Pop-up murals downtown continue conversation about Black Lives Matter
Jonathan Whitney was asking some tough questions on May 31. That was a day after protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis
had ended in rioting and looting in Wilmington.
“How can we help?” he asked. “How do we amplify the voices and deal with the damage?”
Whitney and Eliza Jarvis, who have years of experience in the arts and community engagement, decided to commission artists to paint over the plywood boards installed to cover damaged windows on downtown buildings.
“It was very guerrilla,” said Joe del Tufo of Moonloop Photography and the murals’ third organizer. He had been following the protests, “feeling kind of helpless, and I needed to do something positive.” So he ventured out for the cleanup, and he connected with the other two.
Progress was informal and wide-reaching, he said. “Find a space. Find a person. Get some money.”
“It was really hard to see all that destruction … and sadness,” said Jarvis, who lives in Cool Spring, a short walk from downtown. “We just wanted to bring a little positivity and add a way to keep talking in a more productive environment.”
A Bridge, Senseless Losses and a Psalm
“I wanted my piece to be a bridge,” said James Wyatt, who created the first work, at Spaceboy Clothing, 706 N. Market St. “Unfortunately the more things change, the more they stay the same. The imagery is something from before my era but still just as impactful today. The colors
however are more vibrant and meant to get the attention of those looking. I wanted them to tie together with the messaging … and be live. There is still a lot of work to be done, and art and imagery has always played a part in that. Hopefully these works will help continue the conversation.”
The next treatment was at Blitzen, a pop-up bar at 220 W. Ninth St., from JaQuanne LeRoy. “The title of my work is Psalm 18:16-17,” he said. “The Scripture reads: He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
“I want people to know that my art is a personal testimony of God’s saving grace. As we mourn the loss of loved ones and fight for justice, we can look to God for peace.”
Thanks to Erica Jones, more of these prosaic pieces of plywood became thought-provoking art, also at Blitzen. “The portrait and names are all of black women and girls that we have lost senselessly that have not gotten proper due,” she said. “The plight of the black woman has been ignored and unheard for far too long. I also wanted people to bear witness to our greatness, especially when we are able to be exactly who we are without burden.”
The main figure in Jones’ work is Oluwatoyin Salau, a teenage Black Lives Matter activist who was kidnapped and murdered in June in Florida.
More Works Are on the Way
More works are planned, such as for Nomad Bar, 905 N. Orange St., and Bull Bay Caribbean Cuisine, 900 N. Orange St., the organizers said. It’s a question of identifying sites that will have the plywood up for a while and getting permission.
Funding started with some forward-thinking leaders of the DuPont Co. (including F. Renarde Hill and Benjamin Whitney, Jonathan’s brother), other individuals and Moonloop Photography. Donations for more murals can now be made through Cityfest, a nonprofit that aims to improve life in Wilmington, primarily through cultural and arts programming.
Jarvis said she was pleased that the project provided “gigs with real money in what is a dry season for many artists.”
The murals were intended to be temporary, but the Buccini/Pollin Group, a key force in the revitalization of Wilmington, has reached out to the organizers about displaying them elsewhere after those businesses reopen.
Whitney envisions them being exhibited throughout the state.
Whitney and Jarvis, who were working at the Delaware Art Museum when this personal “passion project” began, formed Flux Creative Consulting on Sept. 1. It focuses on program planning, logistical support and cultural curation, and it includes the murals on its website.
Del Tufo devoted hours with the artists while they were creating, “getting their stories and their rationale. These pieces made me feel something, and I want others to feel that. Art can heal. Art can be heard louder than violence and louder than criticism. This is obviously the coolest thing I’ve been involved with in 2020.”