Black & Abroad’s new campaign documents Black cultural data across the US

The Black Elevation map by ad agency Performance Art visualises Black cultural data as elevation points on a map and aims to redress how maps have historically been used to “marginalise, divide and oppress”

Creative data-focused ad agency Performance Art has created a digital map that visualises Black cultural data in the US for travel and lifestyle company Black & Abroad.

Dubbed the Black Elevation Map, the dynamic, searchable elevation map of the United States brings to life cultural data such as historical markers, Black-owned businesses, Black population data and social media activity as points of interest. The areas of elevation increase according to the density of data.

According to Eric Martin, chief creative officer and co-founder of Black & Abroad, the aim of the map was to “help Black travellers see the country in a way that prioritises and celebrates the contributions of folks who look like us – and facilitates travel choices that deepen engagement within our community.”

The idea of repurposing a traditional elevation map also looks to redress the way that maps have been “used to marginalise, divide and oppress communities around the world”, he adds, referring to modern urban planning and ‘redlining’ (a discriminatory practice seen in the US where services, typically financial, are denied to residents of certain areas based on their race or ethnicity). As such, the Black Elevation Map is “a way for us to weave joy and uplift into the story, the experience, and our interpretation of the data”, says Martin.

The platform denotes thousands of places of interest as well as 12 curated city guides and ten national guides with specific focuses. One is titled Melanin Vines, for instance – a guide to Black-owned wineries; while others include Black Silicon Valley, highlighting notable start-up companies; and Civil Bites, which shines a spotlight on restaurants that played a role in the civil rights movement.

“We’re inspired by the relentless positivity at the heart of the Black & Abroad brand, and wanted to once again explore what happens when you push a bold, brand idea into a sophisticated technology ecosystem,” says Ian Mackenzie, Performance Art chief creative officer. “We know the data we’re visualising represents just a fraction of actual Black cultural contribution. We see this as part of an ongoing conversation, and a conceptual counterpoint to a long history of maps created with harmful and unacknowledged biases.”

The map uses the typeface Martin by typographer Tré Seals, which was inspired by protest posters from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike. Seals also created an original set of icons that are used throughout the map, drawing influence for their designs from a survey of African symbology.

Users of the site can create ‘favourites’ from the featured destinations, which are then shareable through email. The map is searchable by city, and users can also add their own points of interest. Other features include a ‘freestyle explore map mode’ and buttons that enable users to toggle between different elevation-based data visualisations. The map also pulls in Black travel-related social media conversations from Twitter and Instagram from relevant hashtags.

Performance Art worked with contributors such as director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, who created the campaign’s 60-second launch film, A Hymn Away From Home. The film features ‘aspirational footage’ of more than 30 American business owners, mountain imagery and a poem called Black Girl, Call Home, written and performed by Washington DC-based poet Jasmine Mans.

Performance Art previously worked with Black & Abroad in 2019 to launch the Go Back To Africa campaign, which hijacked the derogatory phrase for a pan-African tourism campaign that reframed hate-fuelled Twitter posts against words and images that demonstrated the beauty and diversity of African countries. The campaign scooped a D&AD Black Pencil and the Grand Prix in Creative Data at Cannes, among other accolades.

Agency: Performance Art
ECDs: Pedro Izzo, Benson Ngo

Copywriters: Hemal Dhanjee, Tobi Adebowale, Paula Purdon, Jasmine Mans
Type designer: Tré Seals