On May 25, 2020, many people witnessed the final moments of George Floyd’s life; his neck pinned under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. His death, along with many others, ignited a worldwide movement of protests for equality and justice for Black Americans.
During the protests, stores were boarded up and the streets and many monuments became temporary art galleries to showcase the pain, sorrow, and desire for justice.
“My hope is that [my art] is a part of history,” said artist Amir Diop in SoHo, Manhattan, in an interview with TheVerge.com. “We can teach kids in the future that this is what happened in 2020, and there are different artists that were coming out and putting beautiful stuff up that can impact the future.”
After the protests, the art started to be removed and destroyed. To combat this, in Minneapolis, Leesa Kelly and Kenda Zellner-Smith came together and formed Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement, which pushed to preserve the anger and sorrow expressed on plywood boards during the protests.
According to Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement’s website, “This art is a powerful reminder of what we have lost and the work that we still need to do to protect Black and Brown lives. For this reason, [we have] partnered with the Global Shapers Minneapolis and the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum And Gallery (MAAHMG) to preserve and protect this art from weather, solicitation, and colonialism.”
Some murals are intricate and detailed, some were messages that said R.I.P. or Floyd’s last words “mama.” There was no discrimination in choosing what murals to keep; all were saved.
“Some of these boards aren’t pretty,” Zellner-Smith said, according to The New York Post, “There is collective pain and grief in each board and each one tells a different aspect of this story. And now we get to tell that story to everyone.”
Kelly and Zellner-Smith have since filled their warehouse to capacity. Watching space fill up and eventually be filled to the brim with art was incredible for them.
“Being surrounded by these boards that encompass this pain and grief and hope, it was spiritual,” Kelly said to the New York Post.
Other movements similar to Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement have started across the country.
The SoHo Broadway Initiative in New York City worked with local artists to get permission for mural space and provided them with supplies.
When businesses started to open back up, various groups, including the SoHo Broadway Initiative, took down and stored the murals in purchased studio space.
Artists Trevor Croop, Brendan McNally, Konstance Patton, Esteban Sulé Marquez-Monsanto, and Amir Diop came together and formed the SoHo Renaissance Factory. They have stored over 80 pieces of art and have been working with other groups to reunite the works with their artists.
In Oct. 2020, the SoHo Renaissance Factory struck a deal with Mana Contemporary, an arts center in Jersey City, New Jersey, and with the artist’s consent, Mana plans to have a showcase to display all the art. They will also be creating an interactive map of the street art created during the protests.
In Indianapolis, Ind., pieces from the original mural stretching across Indiana Avenue are being preserved through prints and t-shirts.
At Indianapolis Central Library, vinyl banners from 24 other murals painted in the downtown area are being displayed.
On Pine Street on Capitol Hill in June during the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, “Black Lives Matter” was painted in big block letters. Already, paint has begun to chip off and fade. In 2020 in Seattle, Vivid Matter Collective and the city of Seattle announced the mural will become permanent.
“Vivid Matter Collective along with the City of Seattle is proud to announce the collaborative effort in preserving the beautiful Black Lives Matter monument, making it a permanent landmark celebrating progress and change during this unprecedented time in Seattle’s history,” the statement said regarding the mural on Pine Street, according to SeattleTimes.com. “We look forward to the opportunity to reunite as a team, reignite the message and amplify the movement.”
Mexican American artist Angelina Villalobos told ABC News she had mixed her mother’s ashes into the bright green paint she used for the letter A. When city workers started to scrub the paint away after it had begun to chip and fade, one artist carved away pieces from each letter. Villalobos plans to keep the pieces as a keepsake.
“I’m getting my mom back, but she’s been transformed,” she told ABC News. “It’s like … a time capsule of that mural experience and all the work and thought and pain that went into it.”
The original artists have repainted the mural, and plan to touch it up again in five years.
“We’re just digging into even further this message — this idea, the movement, making it really permanent. And so we’re all super excited about that fact. They’re going to etch the letters out in stone … which will then allow us to layer the paint and colors in a way that makes them more permanent,” said artist Takiyah Ward in an interview with Kuow.org.
Designers at the Seattle architecture and design firm GGLO are creating an art show where people can use their smartphones to see works around the city.
Gargi Kadoo, a member of the design team, says much of the protest art has been removed or vandalized.
In Tulsa, Okla., a Black Lives Matter painting at the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre where in 1921 a white mob attacked an African American District, killing an estimated 300 people, was removed.
“This is our homage to the art that is gone,” Kadoo told ABC News. “It’s trying to keep the message alive virtually, in a form that no one can take down or hose off.”
Even though most of the big protests have stopped, the Black Lives Matter movement will live on through the powerful works of art.
“It’s an important chapter in the fight for racial justice in this country,” Tina Burnside, co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery said. “We’re documenting history.”