Wolfe Windows And Doors – Murals are painted on plywood covering the windows and doors of businesses in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Andre White | Art and Life Producer
Silent but loud protest symbols hang from business fronts on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, demanding the attention of passers-by.
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For the past nine days, more than a thousand people have participated in protests in downtown Columbus following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.
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After Sunday’s main protests, some people damaged shop windows and looted factories across the city during the curfew. Many businesses have begun boarding up windows and doors to prevent damage. In response, the Columbus Performing Arts Association partnered with the Arts Council of Greater Columbus for a creative solution to decorate the chalkboards. Their initiative, #ArtUnitesCbus, employs local Columbus artists to paint murals on plywood on boarded-up business facades.
“We can use art to make a statement of unity, healing and love,” said Jaimie Goldstein, spokeswoman for the Arts Council of Greater Columbus.
Brian Moss, a local Columbus artist, said the initiative will not only make a statement, but will help give a voice to those who need to be heard the most.
“I’m not protesting,” Moss said. “Not because I don’t support him, but because I’m black and if I’m in jail I’m getting a criminal case.” Then I can’t teach in schools.”
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Moss is one of the most famous mural artists. He has now designed and collaborated with artists on the #ArtUnitesCbus murals that feature the entrance to the Pizzuti Collection at the Columbus Museum of Art and the Smart Columbus business front, located on Civic Center Drive.
The initiative gave him a peaceful way to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, he said.
“The ban, with anyone being shocked or seeing the impact that art can really have on a city, is very real,” Moss said. “It was like a second wave of understanding, love and compassion. It was really amazing; I’m still wrapping my head around it.”
To connect artists with businesses, the Arts Council of Greater Columbus has created a tool that can be found on their website that consists of a database of artists to showcase their work and an email template for businesses to reach out to.
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The work created by the artists is left entirely to their discretion. The murals are diverse in their imagery, from support for the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd to whatever artists wanted to use this channel to best represent their voices and their communities.
Local artist Hakim took the initiative to create a symbol that he says can best be described by a quote from comedian Dave Chappelle.
“My mom used to tell me that,” Hakeem sings from Chappelle. “Son, sometimes you gotta be a lion to be the lamb you really are.”
“Sometimes you have to fight for peace and it’s ironic,” Hakeem said. “We all wanted to be peaceful, of course, but sometimes you have to fight for it.”
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Hakeem’s photo is an upside-down peace sign inside a hat — a symbol of Black Lives Matter.
“I didn’t want to say anything negative, but of course I wanted to show strength,” Hakeem said. “I’m not in a passive position and I don’t think this is a passive moment.”
Local artist Hakeem’s painting is an upside-down peace sign inside a fist — the symbol of Black Lives Matter. Credit: Courtesy of Columbus Association and Arts Council of Greater Columbus
Goldstein said the initiative came like no other this year for the Arts Council of Greater Columbus: a 180-degree pivot that completely changed their course.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has left many artists out of work, prompting the Arts Council of Greater Columbus to launch an emergency relief fund. The fund has supported more than 400 Columbus artists in all disciplines since March. The pandemic also forced the cancellation of the Columbus Arts Festival, which takes place annually in June.
Goldstein said organizing #ArtUnitesCbus wasn’t easy, but with the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s experience in previous months, it was a natural move for them to capitalize on the current one.
“We have a responsibility to our community to help them,” Goldstein said. “Everybody has a path they can work in and a place they can be effective, and we’re just trying to make the most of our path.”
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