Groups Work to Preserve Protest Art

Activists want murals painted after George Floyd's death 'to live on'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 13, 2020 10:55 AM CST
Groups Work to Preserve Protest Art
Leesa Kelly, left, walks past plywood mural boards as she and Kenda Zellner-Smith, background right, and volunteers work at a warehouse Saturday in Minneapolis.   (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Neither woman could bring themselves to watch the video of George Floyd's final moments, his neck pinned under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. But as their city grieved, Leesa Kelly and Kenda Zellner-Smith found comfort in messages of anguish and hope that appeared on boarded-up windows as residents turned miles of plywood into canvases. Now, they're working to save those murals before they vanish. "These walls speak," Zellner-Smith said. "They're the expressions of communities. We want these feelings, hopes, calls to action to live on." The two women formed Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement, part of a push to preserve the ephemeral expressions of anger and pain born of outrage over racial injustice that triggered protests across the country. Some artists painted intricate murals, the AP reports, but many spray-painted raw messages. Zellner-Smith started with the simple pieces. “Some of these boards aren't pretty,” she said. “There is collective pain and grief in each board, and each one tells a different aspect of this story."

One is the word "MAMA" scrawled hastily onto the side of an abandoned Walmart. The word was among Floyd's last. Now it's part of the Urban Art Mapping George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art database. "The art was changing quickly, and these raw, immediate responses were being erased and painted over,” said a Minnesota professor who helped create the database. Similar work is going on across the country. In New York City, the Soho Broadway Initiative worked with arts groups to get permission for murals and provide artists with materials. In Indianapolis, organizer Malina Jeffers is unsure about the future of the Black Lives Matter street mural. The mural is wearing down from traffic, and with winter will come weather damage. But the mural will live on in prints and T-shirts created by the local artists behind the original mural. Banners representing 24 other murals painted in the city are displayed at the Central Library. An art history professor hopes to add art from other countries to the Minnesota database. "Oppression and racial violence is unfortunately universal," she said, "so art is responding to it around the world." (Minneapolis decided to rename the street where Floyd was killed.)

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