Mikesian turns Manchester pride upside down in its 'brutal' billboard campaign to address homelessness

Art and design studio Mikesian is behind a new billboard campaign in Manchester that hopes to raise awareness and funds for Lifeshare, a charity that helps local people who are homeless and vulnerable.

Deemed "brutal" by founders Mike Emerson and Sian Ford, the campaign's theme is based on Manchester's city pride and takes famous sayings and quotes that speak proudly about this northern powerhouse but flips them around. "Hopefully, it makes you question what it means to be from here, and whether homelessness should be allowed to happen on our watch," Sian tells Creative Boom.

"We thought about how proud the city is, how much it celebrates its achievements, how much it's impacted people and places and movements," adds Mike. "We felt like that pride was actually its defining characteristic. But how does that work when it comes to homelessness? Do we feel the same pride when confronted with the homeless crisis? Manchester had the highest number of homeless deaths in the UK in 2017. It's a problem that runs so deep that it's impossible to walk 100m in the city centre without stepping over a rough sleeper."

The idea was sparked after the pair watched a couple of episodes of the BBC's Manctopia, learning about some of the challenges Lifeshare and the wider city faces. The pair decided to approach the charity and offer their support. "It turned out that this year had been especially hard for the charity, with their donations and operations taking a hit during the pandemic," says Mike.

The outdoor campaign will be displayed throughout Manchester in the run-up to Christmas. "We wanted it to hit everyone right in the chops whilst they were walking around. We didn't want it to be so lovely, nor super positive because let's face it, the cold hard fact that this is a massive problem in 2020 is absolutely disgusting.

"We wanted to prompt a discussion. We felt like homelessness was on the verge of being a 'so what?' topic. That Brexit and a pandemic and Cummings and goings had made it a bit less important… Out of sight, out of mind."

The billboard campaign follows the launch of a charity webshop with local Manchester artists contributing artworks to be sold as prints and tees. Nearly £3,000 has been raised so far.

"We're aware that it's not a nice campaign, and that it's not so lovely to see," says Sian. "We knew from the start that it was going to upset some people, but the more we got into it, the more we felt that hard was better than soft, that now wasn't the time for pats on the back or big thumbs-ups.

"We want to create a conversation, because the more people who feel involved, impacted and offended by the problem, the more chance there is of changing it. We should feel angry, we should feel disgusted, and we shouldn't feel like things are going well at the moment. We have to make homelessness a priority, or people will continue to die."


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