Few things are black or white.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it’s that we need each other. If the peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd have shown us anything, it’s that our differences only matter to the degrees that they make us better.
On a faux stucco wall on the side of a building at Second Avenue North and 19th Street in downtown Birmingham, a mural is taking shape that gives color and life to both of these lessons.
The collaboration of more than a dozen artists started as a show of love and support for frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic back in April. Yet, the themes of unity, love and support for each other have bled into a message that applies just as well to the other crisis that has since emerged.
“Originally it was taking inspiration from a desire to show positivity and support for one another during COVID-19 … a manifestation of the whole ‘we’re in this together’ concept,” said Meghan McCollum, founder and owner of Blank Space Bham, who organized the mural along with BHM Artist Collective, Fitz Hand Painted Signs and REV Birmingham. “We just wanted to encourage our community to keep their heads up.
“However, most of the artists’ messages were pretty generalized toward just using their piece to reinforce a voice of unity and encouragement overall, so as events have evolved over the past few weeks it became very easy to view the message of the mural through the lens of unity in wake of the protests,” she added.
Such is art.
“I think that’s the beauty about public art, though, and art in general,” McCollum said. “As artists, we can have a specific vision for the pieces we create, but ultimately the viewer will always take what they personally need from it. If it speaks encouragement for them during COVID, great. If it makes them feel connected to the community in wake of the protests, that’s good, too.”
Works like “Helping Hands” by Daniel Gilchrist Weingarten in the mural certainly apply to both ideas. It shows a black and white hand wearing latex gloves coming together to create a heart and surrounded by positive words, like “trust,” “understanding,” “kindness” and “respect.”
“We decided to do a little bit of pro bono work as a gesture of solidarity for the community during the pandemic and the protests,” said Weingarten, owner of Magic City Mural Company.
In addition to McCollum and Weingarten, contributors include Shawn Fitzwater, Levi Axleigh, John Lytle Wilson, Devonte Holt, Marcus Fetch, Veronique Vanblaere, Jennifer Leahy, Sean Gilder, Amanda Blake Turner, Gina Hurry, Nancy Carrol, Andrew Tynes, Brother Andy, Virginia Newcomb and Alison Crawford.
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Plans are to have the full piece done by June 15.
Then those who see it can take away their own interpretation from the completed work.
“Ultimately, the mural has come to serve as a show of support for both I would say,” McCollum said. “We just want folks in Birmingham to know that they’re not fighting their fight alone regardless of who or what they’re up against.”