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Palo Alto’s Temporary Black Lives Matter Mural and What’s Next

Learn more about the role of public art in stimulating conversation about race and equity

In responding to the City Council's direction to develop a temporary public art installation, the Art Commission led the development of a temporary Black Lives Matter mural in front of City Hall on Hamilton Avenue. This community-driven, City-sponsored effort selected sixteen artists to share their perspectives about race and equity. The mural is one aspect of a larger City dialogue taking place on race and equity. This blog provides a brief deep dive into the public art process, shares details about this specific installation, summarizes the selected artists, and includes a look at what’s next.

Public Art Inspires Conversation

Public art has the power to stimulate meaningful conversation, create community connections, and reinforce a sense of place. Mohammed Soumah’s murals on the side of Antonio’s Nut House and Country Sun market are iconic to the California Avenue district. Greg Brown’s whimsical murals have delighted downtown Palo Alto visitors for decades, and Brad Oldham’s owls greet visitors to the Mitchell Park library. When you place artwork in public space, people will talk about it (and that is a good thing).

Public Art Can Be Controversial

The recent completion of the Black Lives Matter mural on Hamilton Avenue is a prime example of how temporary art, in particular, can stimulate conversation regarding difficult and timely topics. Members of the community advocated to Council that the City create a Black Lives Matter mural downtown, and the Public Art Commission picked up that directive and supported it in a method in keeping with a public art commissioning process. A committee selected 16 artists, mostly of color, based on the quality of their works. Each painted one letter in their own unique style. The City moved quickly to facilitate this important project and build a platform for this message. The mural is unique to Palo Alto and connects to other work and discussions examining our policies and procedures in policing and citywide.

In no way does the mural take away from the value we have in our police officers who serve our community every day. Temporary art is a means of expression on difficult issues and the Black Lives Matter mural is thought-provoking and spurs conversation.

Artists Work Sparks Diverse Perspectives

Art is subjective and at times controversial, and not everyone will love every piece we commission. Just as you may not like every book in the Library, but probably appreciate the importance of enabling the diversity of viewpoints available. We hope that the voices of these many artists will spark meaningful dialogue as a vehicle toward the society we seek to advance.

On June 15, Council directed the Public Art Commission to explore public art honoring diversity. A panel of diverse community volunteers led the selection process for the artists. The call for artists was promoted predominantly on social media for the first time ever, helping quickly to reach artists that otherwise may not have been able to learn of the project through other traditional media postings. The selected artists were assigned letters and quickly submitted concept sketches of their visions and received a small stipend for their work.

Sixteen artist teams from diverse backgrounds came together on Tuesday, June 30 to create a Black Lives Matter mural on Hamilton Avenue in front of Palo Alto City Hall. Each artist team painted a different letter with water-based acrylic paint. The mural was completed by Wednesday, June 31. The mural is temporary, and the temporary nature of the installation was communicated to the artists and the community during the planning stages. The City has no plans to extend or expedite the removal of the mural from its initial intent.

To learn more about the artists involved with the Black Lives Matter mural, visit them on social media:

B: Demetris Washington @bamr_theartist
L: Sasha & Ben Vu @sashavustudios
A: The Harker School Art Club @harkerartclub @pilar.aguero.esparza
C: Masuma Ahmed
K: Richard Hoffman @richardehoffman

L: Urna Bajracharya @fishing_for_fishies
I: Janet Foster
V: Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans @iloniarts
E: Elizabeth D Foggie @elizabethdfoggie
S: Ann McMillan @annmcmillanart

M: Nico Berry @nicosprayitloud
A: Ruth Feseha @robin_laurence
T: Shiraaz Bhabha @shiraaz
T: Briena Brown @artbybriena
E: Cece Carpio @cececarpio
R: Stuart Robertson & Adam Amram @stewyrobertson @adam_amram_

What’s Next and Online Resources

The Black Lives Mural is one of a series of efforts underway to engage the community in difficult discussions on race and equity. Public Art staff and the Art Commission are working on follow-up conversations to complement the Black Lives Matter mural installation. More details to come on these ideas soon.

From City commissions discussing policing practices to briefings on police work and public forums about current and historical black and brown experiences in Palo Alto, the City is listening and seeking to engage and inform about race and equity in the community.

Thursday, July 9 at 5:00 p.m.: Tonight, the Human Relations Commission will host a panel discussion on police reform and #8CantWait. For the agenda and ways to watch or provide input, go here.

To catch up on recent community briefings and conversations, see these recorded opportunities to learn and share your thoughts:

· Q and A session with Chief Robert Jonsen and City Manager Ed Shikada, facilitated by Kaloma Smith, a community leader and Reverend of University A.M.E. Zion Church in Palo Alto

· Police Community Briefing #1: Introduction to the Palo Alto Police Department

· Police Community Briefing #2: Introduction to Use of Force and Police Practices

Go here to a recent blog about other upcoming opportunities to join the conversation.

The City has a website available to stay connected on these discussions. Go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/raceandequity

Go here for the City’s Public Art program page.

Go here for art-related resources.

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