The Obama Portraits

Leo Burnett Department of Design

A living wall which outlives the campaign was built next to Love Blooms Here Plaza in North Lawndale. What was once an empty lot, now also includes a mini-museum, a flower shop and a café.

In the Summer of 2021, The Obama Portraits embarked on a 5-city tour around the country. Because of the Obamas' connections to Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago was selected to host the first leg. This was also to be the first reunion of the portraits since their unveiling in 2018.

The first-ness of the Obamas time in the White House is noteworthy—and what inspired much of the campaign. The Obamas represent the first Black man and woman to hold the offices of President and First Lady (in addition to already being the first presidential family from Chicago). Furthermore, the choices of Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald represent the first Black portrait artists for both the presidency and the first ladyship.

We had such rich history in firsts and so many connections to Chicago to craft messaging from that we decided to keep our messaging simple: Let's welcome Barack and Michelle home. Let's underscore the importance of their boomerang "back again" to Chicago. Let's talk about their "homegrown" connections to the city. And finally, let's expand the portrait's reach to as many corners of the city as we can (and make sure we're making them as large as they can get), so that the outreach of the campaign allowed for an even larger number of people to see depictions of the portraits. This way, the city and population Chicago could be a part of the Obama Portraits' homecoming even if not all were able to make it to the Art Insitute. Many individual communities caught on and began providing us their storefronts to take over with a piece of the campaign.

We worked with AIC on a color and typographic palette that would carry over from the advertising into the gallery—which isn't always the case with our collaborative campaigns. We landed on a vibrant and joyous palette that pulls tones and colors from the portraits. They work well as backgrounds, wall colors, and headline / text colors while making sure that our campaign had options and flexibility. Typographically, we channeled poster typography with a bold and condensed grotesque. Though, we kept it fun and optimistic with a playful sans serif pair.

Outliving the campaign, is a planter wall designed to merge the quilt pattern from Michelle's dress with the living foliage behind Barack's seated figure. AIC gifted this to the organization Love Blooms Here, a social enterprise and wholesale perennial nursery that seeks to engage the West side of Chicago (concentrated in North Lawndale). They use permaculture as a platform to promote conversations about neighborhood development, food access, and environmental justice, while simultaneously reducing socioeconomic disparity.

Leo Burnett Chicago
Global CCO
Liz Taylor
Andrew Swinand
EVP, Head of Design
Alisa Wolfson
Austin White
Senior Copywriter
Austin Paramore
Senior Producer
Susan Anderson
Art Director
Neill Holley
Production Designer
Wendy Robles
Account Director
Leti Freytes
Account Executive
Anna Mazzara
Art Institute of Chicago—Marketing Team
Katie Rahn + Shannon Mae Burke + Nadine Schneller