Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The New Yorker

The Secret Project That Led to Black Lives Matter Murals Coast to Coast

by Robin Wright

This past Thursday, at 6 p.m.Keyonna Jones received an unexpected call from a fellow-artist, about a secret project starting in just a few hours. Was Jones available? The mother of two kids under ten, Jones scrambled to find child care. At eight o’clock, she joined a Zoom call; the lead artist explained that Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., had commissioned eight artists to paint a mural of fifty-foot-high letters spelling out “Black Lives Matter” across two blocks of the street leading to the White House. “This needed to be perfect,” Jones, the executive director of the Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center, told me. The group plotted how to make the mural—in a bold shade of yellow—where to get supplies, and the logistics of finishing by midday. Several were nervous about the political consequences. “Some were unsure of the possible backlash—if it was a political play between the mayor and President Trump. They didn’t know if the mayor would back them up if something happened, or if President Trump would retaliate,” Jones recalled. Four days earlier, federal and local law-enforcement officials had used flash grenades, chemical spray, and smoke to drive hundreds of mostly peaceful protesters out of the area around the White House so Trump could walk to St. John’s Church and wave a Bible, briefly, in front of photographers. The mural was supposed to finish in front of the church. “In the Zoom call, it got a little uncomfortable,” Jones, who is African-American, recalled. The artists agreed that they would participate only if they could remain anonymous. Jones was the only member of the group who would talk to me on the record. Read on...


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