Your music collection probably holds several tracks that you think should’ve been hits. Most of your friends don’t recognize them and don’t know anything about the performer—but agree they’re worthy of rocketing up the charts.

The difference between a hit and a miss is often just a matter of exposure. Without lavish promotional budgets and lots of airplay, even the most talented acts can labor in obscurity.

Melissa Perhamus

Melissa Perhamus works in mixed media in her Banana Factory studio. To create “Warmth Beyond the Hills,” she used diluted acrylic paints and unusual materials—such as plastic wrap and masking tape—to enhance the process. “Colors can seep under the edge of the tape in ways I can’t fully predict,” Melissa says. “It’s much like life itself: I can choose the colors and areas, but I don’t have full control over the outcome. And those outcomes will impact my future choices.”

She’s an enthusiastic ArtPop participant. “It’s a fantastic program, and provides a wonderful opportunity for artists. ArtPop is a really good and effective way to bring the local art scene to the general public—but in a way that’s unexpected,” she says.

Keith Shepherd

Keith Shepherd’s childhood was filled with self-made sketches, flip books, and origami pieces. He taught himself to airbrush with instructional DVDs and a lot of trial and error.

His first professional excursions were graphic t-shirts, but he had an itch to do more. Once again, instructional videos and plenty of practice honed the skills he needs for his current passion: large-scale canvas portraiture, frequently of stars from Hollywood’s golden age. As Keith puts it, “I take airbrushing from the boardwalk straight to the gallery.”

He adds that ArtPop is “a nice way to decorate the highway. It also helps to boost my portfolio, and gives me some bragging rights!”

Michael Brolly

Michael Brolly has had a lifelong interest in working with wood.

“When I was a kid, I had no access to power tools, so I did everything by hand—including a carved ciborium and chalice,” he says.

As an adult, he bought a Victorian house and knew that handwork wouldn’t be sufficient. An art teacher at Kutztown University showed him how to use a lathe, “and I just tore into it. Although I’m basically self-taught, I qualified for a national show in my senior year. Since then, I’ve won lots of awards—but ArtPop is the coolest.”

“Why not use vacant billboards  to promote local artists?”
  Wendy Hickey ArtPop, Founder and executive director

Visual artists are in the same boat. But the Lehigh Valley’s ArtPop (Public Outdoor Projects) program is dedicated to allaying that situation. Its mission is “to promote local artists’ work and make art accessible to communities through available media space.” That translates to providing local fine artists with a year’s worth of exposure along the highways and byways of the Lehigh Valley.

These competitions have been in the Valley since 2014, but the concept goes back 15 years.

ArtPop’s executive director and founder Wendy Hickey was working for Adams Outdoor Advertising’s office in the Poconos in 2002, as well as serving on the board of the Pocono Arts Council.

“I was thinking of ways to serve my board position when a lightbulb went on,” she says. “Why not use vacant billboards to promote local artists?”

Fortunately, her manager liked the idea, and a small-scale version of the program began.

During her career with Adams, Wendy moved five times—and lobbied successfully for similar projects in each city. But when she landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, five years ago, another light bulb went on: It was time to get serious about promoting local art.

She approached the city’s Arts and Science Council, which endorsed her proposals, and the formal designation of “ArtPop” was born.

Within a year, Wendy had established additional ArtPops in Peoria, Illinois, and the Lehigh Valley.

“Our program offers tremendous exposure to these artists,” Wendy says. “Their work is displayed on billboards throughout those counties for a full year.” The huge graphics change locations whenever an advertiser wants to pay for that space.

Wendy explains that none of the winners receive a cash award. “Their prize is the free exposure of their work to the community. If they were paying for the space themselves, it might cost them from $30,000 to $75,000 per artist.”

“So far, we have featured 20 Valley artists.” Wendy says. “Six in our first year, and seven in each succeeding year. We partner locally with Adams Outdoor for the billboard space, and with ArtsQuest. The Banana Factory, which hosts our event, issues the call for artists, and assembles the juries for selecting most of the winners.”

She added that jurors select six pieces. The remaining entries are submitted for public voting, resulting in one “People’s Choice” award.

Nationally, ArtPop competitions are open to artists 18 years of age or older. But the Lehigh Valley is an exception. Thanks to a partnership with Kutztown University, high school seniors may also enter. That winner will be offered, through the Kutztown University Foundation, a partial scholarship to one of KU’s art programs.

The fourth Lehigh Valley competition began in late September with a call for submissions. That window closes on December 6, so interested artists in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and Warren counties should check out submission requirements at

Since leaving Adams Outdoor Advertising, Wendy has worked for a smaller company, and oversees the ArtPop organization from her base in Charlotte.

But her plans include assembling “mini-armies” of volunteers in each ArtPop city. The 501(c)(3) non-profit welcomes donations, and interested parties can find more information on the ArtPop website.

“I have a huge love for artists and want to be their voice,” she says. “I want to inspire our communities and cover our streets with art!”

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