery, a temporary space displaying Obama-inspired art by some of the country’s best street artists.
The four-day art show and its related Unconventional ’08 concert, which featured the bands Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cold War Kids, Nada Surf and performances by Jenny Lewis, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and Zooey Deschanel, attracted some 8,000 people.
San Francisco mayor — and possible California gubernatorial candidate — Gavin Newsom spoke, and guests included Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, Spike Lee, Angela Bassett, Danny Glover and local teachers and their elementary school students.