A certain realtor bought seemingly every billboard in town. They featured him with arms outstretched in messianic salesman pose, a look usually associated with basketball stars selling $500 shoes made by preteen Cambodian girls.
If you were a motorist in the Twin Cities, you couldn't avoid them. They became the driving version of watching the same Verizon commercial 15,000 times during March Madness.
So Derek Camitsch decided there was mirth and mockery to be had. The 24-year-old northeast Minneapolis man would create his own parody billboard, replete with his handsome visage and arms outstretched. They would be better than any arms stretched before.
Officially, his endeavor was “about speaking truth to power. It's about finding a way to take back a space that has been reserved for the rich elite for too long... The billboard bourgeoisie need to have a mirror held up to them to reflect their own narcissistic tendencies. To remind the advertising elite that the spaces they use to invade our lives can be used to invade theirs all the same.”
Unofficially, he simply wanted to show people “how long my arms are.”
He took to GoFundMe, where all great art is born. “Together, we will construct a billboard more dumber than any dumb billboard to ever exist before it,” he announced. “Why? I think we both know why.”
His hope was to raise a grand so that he might enter the rarefied pantheon of outdoor advertising. “Because I'm broke.” he said. “And apparently 22-foot-long jokes cost a lot of money.
“Help me do this and my arms will be the most awe-inspiring arms to ever grace a billboard in Minneapolis. And you'll get to say, 'I helped make that billboard where the guy had his arms stretched out... No not that one. The other one.'"
And just to make sure donors understood the sincerity of his mission, he included a video of Creed's seminal hit, “With Arms Wide Open,” known as the anthem of anguished sincerity the world over.
It took but three weeks to raise $1,010. “I donated because I believe in this exciting journey, and want to be a part of it,” wrote contributor Alex Smith. "The future depends on what you do today," added Brian Quarfoth, who may or may not have been quoting Gandhi.
But then our story took a turn. The object of Camitsch's mockery, real estate legend Kris Lindahl, got wind of the project.
Let it not be said that Lindahl doesn't know how to take a joke – or see an opportunity for more publicity. He offered to donate a billboard to Camitsch if the GoFundMe loot was given to charity.
This, unfortunately, ran afoul of the site's rules, which dictate that money must be used for the purpose it was raised. So instead of donating one of his approximately 17 million billboards across Minnesota, Lindahl offered to fork over $1,250 to People Serving People, a nonprofit that assists the homeless.
Camitsch's billboard went up Friday at East Hennepin Avenue and SE Ninth Street.
Like any renowned artist, he is loath to elaborate on his masterpiece, preferring to the let the work speak for itself. “I’m just a regular guy who wanted to show the world my arms,” he says. “I felt they deserved an audience. I mean, just look at how long they are.”
Asked if his opinion of Lindahl has changed, he is equally reserved.
“I initially thought he was some kind of basketball player. Someone had to explain to me that he was not, in fact, a basketball player. And that he was not, in fact, trying to show off the length of his arms. They couldn’t tell me anything past that.”