Armed with paintbrushes, volunteers converged in downtown Birmingham June 7 for an act of creative affection toward two historic theaters and nearby businesses.
A night of unrest a little more than a week earlier, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, resulted in damage to some downtown Birmingham buildings, including the historic Alabama and Lyric theaters. Since then, the theaters and other businesses have temporarily installed plywood across the fronts of their buildings.
Last week, a recently formed group, B’ham Cleanup, led by Realtor Gusty Gulas, organized volunteers and gathered donated supplies to support businesses and residents affected by the unrest. On Sunday, the group encouraged volunteers to join local artists to “Paint Positivity” on the bare plywood, starting at the theaters.
Within a couple of hours, dozens of volunteers of all ages had used the plywood as blank canvases to create inspirational murals. At the Alabama Theatre, the words “BHAM STRONG, BE SAFE, BE WELL” now stand in black, block letters, along with a contrasting, multicolored heart. Across the street, the message on the front of the Lyric Theatre is, “Birmingham, the world is watching, Keep Growing” except, instead of spelling out “world,” volunteers inserted a brightly painted globe.
Before the day was done, volunteers painted the bare plywood at other downtown businesses.
Glenny Brock, outreach coordinator for Birmingham Landmarks, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Lyric and the Alabama, was grateful for the volunteers and for the result, which transformed the barren plywood into inspirational art and messages.
“This week I have thought a lot about one particular sentence: On the wall in City Hall, in the City Council chambers, are the words, ‘The people are the city.’ That was in evidence today in the theater district when dozens of people, many of whom had never met before, showed up to paint the boarded-up historic venues.
“We are so grateful that the theaters mean enough to people that they invested so much time, so much sweat, so much care,” Brock said.