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A New Campaign Turns Tehran Into One Big Art Gallery

All of the Iranian capital's 1,500 billboards now depict famous foreign and local artists' works, part of a campaign to get more Iranians to museums.

Last updated on May 7, 2015, at 6:56 p.m. ET

Posted on May 7, 2015, at 6:56 p.m. ET

Something is a little different in Tehran as of Thursday. In the Iranian capital, these sorts of signs — which is what many would expect to see — weren't what most Iranians found themselves looking at.

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Rather than selling goods or promoting "Death to America," the city's billboards instead all now depict works of art.

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In all 1,500 billboards in the Iranian capital, owned and operated by the city, have been transformed into canvases displaying local and foreign artists' works.

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It's all part of a campaign called "A Gallery As Big As a Town," supported by Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, who "loves art, especially in recent years he has developed a deep love for artistic works," one official told the New York Times.

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So far Tehran's residents seem to be enjoying the change in view. “My usual morning route has become a big adventure for me,” one cab driver told the Times. “Now, in my taxi we discuss paintings and artworks.”

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Among the works that are now on display include Munch's "The Scream," Hokusai's "The Great Wave," and Magritte's "The Son of Man," along with works from local artists.

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“We were free in choosing the works but there was a general guideline. We wanted both Iranian and world art pieces and finally some 70% of the billboards are from Iran and the rest from the outside world,” the project's head told the Guardian.

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But despite this campaign's desire to inspire a love of the arts, being an artist in Iran is still less than rewarding at times. All galleries must be pre-approved by the government before opening to the public. Even then, you can still be shut down.

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As the Guardian points out: "A prominent Iranian art journal recently asked 100 art experts to name Iran’s top artists. Eight out of ten selected are exiled."

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