5 Tips for Implementing a Black Lives Matter Street Mural
Across the nation, communities have taken to the street to express their feelings about the Black Lives Matter movement in paint. Public art is an effective tool for local government expression because it amplifies messages of political and social importance with a clear and powerful statement. It also brings people together, creates social understanding, and aids the healing process. That’s just what it did in Asheville, N.C.
After a month of planning, on Sunday, July 19, 2020, dozens of artists and volunteers came together on behalf of the City of Asheville to create a Black Lives Matter mural in the heart of downtown. The project was spearheaded by Asheville City Councilwoman Sheneika Smith and supported unanimously by City Council members as an expression of their opinion. City Council contracted with the Asheville Area Arts Council to lead the design and implementation process. Ultimately, the materials and labor for the mural were entirely paid for by community donations, and 19 artists were given the opportunity to showcase their artistic abilities and be compensated for their work. As the Executive Director of the Asheville Area Arts Council, I am proud to have served as the project coordinator and fiscal agent for this initiative.
Having been through this process, I have 5 tips for arts agencies looking to serve in a similar role. I also recommend reaching out to other organizations in your area, state, or region that have played a role in the installation of a street mural project for additional insights. The Street Tweaks team here in Asheville, the Arts Council of Winston Salem & Forsyth County in Winston Salem, N.C. and community leaders in Greenville, S.C. all provided helpful advice for this project.
Tip #1: Budget Appropriately
It is important to start with a realistic budget. The budget should include funding for street cleaning, permits & street closure fees, security, paint, painting supplies, artist fees, food & refreshments, event safety precautions, documentation, maintenance, and removal. Large scale art projects are not cheap, but there are several ways to bring down the costs. Our total budget was just over $30,000. Fortunately, half of these goods and services ended up being provided in-kind. Please note: artist fees are not a place to cut corners, especially given the impacts of the pandemic on the arts community. We paid the lead artists $1,000 a piece, and the supporting artists $300 each.
Tip #2: Let the Artist(s) Lead the Design
This project creates a safe space for Black artists to express their creative statement about the events of the last several months. Help amplify those voices. The lead artists for the Asheville mural were Joseph Pearson, Jenny Pickens, and Marie T. Cochran. Each interpreted what the Black Lives Matter movement means to them in their design, creating a moving piece that weaves together national and local movements with the history of the region.
Tip #3: Location, Location, Location
Select a site of significance. Important statements are meant to be seen. In Asheville, City Council selected a site in the heart of downtown, at a crossroads of past wrongs and a hopeful future. The mural surrounds the Vance Monument, a granite obelisk erected in the late 1800s in honor of Confederate Governor Zebulon Vance. The monument is currently shrouded while a task force decides its fate. This location also happens to be in front of Asheville’s new state of the art Asheville Art Museum, and a fitting place for these artists to showcase their talents.
Tip #4: Legal Considerations & Safety Precautions
There is always some level of risk with any community project. Mitigate risk and set clear expectations with the proper paperwork. For our project, there was a formal Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Asheville and the Asheville Area Arts Council in which the City officially directed the work to be done and specifically spelled out project terms and responsibilities. Artists and volunteers also were expected to sign contracts and/or waivers. Additionally, be sure to follow state and local health and safety guidelines. Provide masks and hand sanitizer, and lay out the event to allow for proper distancing. We used metal bike racks to section off the mural painting area, and limited the number of people inside the work area to under 25 at all times.
Tip #5: Preparation, Implementation, Maintenance, & Removal
Plan ahead, and save headaches later! We had one day to complete our mural, which means we were on a tight timeline. Thanks to University of North Carolina Asheville’s STEAM Studio, we were able to significantly reduce the amount of time needed for installation. After having the road power washed the night before, a layout crew met at the site at 4 am the day of the event to map out the letters. The measurements for all the letters had already been calculated and cardboard templates were made for the more difficult letters. Thanks to this prep work, the crew was done outlining all 16 letters, each 15 ft. high, in less than two hours. The artists arrived at 7 am and by 9 am we had all the letters primed. Priming helps the paint adhere to the road better, and it also makes the colors appear more vibrant. By 6 pm, we began sealing the letters with a clear coat of protective sealant. We were done by 8 pm. This is a temporary art installation expressing the City’s position on this issue, which can stay in place for up to a year. We continue to monitor it, and will work with the city to maintain it as needed. Higher traffic areas are wearing more quickly, but overall it is holding up nicely.
I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any additional questions in the comments below.