‘Billboard House’ illuminates suburban neighborhood with political activism

Pearl and June, daughters of Chesterfield homeowners Tim and Lauren Barry, play on the lawn during one of the family’s daily projections on Oct. 8. Photo by Enza Marcy

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor 

A square white house on Buford Road has served as a backdrop to nightly projections for nearly a month as the surrounding suburban neighborhood is lit up with vibrant colors. These projections have addressed issues like healthcare and climate change, and supported Democratic political candidates.

Dubbed the “Billboard House,” homeowners Lauren and Tim Barry decided to combine skills for their “passion project” after feeling devastated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

“We’re kind of sitting around in our backyard one afternoon with our friend who was over and saying, ‘I wish we could do something, I wish we could say something,’” Lauren said. “And I think I sort of jokingly said, ‘Oh, we should project something on the house.’ And it turned into a real thing.”

The first image shone on the Buford Rd. house was made in honor of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 20. Photo courtesy of Lauren Barry

They borrowed a projector from a neighbor and premiered the first projection on Sept. 20, dedicated to Ginsburg with the slogan “Vote For Truth.”

With weather permitting, they’ve displayed a new projection every night with no repeating images. They said the project received an “overwhelmingly positive” response from local communities and on social media — with the exception of “trolls on both sides.”

“It just took off, and I couldn’t believe it,” Lauren said. “And it was a little scary at first, but the response and the messages that we’ve received from people have been really, really wonderful and inspiring, and everybody is supportive.” 

The Barrys said they brainstorm topics to address by bouncing ideas off each other, as they both have experience in political grassroots movements and event management. They said some design ideas have a quick turnaround, while others can take longer to finalize. 

“I’m pretty good at coming up with kind of catchy ideas and slogans, and Lauren’s amazing at putting those in really gripping visual splits,” Tim said.

When brainstorming ideas related to communities they’re not a part of, the Barrys said they reach out to friends for consultation. In the past, they’ve contacted friends that work in healthcare policy and those that belong to the LGBTQ community to make sure they’re communicating an accurate message. 

Rachel Douglas, a VCU alum and close friend of the Barrys, was contacted when a projection pertained to the LGBTQ community. The result was a projection on Oct. 4 that said “families come in all colors and sizes.”

“When they were talking about what different families look like, they called me, because I have a queer family,” Douglas said. “And so they asked me questions that helped them determine what the message is gonna be.”

When creating projections that involve a community outside of their own, they often consult with friends to make sure their messages are accurate. Photo courtesy of Lauren Barry

Douglas said her biggest fear is that her family won’t be recognized or honored if President Donald Trump is re-elected. She said she believes this fear inspired the Barrys to showcase different types of families.

“I think what’s so beautiful about this project is that it really showcases their gifts and what’s theirs to do in the world,” Douglas said. “They are creative, and they are really good at messaging, and I feel like that’s where this project is like all of their gifts coming together.

Before this project, the Barrys placed large, yellow letters that spell “BLM” in front of their house shortly after the death of George Floyd in June. Floyd’s death, which occurred while he was unarmed in Minneapolis police custody, sparked nationwide and global protests surrounding police brutality and racial injustice.

According to a Chesterfield County Zoning Ordinance, the letters are in violation of a zoning law, limiting signage to 14 square feet. The yellow Black Lives Matter initials cover around 74 square feet, Lauren said.

The Barrys were sent a warning letter on July 17, with a request to “reduce the total sign area” by Aug. 4. They are in the process of appealing to the Board of Zoning which, according to Tim, has been a positive process. 

“So we’ll file that as long as we can, we’re not in a hurry to take anything down,” Tim said. “We’ll let the system kind of play itself out and see where it takes us.”

Tim said the projections and signage represent a natural passion for speaking out on important issues. 

From left: Family portrait of Lauren, Pearl, June and Tim Barry. Photo by Enza Marcy

With two full-time jobs and two daughters at home, the Barrys said the projections are up for a couple hours at night — going up shortly before sunset and taken down around 10:30 p.m.

The project has been gaining local and statewide attention, sparking cross-country contact from old friends and those replicating the project with their own homes.

“I got contacted from a high school friend back in Chicago or my high school friend who’s in Denver now,” Tim said. “We’ve been hearing from people all over the place that are seeing this on our social media and other social media.”

They aim to have the project continue until Election Day, but in the meantime, they’re looking forward to working together on their passion project and addressing topics that “make people feel good.” 

“It’s just an extension cord and a projector and a willingness to kind of put yourself out there,” Tim said. 

1 Comment

  1. Hey Iman, I am doing a story on this story and I was wondering if I could get the contact info of the Barry’s. Thank you.

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