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One message told 16 ways: Artists behind Black Lives Matter mural in Palo Alto ask what more will be done beyond street art

Creatives come together to help illustrate rallying phrase

The completed "Black Lives Matter" mural on Hamilton Avenue across Palo Alto City Hall. Courtesy Benny Villarreal.

Right now, the public can visit Hamilton Avenue in front of Palo Alto City Hall to see a nearly 245-foot-long and 17-foot-tall vibrant street mural reflecting the global Black Lives Matter movement as seen through the eyes of 16 artists who contributed to the project on Tuesday.

"I'm just trying to display history out here, put it in people's faces and make them aware," said Demetris Washington, 29, a Sacramento-based muralist. Washington, who was recently highlighted in the media for leading a similar project in front of the state Capitol, was assigned to paint the letter "B" in the mural, which spells out "Black Lives Matter" in block letters. His letter features the Nile River, Egyptian pyramids and black hieroglyphic symbols of peace and love, among others, against a yellow backdrop that nods to the now iconic mural painted near the White House — the one that sparked the national trend of plastering the rallying phrase in front of government buildings and city halls.

The project, proposed by community members and unanimously supported by the City Council and Public Art Commision, was quickly pieced together by co-leaders Nia Taylor, a member of the commission, and Ally Richter, artist and former city public art commissioner. (Call-for-artists submissions were shared on social media on June 19, with a June 23 deadline, and the winners, each of whom were awarded a $700 stipend to paint one letter of the "Black Lives Matter" street mural, were selected and announced by the co-leaders the next day.)

"This is a step in a good direction," said Taylor, who is currently the sole Black commissioner on the art commission. "I think there's been a lot of African Americans in this community who have often felt underrepresented."

Out of the 89 applicants, 16 budding and seasoned Bay Area-based artists, including solo artists, two duo collaborations and an art club from San Jose's The Harker School, each filled in a letter on June 30 with their own interpretations of the Black Lives Matter movement that gained traction in Palo Alto after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

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Each letter evokes a timely reminder of Black life and, more solemnly, death. The letter "M" includes a golden portrait of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers in her apartment, painted by muralist Nico Berry and his daughter Simone. In one "T" of "Matters," Briena Brown, 20, a San Jose State University student, painted Black Greek muses of history, music and love poetry to reflect her own dual heritage and tell viewers that "Black women are the root to everything," she said.

Together, the mural tries to mime the multitudinous effect of the simple, three-worded phrase shouted at protests, worn on T-shirts and shared across social media platforms. All at once, it recalls the injustices Black people have been subjected to, the achievements they have made so far, the demands that still need to be met and that Black lives matter.

But it also brings up the question countless Black community members, including the protesters and speakers of Palo Alto's Juneteenth rally, have anxiously asked: How long will this last?

The city's mural, like many others, is temporary. Depending on weather and traffic conditions, the water-based latex paint used for the mural is expected to last anywhere from one to three years, Public Art Program coordinator Nadya Chuprina said.

A few artists said the public artwork's lifespan can be significantly extended a couple years by applying a layer of protective coating. City Manager Ed Shikada said on Tuesday the city has not yet made any decision to do so and that one of the other issues to consider is how well the paint adheres to the street.

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None of the artists carried the illusion that the mural was going to last forever. Stuart Robertson, who added colors of the Pan-African and his home country's flag of Jamaica in the quilt-like patterns of his "R" in "Matters, was clear-minded about the fact that, like all art, the city mural is performative — "a gesture," he said.

"We could do without the mural," said Robertson, 28, a painter who recently earned his masters of fine arts degree from Stanford University. "But it's good that the community is generating awareness. It's a way to make the conversation more visible."

Kenan Moos, the 21-year-old who organized the June 5 protest against police violence in Los Altos and came out Tuesday to film drone footage of the mural's creation, said the project was "a very, very small part of what needs to be done."

"Performative is good and bad," Moos said, echoing Robertson's sentiment. "The bad side of 'performative' is a lot of people feel that it's all that needs to be done. The mural is great in terms of making a statement, but the statement needs to be followed up with the City Council's actions."

Over the past month, city leaders have taken a closer look at the Police Department's policies as local protests, which have drawn thousands of community members, took place against police brutality and systemic racism. The City Council has formed two ad hoc committees to review police policies and make monthly reports to the public.

Other local and national demands that have long been called for before the Floyd protests include increased diversity initiatives, whether that's from classrooms, newsrooms or local governments. Through the Public Art Commission and city program, Taylor hopes that the city can start to highlight more voices and artists of color within the community.

"The art that we have needs to represent the people that we have in our community," Taylor said.

Several artists and viewers that day spoke with Mayor Adrian Fine, who came to observe the painting of the mural, including Robertson, told him that the city's approval of a mural, which one resident noted the letters faced away from City Hall, will not be enough.

"At the end of the day, this mural will wash away, cars are gonna drive over it and it'll eventually disappear," Robertson said. "We hope that the trend or the interest doesn't disappear with it."

George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery's names are painted on a the "S" in a mural that reads "Black Lives Matter" on Hamilton Avenue in front of Palo Alto City Hall on June 30. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Here's a list of other artists who contributed to the mural in alphabetical order:

Adam Amram of Palo Alto and Stanford University graduate Stuart Robertson.

Masuma Ahmed of Palo Alto.

Urna Bajracharya of Mountain View.

Nico Berry of San Francisco.

Shiraaz Bhabha of Palo Alto.

Briena Brown of San Jose.

Cece Carpio of Oakland.

Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans of San Jose.

Ruth Feseha of San Jose.

• Janet Foster of Menlo Park.

Elizabeth Daphne Foggie of Oakland.

Richard Hoffman of San Jose.

Ann McMillian of Mountain View.

Sasha and Ben Vu of Oakland.

Demetris Washington of Sacramento.

• High school students of The Harker School Art Club of San Jose.

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One message told 16 ways: Artists behind Black Lives Matter mural in Palo Alto ask what more will be done beyond street art

Creatives come together to help illustrate rallying phrase

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 1, 2020, 5:31 pm
Updated: Thu, Jul 2, 2020, 11:13 am

Right now, the public can visit Hamilton Avenue in front of Palo Alto City Hall to see a nearly 245-foot-long and 17-foot-tall vibrant street mural reflecting the global Black Lives Matter movement as seen through the eyes of 16 artists who contributed to the project on Tuesday.

"I'm just trying to display history out here, put it in people's faces and make them aware," said Demetris Washington, 29, a Sacramento-based muralist. Washington, who was recently highlighted in the media for leading a similar project in front of the state Capitol, was assigned to paint the letter "B" in the mural, which spells out "Black Lives Matter" in block letters. His letter features the Nile River, Egyptian pyramids and black hieroglyphic symbols of peace and love, among others, against a yellow backdrop that nods to the now iconic mural painted near the White House — the one that sparked the national trend of plastering the rallying phrase in front of government buildings and city halls.

The project, proposed by community members and unanimously supported by the City Council and Public Art Commision, was quickly pieced together by co-leaders Nia Taylor, a member of the commission, and Ally Richter, artist and former city public art commissioner. (Call-for-artists submissions were shared on social media on June 19, with a June 23 deadline, and the winners, each of whom were awarded a $700 stipend to paint one letter of the "Black Lives Matter" street mural, were selected and announced by the co-leaders the next day.)

"This is a step in a good direction," said Taylor, who is currently the sole Black commissioner on the art commission. "I think there's been a lot of African Americans in this community who have often felt underrepresented."

Out of the 89 applicants, 16 budding and seasoned Bay Area-based artists, including solo artists, two duo collaborations and an art club from San Jose's The Harker School, each filled in a letter on June 30 with their own interpretations of the Black Lives Matter movement that gained traction in Palo Alto after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Each letter evokes a timely reminder of Black life and, more solemnly, death. The letter "M" includes a golden portrait of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers in her apartment, painted by muralist Nico Berry and his daughter Simone. In one "T" of "Matters," Briena Brown, 20, a San Jose State University student, painted Black Greek muses of history, music and love poetry to reflect her own dual heritage and tell viewers that "Black women are the root to everything," she said.

Together, the mural tries to mime the multitudinous effect of the simple, three-worded phrase shouted at protests, worn on T-shirts and shared across social media platforms. All at once, it recalls the injustices Black people have been subjected to, the achievements they have made so far, the demands that still need to be met and that Black lives matter.

But it also brings up the question countless Black community members, including the protesters and speakers of Palo Alto's Juneteenth rally, have anxiously asked: How long will this last?

The city's mural, like many others, is temporary. Depending on weather and traffic conditions, the water-based latex paint used for the mural is expected to last anywhere from one to three years, Public Art Program coordinator Nadya Chuprina said.

A few artists said the public artwork's lifespan can be significantly extended a couple years by applying a layer of protective coating. City Manager Ed Shikada said on Tuesday the city has not yet made any decision to do so and that one of the other issues to consider is how well the paint adheres to the street.

None of the artists carried the illusion that the mural was going to last forever. Stuart Robertson, who added colors of the Pan-African and his home country's flag of Jamaica in the quilt-like patterns of his "R" in "Matters, was clear-minded about the fact that, like all art, the city mural is performative — "a gesture," he said.

"We could do without the mural," said Robertson, 28, a painter who recently earned his masters of fine arts degree from Stanford University. "But it's good that the community is generating awareness. It's a way to make the conversation more visible."

Kenan Moos, the 21-year-old who organized the June 5 protest against police violence in Los Altos and came out Tuesday to film drone footage of the mural's creation, said the project was "a very, very small part of what needs to be done."

"Performative is good and bad," Moos said, echoing Robertson's sentiment. "The bad side of 'performative' is a lot of people feel that it's all that needs to be done. The mural is great in terms of making a statement, but the statement needs to be followed up with the City Council's actions."

Over the past month, city leaders have taken a closer look at the Police Department's policies as local protests, which have drawn thousands of community members, took place against police brutality and systemic racism. The City Council has formed two ad hoc committees to review police policies and make monthly reports to the public.

Other local and national demands that have long been called for before the Floyd protests include increased diversity initiatives, whether that's from classrooms, newsrooms or local governments. Through the Public Art Commission and city program, Taylor hopes that the city can start to highlight more voices and artists of color within the community.

"The art that we have needs to represent the people that we have in our community," Taylor said.

Several artists and viewers that day spoke with Mayor Adrian Fine, who came to observe the painting of the mural, including Robertson, told him that the city's approval of a mural, which one resident noted the letters faced away from City Hall, will not be enough.

"At the end of the day, this mural will wash away, cars are gonna drive over it and it'll eventually disappear," Robertson said. "We hope that the trend or the interest doesn't disappear with it."

Here's a list of other artists who contributed to the mural in alphabetical order:

Adam Amram of Palo Alto and Stanford University graduate Stuart Robertson.

Masuma Ahmed of Palo Alto.

Urna Bajracharya of Mountain View.

Nico Berry of San Francisco.

Shiraaz Bhabha of Palo Alto.

Briena Brown of San Jose.

Cece Carpio of Oakland.

Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans of San Jose.

Ruth Feseha of San Jose.

• Janet Foster of Menlo Park.

Elizabeth Daphne Foggie of Oakland.

Richard Hoffman of San Jose.

Ann McMillian of Mountain View.

Sasha and Ben Vu of Oakland.

Demetris Washington of Sacramento.

• High school students of The Harker School Art Club of San Jose.

Comments

the real donald
another community
on Jul 1, 2020 at 7:11 pm
the real donald, another community
on Jul 1, 2020 at 7:11 pm
7 people like this

[Post removed.]


Rod
Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2020 at 7:52 pm
Rod, Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2020 at 7:52 pm
9 people like this

Good news and bad news. The good news is that this artwork is beautiful and everyone involved in creating it deserves an attaboy! Bad news is that next month a telecom plans to bury a new fiber optic line under Hamilton Avenue, and the crews will have to cut through this art.


Longtime Resident
Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2020 at 9:21 pm
Longtime Resident, Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2020 at 9:21 pm
16 people like this

Kudos to the leaders and artists who got this mural done in RECORD time, given the notorious Palo Alto process. It’s beautiful and powerful. And yes, Palo Alto has MUCH more, much harder work ahead to achieve racial equity. Let’s do it.


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2020 at 10:29 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2020 at 10:29 pm
17 people like this

I think the BLACK LIVES MATTER mural in front of City Hall 250 Hamilton is a high water mark for culture here in the last 25 or 30 years. Kudos to the makers, staff, volunteers and leaders. In that order.
I read it like a codex: not sure what it means, it will reveal itself over time, to me, to you, to each his her or their own.
I say, as 1 in 10,000 voters here, we keep the cars off it for a few more weeks. And the tenants of 267 Hamilton can park elsewhere for a while.


Photo and Postcard
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:22 am
Photo and Postcard, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:22 am
16 people like this

City or Art Commission - please take a very good elevated photo (and later, postcard) as soon as it is done, before it gets dirty.


Truth
Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:36 am
Truth, Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 2, 2020 at 6:36 am
11 people like this

Let's All Be Real! Every City and State that is approving and funding these "paint ins" are getting along with the business of "Politics: Businesses, Votes!" and pacifying the would be protesters, as if they are kindagarden's. Humans can care about one another without visual art, that's been art. "Can the Paint, and Dust off the Soul"


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:10 am
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:10 am
2 people like this

Speak truth to power with paint (in response to @Truth)
Leader ship could reach out to Wealthfront Roxie Rapp and Ventana and suggest they forgo the garage for a few weeks


Uh Huh
Charleston Gardens
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:29 am
Uh Huh, Charleston Gardens
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:29 am
24 people like this

Ok. So does everyone feel good now? Because acts and comments like this are purely self-reflexive and will do next to nothing to makes things better.


Beautiful
Community Center
on Jul 2, 2020 at 10:55 am
Beautiful, Community Center
on Jul 2, 2020 at 10:55 am
12 people like this

This is absolutely beautiful and I plan to go downtown to visit it and pay tribute to the BLM movement.


Powerful art
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2020 at 12:09 pm
Powerful art, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2020 at 12:09 pm
10 people like this

Visually powerful...I hope it is just a start toward policy changes that create a real difference. Get to really know your candidates...not just on social media. Look at their experience and their records. Check their web sites. Research what have they accomplished politically in the past. It takes a certain temperament and discipline to build coalitions and effect change. Look for this and
VOTE!


doria Summ
College Terrace
on Jul 2, 2020 at 3:19 pm
doria Summ, College Terrace
on Jul 2, 2020 at 3:19 pm
8 people like this

Unless I missed something, sorry in advance if that’s the case , I believe the idea for a BLM street mural originated with council member Lydia Kou at the June 9th
Meeting. I did not notice that the article acknowledged that fact.

Great execution of Cc member Kou’s idea!
Bravo everyone!!!


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 5:37 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 5:37 pm
5 people like this

Kudos to Kou!


Wind and Rain
Mayfield
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:01 pm
Wind and Rain, Mayfield
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:01 pm
7 people like this

[Post removed.]


Linda Murphy
East Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:03 pm
Linda Murphy, East Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:03 pm
7 people like this

[Post removed.]


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:13 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:13 pm
Like this comment

@Linda, @Wind —
I guess between the two of you that finally explains Adam Yauch of the beastie boys and his Tibetan freedom concert. 1994. And why they had John Lee Hooker as the opening act and Richie Havens. Cibo Mato got a higher billing.
I wasn’t there but I have the poster.


Rod
Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:41 pm
Rod, Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:41 pm
Like this comment

Kou might have suggested this at the June 9 meeting, but the idea originated in Washington DC on June 5 when activists painted “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street near the White House. Almost instantly the idea was replicated in Charlotte, NC, Austin, Dallas and Topeka. They also painted it in the CHOP Vegan-zuela zone in Seattle. By the time Lydia stumbled upon this idea it had already gone nationwide.

While Progressives don’t like competitions, a city doesn’t get any points for virtue signaling when it’s at the back of the pack of the latest fad.

Before Lydia offered this idea, there was talk that activists would paint Forest Avenue in front of the police station with Black Lives Matter. But that enraged the cops who convinced Shikada to do this on Hamilton.


Me 2
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm
2 people like this

[Post removed.]


SD
Southgate
on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:16 pm
SD, Southgate
on Jul 3, 2020 at 7:16 pm
Like this comment

Love to see this artwork on t-shirts and sweatshirts, raising money for BLM. It's just beautiful and I love the diversity of style and stories behind each letter.


JustSayin
Mountain View
on Jul 4, 2020 at 5:56 am
JustSayin, Mountain View
on Jul 4, 2020 at 5:56 am
2 people like this

These murals should be on city hall and other buildings in Palo Alto. NOT on a dirty filthy street! BLM Artists, GET OFF YOUR KNEES. #StillSuppresed


Dan
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 4, 2020 at 10:22 am
Dan, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 4, 2020 at 10:22 am
20 people like this

I’m part Native American, and if you look at the numbers, Natives have been at least as abused, or more, than black Americans. Why can’t I paint a Native American Lives Matter mural? Is someone deciding that my culture is not as important?


R Prunty
Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2020 at 6:48 am
R Prunty, Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2020 at 6:48 am
20 people like this

What message is the City Council sending to their law enforcement officers as they enter city hall everyday? Was the council aware that the letters E and R in Matter depict one of the FBI’s most wanted women, Assata Shakur? The art depicts the photo she chose for her autobiography “Assata”. Assata was a member of the Black Liberation Army and personally convicted of killing a New Jersey Trooper. Assata lives in Cuba under asylum. Well played Palo Alto. Your officers must look down on the face of a convicted cop killer everyday as they come into your city to protect you. And your message is.....

This community respects our police and the difficult job they must do. This Is a disgrace and must be rectified.


Dangerous!
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 5, 2020 at 7:42 am
Dangerous!, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 5, 2020 at 7:42 am
15 people like this

Isn't there a potential danger here?

Imagine a dark winter's evening, raining hard, and someone driving can't see a figure wearing dark clothes with a yellow vest, against the backdrop of this "mural", and hits them.

Is it legal for roadways to have this type of artwork? Can busy roadways have space sold to raise revenue for the City? Does it have to be "feel good" messages, or can we have advertising and political allegiance also?

Is this the start of a new trend?


Ryan Chen
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Ryan Chen, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 5, 2020 at 12:56 pm
5 people like this

I would like to have a similar painting for our LGBTQ community, next to City Hall, at the same size as the BLM one. We need this too. How can we get the permit for this? We will need to block the street for several days, so I assume we need City Hall approval. Where do we start?


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 4:58 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2020 at 4:58 pm
3 people like this

@Ryan Chen-
If you hit me via my blog or via the publishers of the Weekly, there is a man in my neighborhood who says he is straight but he gets commissions as an artist from gay people and he is good at painting burley, "bear" type males -- I will pledge $1,000 if this local Palo Alto artist will do a mural in honor of LGBT rights on a building I inherited 8 percent of, downtown, with a wall -- I can ask our GP for permission. The building is ribbed, so to speak, which might complicate the matter. I'd like to see more black art vertical, so to speak. On the walls here. I'm totally straight, too but I think all people are God's children and we all deserve the same dignity and opportunity.
The artist is named K_____.


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 7, 2020 at 3:56 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 7, 2020 at 3:56 pm
Like this comment

So obviously Mr. Prunty’s point rebuts the headline: Black Lives Matter can mean different things to different people personally I think of it as an extension of civil rights from the 1960s and MLK and less about Malcolm X. Maybe there are 100 messages and thousands of possible conclusions or interpretations by and large it is about positive social change and inclusivity and making Palo Alto better for all people.
I think the “B” can be read thru its glyphs as “ACAB” a message that I do not support but in this context I am willing to give the young Black activist “BAMR” the benefit of the doubt.


Oldster
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2020 at 3:19 am
Oldster, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2020 at 3:19 am
9 people like this

New Jersey State Police aren't happy with Palo Alto.

Web Link


Paly Student
Fairmeadow
on Jul 16, 2020 at 6:48 pm
Paly Student , Fairmeadow
on Jul 16, 2020 at 6:48 pm
7 people like this

Adding a murderer and fugitive to the BLM mural is the noblest deed that one can do, and it is highly suggestive of the aforesaid organization's motives. Assata Shakur's friendly face is now painted into the street in its full glory and regalia.
How convenient it is, to put a cop killer's portrait right in front of the city hall, where police officers can go to work and see it every day, and be reminded that you can commit any crime and still be called a social justice hero.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 17, 2020 at 10:13 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 17, 2020 at 10:13 am
Like this comment

What more to be done? Every project has to have a purpose and a results obtained goal. You all have done the art work and worked with other people to accomplish a goal. The goal is now achieved.

Time for school to start and all of the students get back to the job of getting though school and working to the net objective - college? In the end you all have to be able to go to work and be able to move on with your lives. The rest of us are getting on with our lives - we all have lives that we are working on a daily basis.
Multitudes of ethnic groups in the US - all working to build a life. And the city has to get on with working the issues related to transportation and housing.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 18, 2020 at 10:39 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2020 at 10:39 am
2 people like this

Since MLK was noted above the niece of MLK has been interviewed in relation to some recent deaths of notable civil rights leaders and she felt that the current movement is not productive and is going backwards to the 60's. The whole point of the 60's was to move forward and "normalize" life to the extent that everyone is treated equally. She stated this is a regressive effort led by many tangential groups that are capitalizing on the great accomplishments of the 60's greats, including her MLK relative.


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