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Recording a moment within a movement

in Tom Katzenmeyer July 15, 2020 3 min read

The Greater Columbus Arts Council has received dozens of messages related to the temporary murals painted on boarded up windows throughout the city. I’d like to give you an update on where things stand.

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

Tom Katzenmeyer, president & CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

These murals are messages of support for the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. They are messages of love and powerful representations of the beauty and lives of our Black neighbors, family and friends. In some cases they are also messages explicitly directed at the oppression and systemic racism Black people have suffered for centuries. So, while they were created quickly and on temporary spaces it is understandable that the people in our community and the artists who created the murals want to see them have a place in our city and in our neighborhoods after the plywood comes down.

For now the Arts Council, CAPA and the Short North Alliance are focusing on documentation and preservation. We are photographing the art, connecting with the artists and uploading (with the artist’s permission) the work and artist information on the website. We are exploring other means for deeper documentation that better connect the murals to this moment in time and the larger movement to address systemic racism in our country. We are working on a plan to ensure that we have a place to store, preserve, and protect the murals when they come down so that the community will have time to help plan their future. And, we are convening a committee of primarily Black artists, activists and community leaders to help guide us in the work.

All of this is a work in progress and constantly evolving.

Since the murals started going up, there has been a growing dialogue about the murals’ role in the fight for justice. Some very smart and difficult points have been made in both social and traditional media. I, for one, find the dialogue as rewarding as the praise. They remind me that art is a catalyst for exploring hard truths.

One perspective noted that more attention was being paid to preserving the murals than preserving Black lives, and that is a point that needs to be heard. I saw discussions about appropriation of Black culture while ignoring systemic racism. And there are perspectives that the murals with messages of love and peace repressed the messages of justified anger that have a rightful voice in this movement. There are concerns that the murals have become a tourist destination, and that even for those who care about the actual issues at the root of these paintings, their concern would begin and end with posting a few photos. And artists who worked on the murals shared that creating the murals was their form of activism and their ability to publicly express their perspective as a Black artist was an opportunity they felt was too important to let pass. All of these are valid perspectives and these are all valuable conversations we should be having. I believe art is at its best when it forces us to embrace ideas and the nuances of feelings.

These murals are not going to stop systemic racism. They do not replace the hard work that is ahead. But these conversations are healthy catalysts. And a critical part of the process. Because of this, documenting the murals, and placing their creation within the larger context of the Black Lives Matter movement is important.

Documentation and preservation of this art, as well as connecting the community, is a role that the Arts Council can help facilitate. This is our wheel house. We can convene the many different entities that own the murals and the community to develop these plans. The murals at the Arts Council office are owned by the artists who created them as that is how we wrote our contracts. Each group or business that commissioned murals likely did something different. We can get invested parties to the table to ensure that what happens next is done with respect not just to the Black Lives Matter movement but to the Black community in Columbus.

For everyone in Columbus I hope this art, and the moments and movement that created it, inspires you to take action every day to support Black Lives and dismantle systemic racism.

— Tom Katzenmeyer, connect with Tom on LinkedIn.

Featured image, mural artists from left: Miss Birdy, Shelbi Harris-Roseborro & Felicia Dunson, Makayla, Francesca Miller