Sometimes it takes a while for a plan to come together. But, at the intersection of the spirit of arts and advocacy, some messages just won’t be denied.
For about a year, Columbia resident Jared Johnson has been working to organize a prominent mural with a Black Lives Matter theme in the capital city. Now that effort is set to become a reality.
A vibrant mural is to be painted on the side of the Sweet Temptations Bakery building on North Main Street just north of Elmwood Avenue, near neighborhoods like Elmwood Park, Earlewood and Cottontown. Johnson is coordinating the project, with artist Robb Kershaw creating the mural and muralist Ariel Flowers consulting on the project. One Columbia for Arts and Culture, the city-backed arts advocacy nonprofit, also is helping usher the project along. Work on the mural is slated to begin in early July.
Johnson said his idea for Black Lives Matter themed public art began in 2020, following the high-profile death of Black citizens such as George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Taylor and Floyd each died at the hands of police officers.
Johnson’s initial idea was for a street mural, one that would have been painted directly on a roadway, as has been done in New York City, Washington, DC, and elsewhere.
“I made a post in the Rosewood Neighbors (Facebook) page about us doing our own version of a Black Lives Matter street mural,” Johnson, a Rosewood resident, told The State. “Over time there was enough interest in that idea that I created a petition. … Thankfully, due to an email campaign from residents of Rosewood and throughout Columbia, we had them email members of city council and we got on their October 2020 agenda (for a presentation).”
The idea was to paint a mural right on Jim Hamilton Boulevard in Rosewood. However, Johnson said a mix of factors, including Department of Transportation regulations, slowed that idea. So, he began looking for privately owned spaces for a mural.
“I didn’t want to give up on the idea if there was enough interest in it,” Johnson said. “If we can’t put it on the street, then we definitely can put it on private property, or a privately owned building, which is what we are doing at Sweet Temptations.”
Johnson and One Columbia are in the process of raising funds for the mural, to pay the artists and cover the cost of materials. The group has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the cash, and One Columbia is acting as the pass-through agency for the funding. The goal is $3,000, and the campaign is roughly halfway there.
Making sure Black artists get compensated for their work was an important part of the project for Johnson.
“It felt odd to me to say, ‘Oh, I want to organize a mural or piece of art that says Black Lives Matter, but the Black creatives involved are doing it out of goodwill,’” Johnson said. “If I believe that Black Lives Matter, then Black creatives need to get paid.”
The new mural is set to be a vibrant, colorful piece with comic book and anime flair, one that carries a message that not only do Black lives matter, but Black arts, voices and joy matter, too.
One Columbia has assisted in the creation of a number of pieces of public art in the capital city. Columbia has recently become something of a hot spot for murals. For instance, the city’s parks foundation commissioned a number of murals on city buildings that commemorate the civil rights history of Columbia.
“I knew this was going to happen,” Snelgrove told The State about the proliferation of murals in the Columbia area. “As people realize the power of it and more artists realize they can do this kind of work, you’ll start to see even more. The struggle we had over the years was just sort of educating property owners and emphasizing the value it might bring to them. I think we have hit a pivotal point where more people are realizing the power of mural work.”
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