Black Lives Matter Murals

Protecting and Preserving Charlotte’s Street Art

On June 9, Charlotte Is Creative, Brand the Moth, and BLKMRKTCLT organized a group of local activist artists to emulate the Black Lives Matter (BLM) mural that had been commissioned by the mayor of Washington, D.C. That original mural was painted June 5, and it is situated along 16th St. NW, leading directly toward the White House. Charlotte’s own mural is also located in a highly-visible, heavily-trafficked area. The Queen City’s mural is located on S. Tryon St. between Third and Fourth Sts. Whereas the nation’s original mural was painted in bold, solid yellow letters, the artists in Charlotte created a lavish design. Their concept took the original idea of protest signage, and then added the unique perspectives of many individuals. Each of the 16 artists designed a single letter, and they used their singular spaces to pile layers of reference and meaning on top of the political base-layer.

As with Washington, D.C., the street art was approved and legally permitted by local authorities. In full compliance, the creators developed a novel design. It has since been emulated in other cities that have taken artistic inspiration from Charlotte’s mural, which was one of the first to be completed after the original. Other cities have opted for yellow, but there are multiple examples of municipalities taking creative cues from Charlotte’s local artists.

Something many of these murals have in common is vandalism and defacement. Of particular note, a man and woman in Martinez, Calif. used black paint to obliterate that community’s street mural. That art, as in Charlotte, had also been legally permitted, and the blacking out was the illegal action. The two have been arrested and charged with a hate crime. The next day, unknown persons illegally painted White Lives Matter on the street, which itself was then unlawfully painted over. As artists worked to restore the original, an anti-BLM critic drove past and threatened them with a gun. That man has also been arrested.

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The murals are also vulnerable to attack from those who support BLM but feel the murals are empty gestures. In Orlando, Fla. the city’s mural was scrawled with phrases like “Not Enough” and “Abolish the Police.” This white colored graffiti was haphazardly sprayed across the 30-foot letters filled in with solid bands of the Pan African colors (red on top, black in the middle, and green on the bottom). City police are investigating the incident as a crime, and municipal workers pressure washed the graffiti before restoring the original colors.

Charlotte, N.C.’s Black Lives Matter mural in development. (Photo Credit: Rep. Alma Adams. Public Domain)

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Initially, the mural in Uptown was open to street traffic; however, on June 14, the artists had to reconvene to repair the art. Almost immediately upon completion a motorist purposefully spun their tires out repeatedly across the length of the mural, leaving tire marks all along it. S. Tryon St. was then closed to vehicular traffic and remains cordoned off from cars as of this writing. The repairs were made possible by private contributions.

According to Tim Miner, co-founder of Charlotte Is Creative, “the City announced the block is now part of a pilot pedestrian plaza program, and will remain closed to traffic through the end of September.” He also noted that, “a private individual donated protective clear coat that has been applied to the mural. This will protect it from the elements and vandalism. According to the City of Charlotte, the street is not scheduled for resurfacing for two to three years, and the mural is expected to remain in place until then.”

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