BikePortland.org

Q&A with ‘Slow Down’ sign artist Mike Bennett


Artist Mike Bennett sitting with coveralls on and two of his street signs on either side of him.

Portland artist Mike Bennett and a few of his signs seen around my neighborhood.
(Sign photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland / Mike Bennett photo: Mike Bennett Art)

“Seeing a friendly face with a friendly message just goes a long way! It’s hard to resist that turtle, y’know?”
— Mike Bennett

Back in April as buzz around Mike Bennett’s signs was building, we predicted they just might be the must-have item of the summer. Turns out we were right.

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but I can’t go anywhere around Arbor Lodge or Piedmont in north Portland without seeing the friendly faces of Mike’s characters staring back at me.

Mike, a professional artist and “public joy creator,” does a lot more than make traffic safety yard signs. He just opened his Crypto-Zoo Museum of Mystery in St. Johns on Monday.

I caught up with the busy artist to ask a few questions about his signs:

BikePortland: Most artists don’t get into civic activism quite like this. What inspired you to create these signs?

Mike Bennett: I spent most of the pandemic making public art displays in my front yard. When traction for those started to pick up, so did the [car] traffic sadly. After a few conversations with my neighbors who have kiddos; I realized something had to be done. I whipped up a snail, turtle and sloth and gifted the original paintings to families on my block. When I noticed how these simple sign made an impact, I knew it was time to make them available to everyone.

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BP: Have they been popular? How many have you sold so far?

MB: They’ve been incredible popular. We’ve sold 2000+ signs all over the world at this point and we have plans to make more designs soon to keep things fresh. Sadly, lots of them have been stolen but folks always replace them. Hopefully the thieves are putting them in their front yards too!

BP: What do you think makes people connect to your signs more than typical safety signs?

MB: I think lots of safety signs have become part of the scenery at this point. The little neon kiddo holding a flag blends in with anything now. And we all have experienced and/or appreciate cartoons at some level — seeing a friendly face with a friendly message just goes a long way! It’s hard to resist that turtle, y’know?

BP: What lessons can folks at government road agencies take from your experience?

MB: Don’t be afraid to get creative! Bureaucracy has got to be a bummer, but I think it’s worth fighting through it to make something new and exciting.

BP: What is the most popular sign?

MB: While the snail is my all-time favorite, our most popular is a tie between the turtle and the chameleon. I guess it’s easy being green after all!

BP: How can people get the signs?

MB: You can get them via my website www.mikebennettart.com or at Hammer + Jacks (6406 SE Foster Rd), Urbanite (1005 SE Grand Ave), Pinky PDX (1015 NW 23rd Ave) and the Crypto-Zoo in St. Johns (7410 N Chicago Ave).

Thanks for taking some time to share with us Mike. Good luck with all your projects and thanks for helping make Portland streets safer… and more fun!

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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