Art and social displays in the branding of the city: Token screens or opportunities for difference?

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Even though urban screens can be seen as digital substitutes to public space image display, it is my contention that they are additional public spaces that as windows offer the potential of broadening use and participation. Most urban screens such as billboards have the purpose of displaying products for consumption within a cultural logic designed to address consumer audiences. The different strategies used to entice the consumer individual are varied, relying on culturally informed responses that advertisement agencies research. These strategies are also included in the way in which cities - through urban development initiatives - seek to generate a brand that will provide a competitive edge in attracting both a professional class of residents and tourists, to the city. This paper seeks to illustrate the uses of screens designed for the display of art in Times Square, NYC, their content as well as their role in the branding of the city with the aid of the Times Square Alliance that exemplifies trends in the privatisation of public space. By looking at the Panasonic Screen used by Creative time to display video art in that part of New York City, this paper will: 1) determine the content, purpose and possible meanings that emerge from the use of screens to display art and social issues as well as possibilities for other kinds of community and cultural contents different from the sole purpose of advertisement. A critical assessment of the content these images might offer, the inclusion of context and other pertinent information that could provide a broader perspective in the understanding of the images can be - it is my contention - acquired through the conceptualisation of screens to include the public spaces where they are located as an extension, a physical site for dialogue and public engagement.

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