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‘Art is powerful’: Black Bloomington artists to install Black Lives Matter mural downtown



Another Black Lives Matter street mural was approved April 13 by Bloomington’s Board of Public Works. It will be installed on West Sixth Street on the north side of the downtown square, and the installation date is tentatively set for June 5.

The mural was scheduled to be installed Saturday but was canceled due to rain. Designed by local black artists Christina Elem and Raheem Elmore, the mural will depict the words “Black Lives Matter” in yellow and pan-African colors: black, green and red. While Elem said she couldn’t give away the full design, she described it as simple but impactful.

This is the second of two murals the city planned and budgeted for last year as part of a response to police violence, according to a press release about the event. Both projects were funded with municipal dollars originally budgeted for the Black y Brown Arts Festival, a multi-day arts festival that was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first, which also shows the words “Black Lives Matter” in a pan-African color scheme, was installed Oct. 24, 2020, on North Elm Street and was dedicated on Nov. 13 the same year. It was also painted by Elem and Elmore with volunteer help.

“Having volunteers come out and it not just being Black people or people of color come out but literally all different types of people with different backgrounds coming out to say ‘Black lives matter’ was very unifying and very special,” Elem said.

This project does not include the People’s Park mural, which was painted over with the words Black Lives Matter last summer.

Erik Pearson is a program and facility coordinator for the Banneker Community Center, which is led by the Department of Parks and Recreation. He said that the message this mural is meant to send isn’t complicated: that Black lives matter in Bloomington.

“We wanted to recognize that our process of becoming more inclusive and equitable is ongoing,” Pearson said, “We’re constantly learning from the other community members and hoping to bring people to the table so that we continue to grow and progress in support of BIPOC residents.”

Mayor John Hamilton made a statement promoting the installation of the mural. He said the mural represented the community values of equality, inclusion and justice, according to a press release from the city.

While Pearson said he hadn’t seen opposition to the murals, comments on the Facebook post announcing the first mural’s completion included accusations of racism against white people and terrorism.

Beverly Calender-Anderson, director of the Community and Family Resources Department, acknowledged that people may not understand why the mural’s message is needed, but that it’s important nonetheless. She said those who dismiss the phrase “Black lives matter” in favor of “all lives matter” don’t understand why the distinction is important.

“People don’t understand that diversity is more than numbers,” Calender-Anderson said. “It’s if you feel welcome, if you feel like you’re a part of the community and you have an equal voice in the community. It has to do with us all coexisting in a peaceful way and feeling that we belong.”

Others on Facebook, though, agreed with the mural, and some even encouraged policy changes to better support people of color in the community. Elem agreed more change has to be made but said the murals are a place to start.

“Of course a mural by itself isn’t going to do anything, of course there has to be policy change and conversations and real change within the community,” Elem said. “But I think art is powerful, and I think one of the main things it does is it starts conversations, it captures people’s attention. It brings people together.”

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