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St. Louis Artists Combine Art, Activism And Black Lives Matter On Boarded-Up Buildings

Tiana Bojorquez has spent much of the past several weeks thinking about how she can capture what's going on in the streets on a special canvas.

On boarded-up windows of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Delmar Boulevard, she has fused art and activism to join the movement demanding that police stop killing black people.

It took her several days to paint the colorful and bold images that read “STL Strong” and "Black Lives Matter" in red and green with the letters outlined in black.

“I wanted to do the color like the African flag and, you know, kind of a cultural pride in this panel,” Bojorquez said. “I wanted to amplify that phrase, because I don't think that saying Black Lives Matter should be a radical term.”

Bojorquez is among seven artists in St. Louis who are using art to support the movement for black lives. She and many other St. Louis-based artists have taken their art to the streets to participate in Painted Black STL. The initiative aims to pay black artists who paint images on the buildings damaged and boarded up during a wave of civil unrest that occurred earlier this month.

People across the country are taking the streets to demand police stop killing black people. Sometimes buildings are damaged. 

Jayvn Solomon and his friend and coworker Tyson Baker started the initiative almost a month ago. Solomon said it’s important for him and other black artists to lend their voices to the movement.

“That's kind of the point, right is Black Lives Matter,” Solomon asked. “So how we can put our money where our mouth is bring these artists into the fold.”

Jayvn Solomon painted the boarded up windows of Bella's Frozen Yogurt on Washington Avenue. June 5, 2020
Credit Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Jayvn Solomon painted the plywood over the windows of Bella's Frozen Yogurt on Washington Avenue.

Solomon and Baker created a GoFundMe to raise money to pay for supplies. They’re nearing their $15,000 goal. Baker said the project makes it easy for artists to submit their designs. 

“They're Instagramming us, we're collecting information and now just going down the list and like, we're asking them to, like do a quick sketch,” Baker said. “We send it to the owner, the owner gives it a checkmark, and then they go and do it.”

Some business owners didn’t want their buildings involved, but others did. Solomon said some of the seven buildings painted so far are being repaired, and the art is starting to come down. He and Baker are thinking about what to do next.

“What we are vaguely discussing is what does sort of a larger exhibit look like compiled of the work that has been done through Painted Black, and how can we incorporate more artists and get them paid,” Solomon said. “We're also looking into what does a nonprofit version of Painted Black look like, and how can that be something useful that doesn't already exist.”

Leaving a lasting impression of this moment of activism is part of why Bojorquez loves this project. She said she already sees this work as a part of history.

“These murals will be around for years, you know, these photos will be around for years,” Bojorquez said. “The artist is definitely like one of the most important people within the movement.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.