New mural exhibition sustains fight for justice

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A neighbor looks at the mural exhibit at 825 University Ave. (Photo by Tyler Olsen-Highness)

Four murals created in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have been re-introduced to the public at 825 University Ave. With messages like “Keep on Pushing We Can’t Stop Now,” this exhibition is an effort to help continue the momentum and movement towards justice.

The project is a collaboration between the Victoria Theater Arts Center (VTAC), Model Cities, and the Ramsey County Historical Society – three very different groups who came together to support community healing.

Both VTAC and Model Cities had had murals created on the plywood of their boarded up windows in the days of unrest this past June. Created by professional muralists Alex Smith and Witt Siasoco, as well as community youth, the murals are vibrant expressions of community energy. Colorful and powerful, they blaze with the fires of hope and justice. So, when it was time for the murals to come down, discussions began on how to preserve and display them in the community.

Muralist Alex Smith works on the Radical Love mural.

“The uprising was reactionary and immediate,” said Aki Shibata, co-chair of the VATC’s community engagement committee, “We wanted the voices of Black and POC artists to be supported by the community and help sustain the movement.”

The VTAC’s interior is uninhabitable, as it is currently a construction zone. The western exterior wall, however, which faces Model Cities’ “pocket park,” was an ideal home for these murals. Highly visible from University Ave. and the Victoria Light Rail Station, the murals are accessible to motorists, transit riders, and pedestrians alike. Planning kicked into high gear to get the murals up as soon as possible.

One big question arose: How to protect these one-of-a-kind pieces of art from the elements? They’re painted on OSB – a material that’s designed primarily for indoor use, and especially vulnerable to water. The paint itself is also delicate, and there was worry that these pieces would degrade quickly if left in the elements. Luckily, the Ramsey County Historical Society had the solution: bowling alley wax. A long-time favorite of preservationists, the wax protects without altering the materials it’s applied to.

Community members carefully apply wax to the murals to preserve them at 825 University Ave., near the Victoria Light Rail station. (Photos submitted)

The organizations pooled their resources for installation and materials, and VTAC had volunteers ready to help with the efforts. On Aug. 8, a team of community members delicately applied the wax to the murals. On Monday they were installed by two professional theater carpenters who are currently out of work due to COVID-19 closures.

All three organizations see this as exactly the kind of collaboration and project that can help their community’s fight for equity. The art is beautiful, big, and from the heart. The location is on the border of Frogtown and Rondo, both of which have experienced systemic oppression throughout their history. The artists who created them are from the neighborhood. The hope and passion behind the art is palpable and contagious.

“We’re so happy we can allow community members the opportunity to experience this magnificent showcase of art and reflect on its true meaning!” said Kizzy Downie, CEO of Model Cities.

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