The Pullman Arts Foundation had three requirements for their publicly-funded Black Lives Matter mural: be located in downtown Pullman, be painted on concrete or brick and it must have the words “Black Lives Matter.”
However, the last requirement cost the foundation a few problems, mainly finding a property owner that was not only supportive of the mural, but one that had a wall available for painting.
After months of thinking a location was set, the foundation had to restart and try to find a new wall, which was far more difficult than expected, said Joe Hedges, foundation co-founder and WSU Department of Fine Arts assistant professor.
“There is a chance that Pullman is not ready for a Black Lives Matter mural,” said Jiemei Lin, mural artist, co-founder of the Pullman Arts Foundation and graphic designer for the WSU College of Education.
Now, Hedges said the foundation is pursuing two new possible locations for the mural. The first, and so far most likely, is a wall located directly above Mimosa on Main Street. The second is Thomas Hammer Coffee Roaster’s water-facing wall, which is covered in windows and bars. Both walls are owned by Moon Lee and her spouse.
Eventually, the Pullman Arts Commission chose a design by Lin in February 2021. But city councilmembers voted to reopen submissions looking for a new design later that same month.
The mural was supposed to be painted on a retaining wall on Spring Street by June 19, which is a day that celebrates the emancipation of Black slaves in the U.S. But the mural hit a wall when the decision for the location for the project was delayed, three art commission members resigned, and a city councilmember expressed dissent of the mural’s “Black Lives Matter” message.
“Maybe they’re not well suited to take on a project like this,” Hedges said.
The foundation was created by Pullman artists earlier this year. Hedges, who is married to Lin, said they decided to create their own publicly-funded mural when the original project halted with the city.
A friend of theirs, Jesica Sweedler DeHart, created a GoFundMe page for the project on March 31. As of June 6, more than $17,300 has been raised, which is higher than the original $12,000 goal. The page is still open for donations.
Sweedler DeHart said she wanted to make sure there was enough funding not only for the cost of the mural but also for the cost of the artist’s labor. This was especially the case because of the troubles Lin faced during the city’s original mural project.
“It was really heartbreaking to see not only a friend … but a woman of color being really harmed in the process of trying to do something positive in regards to this Black Lives Matter mural,” Sweedler DeHart said.
People who donated $25 or more can receive different rewards like stickers, yard signs and artist-signed prints, which all feature renderings of the mural, according to the GoFundMe.
Sweedler DeHart said she loves the idea behind the stickers and yard signs.
“[The city] didn’t like the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the mural,” she said. “So instead … they’re not going to have the one mural … they’re going to end up with [several] all over Pullman.”
After the complications with the city, Hedges said he and Lin were happy and relieved that everything was working out so easily once they decided to create the mural under the Pullman Arts Foundation. They had the funding, and they had the wall; nothing could go wrong — until it did.
Sweedler DeHart said she knows several property owners in Pullman and contacted Willow Falcon, owner of Noshies and Glassphemy, about using a second-story wall on the side of her building for the mural.
Falcon said she quickly agreed because she not only loves art, but she is supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We don’t live in the most diverse community,” she said. “I recognize that [Black people] struggle … I don’t know if the mural will do anything to change that, but if it might, then that’s important to me.”
However, Falcon said she was not sure if the mural could go up because she does not know if she actually owns the wall. The wall is possibly on a party line, meaning both she and the owners of the neighboring building, Hinrichs Trading Company, own the same wall. It is also possible the Hinrichs completely own the wall.
Either way, the Hinrichs do not want to have the mural on their wall, she said.
As it turned out, Falcon does not own the wall, Hedges said. It almost felt like a repeat of what happened with the city, he said, because while the circumstances were different, the emotions were the same.
“I think that it’s easier for people to choose to sacrifice the feelings of minorities … [who] have been hurting for generations, so that’s not a big deal for the society,” Lin said. “I think that white people’s feelings [are] much more important for those communities.”
So Hedges and Lin began emailing and calling property and business owners in downtown Pullman. They met with several people, explaining the need for the mural, and the couple was often met with support, but also with an unwillingness from owners to actually have the mural on their property. Sometimes, the couple said they did not get a response back at all.
“We can’t find someone that might support this message and that has an available wall, but we’re working on it,” Hedges said. “We will continue to for as long as it takes.”
Because the mural did not look like it was happening any time soon, Hedges said there was a possibility that all the money raised would go back to the donors.
Then they met with Lee and her spouse May 27.
Thomas Hammer already has a mural on its main wall, but they have two options still open for the Black Lives Matter mural. Hedges said they are looking at redesigning the mural so it better fits the space they choose.
Maybe this has all been a test from the universe, Lin said. She has learned a lot about herself and her role as a community member — it is the most positive way she can look at it.
She said she became a U.S. citizen in 2018, and while she passed the civic exam, this feels like the real test.
Lin has also been involved in organizing Stop Asian Hate demonstrations in Pullman. She said the entire experience with the mural has given her more courage to be vocal about her activism.
Hedges said he is currently working on a proposal for the mural, and Lin is working on a new design. Once they get a quote for the cost, they will be purchasing material and paint, as well as looking to hire a small team of local artists to help Lin with the mural.
Hedges said he is still hopeful they will be able to have the mural finished by the end of summer.
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