I Visited Minneapolis a Year After the George Floyd Protests, and This Is What I Saw.

Dale Zarlee, 35, in front of the George Floyd mural at the intersection of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. in Minneapolis Saturday, May 30 2020. Fair Use via TwinCities.com.

Everywhere I go, I have a habit of wandering around and seeking out all the street art in the area. I’ll find it, photograph it, and later I’ll blog about it. It’s something I’ve always done and I enjoy it. I find that a city’s artwork tells the most personal stories about the people who live in there, and even those stories of the resident artists themselves. Anywhere in the world you go, you can see the story of a particular neighborhood through the local art scene.

Over the past year I have traveled to Sacramento, D.C., New York, Boston, and of course all throughout my hometown of Los Angeles. Everywhere I went there was protest art painted on boarded up windows, words of solidarity etched into the side of buildings, and Black Lives Matter plastered all over the sidewalks. The Country had literally been painted over, head to toe and it was amazing to witness.

Last weekend I visited my mom in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she is currently working. I am visiting almost exactly a year after the senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a year after the world watched in horror, and a year after the BLM movement became an internationally recognized force for social justice. My artistic expectations were seemingly high, for good reason. However, I have some thoughts.

The first day my mom picked me up from the airport and asked me what I wanted to do. I said we should drive around downtown Minneapolis to check out the scenery. We set out and before long we saw the Minneapolis skyline. I had never visited the midwest before, and mom hadn’t made it into the city very much. Instantly both of us were struck by all the giant brown buildings.

It was quite boring, but overall it wasn’t surprising. Some cities have building material laws that ban new structures from being built out of too different materials other than the original materials used during its genesis. I guess it has to do with “preserving the integrity of the original structures as they were intended,” or something. Whatever.

However, all these brown buildings started to appear more and more droll the more we drove around. The more we looked, the more we noticed the complete lack of artwork anywhere. I was stunned. I’m so used to large cities that have at least some artwork, murals, or street art downtown— especially since every wall here is basically a giant brown canvas, ripe for painting.

This is all the more surprising a year after the entire world was set ablaze from the summer protests. The events of last summer certainly spawned an art movement in just about every major city worldwide. Though here I am in the place it happened, and not a single leftover relic of protest artwork could be seen anywhere we went in public.

I lied: we found one piece of wall art about 10 minutes outside downtown in a nearby neighborhood.

The sole piece of street art we found. Sad, right?

Even very few houses had BLM signs in their yards or windows. We wandered around the nearby neighborhoods and saw maybe three. Even swathes of bridges appeared to have been painted over since then. (Underneath bridges is normally a treasure trove of a place to find any kind of outsider art.) The whole city appeared to have been scrubbed clean. It was shocking and sort of made us feel uneasy. Like, where’s the culture? What happened?

I was thinking either Minneapolis had some strange anti-art laws or just a really good public cleaning program. Either way, I decided to do some research. Before long I had found a local article that spoke of the various museums in the area and how they were handling the protest art — which apparently was everywhere, at one time.

As people started to realize the cultural relevancy of the moment, grassroots support for the preservation of a lot of the protest art had started to lobby local museums, such as the Walker Art Center, for help in the effort. According to the article I found, “A spokesperson for the Walker Art Center told a reporter:

“As a large institution built on the foundations of white supremacy, it is not the Walker’s place to lead such efforts.”

The museums basically said they didn’t want any part of it as the museums themselves were constructed from a white capitalist system. They said they didn’t feel “worthy of holding the duty of such artwork.” — Ryan Stopera, Juxtaposition Arts, via Archpaper.com.

Around the same time, another popular local museum was asked for help in preserving some art and essentially echoed the spokesperson from the Walker Center. So, even the local museums — traditionally an institution of cultural relevancy and a home for thousands more pieces of historical artwork — didn’t want to touch the stuff, because it’s inherently racist?

What?

I know this all seems pretty messed up, but there is indeed a silver lining. People and businesses from all over the area saw that there was a desperate need to preserve the moment. Other businesses in the area also couldn’t fathom seeing the artwork disappear so they moved them inside as permanent fixtures. A coordinated effort was made by the community as well, but ultimately struggled with the legality of ownership of the art.

Ultimately, two women named Leesa Kelly and Kenda Zellner-Smith started collection their projects “Save the Boards” and “Memorialize the Movement,” respectively. The women joined their efforts and formed “Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement” a project focused on retaining community ownership of the art and keeping it accessible to the Black community, and received hundreds of donations of protest art from the Minneapolis area. Between their joint efforts, and that of the community, they now have the largest collection of its kind.

Now it makes sense, this could be where a lot of it the artwork is now. In the private collections of the community in which it happened. Amazing.

It’s beautiful that the community came together, but the responses from the museums alongside Minneapolis’ concentrated cleanup efforts, was definitely disheartening to hear but not overall not surprising. The powers that be just want to rewrite history and scrub away the blemishes left on all their pretty brownstones. It’s a shame. Although I didn’t see much artwork, this was certainly an eye-opening visit for me and my first time to the mid-west.

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