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‘Hands Up' Project Calls Artists To Respond To Ferguson As North City Mural Shifts Focus

Salon 53 gallery owner Freida Wheaton's "Hands Up" response
De’Joneiro Jones

The artistic response to the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hand of a Ferguson police officer is gaining momentum.

Freida Wheaton, founder of the Alliance of Black Art Galleries, issued a call to local artists today to channel their feelings into works of art. Responses to her “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Artists Respond” project will result in an exhibition, planned for this fall.

To get the ball rolling, Wheaton created her own response: a photo of herself with raised hands, in front of a painting by artist De’Joneiro Jones, in which she wears a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” T-shirt.

“It is essentially protest art,” Wheaton said.

There are no parameters around the call. Artists may respond in whatever medium and in any manner they choose. Black artists and all others are asked to contribute.

Wheaton said this is an opportunity to document Brown’s killing and the resulting unrest in Ferguson. By design, the exhibition will have 250 works.

“It’s significant that it’s during the 250th anniversary of St. Louis, and this is a part of our history in the city,” Wheaton said.

Wheaton, who owns Salon 53 gallery in north St. Louis, hopes to open the exhibition in mid-October. It may be shown in multiple venues, including Salon 53 and other Alliance of Black Art Galleries spaces. She’s also looking into possible venues in the city of Ferguson.

In addition, Wheaton has alsoissued a national call for artists’ response on the Black Art in America website.

Wheaton will be among a group of artists and arts supporters meeting for a second time tonight at the Regional Arts Commission in University City.

Rise Up Festival Mural To Promote Peace

A key part of a Thursday night festival in north St. Louis has changed focus to be more in tune with the events in Ferguson.

TheRise Up festivalwas announced some weeks ago. The event, scheduled for 6-10 p.m., includes a live mural painting by graffiti artist Peat Wollaeger.

Festival producer Larry Perlmutter, who works at Rise, said Ferguson unrest prompted them to ask Wollaeger to work around a theme of peace.

“Violence is never a good solution to any problems no matter what the situation is,” Perlmutter said. “We just want to incorporate that message that people should come together for peaceful conflict resolution.”

File photo of Peat Wollaeger
Credit Nancy Fowler
File photo of Peat Wollaeger

Wollaeger’s original plan for the mural was a geometric design featuring houses and upward arrows. The changes will be incorporated into that theme.

“I’ve added some upraised hands and some hands giving peace signs,” Wollaeger said.

The raised hands are a reference to what Michael Brown reportedly did before he was shot, but only a small one.

“It’s a nod but it’s definitely not just that,” Wollaeger said.

The hands are primarily included to support a theme of unity.

“Communities rising up together as one,” Wollaeger explained.

The blank canvas of Wollaeger's mural
Credit Nancy Fowler
The blank canvas of Wollaeger's mural in Crown Square's Chess Pocket Park

Between the hours of  6-9 p.m., festival-goers are invited to get involved in the mural by painting through Wollaeger’s stencils.

Will the Ferguson shooting and unrest affect Wollaeger's future work? On one hand, he’s not sure. On the other, it seems inevitable.

“We’re all inspired by what’s going on right now,” he said. “I don’t know how it wouldn’t affect all of us.”

The Rise Up festival also includes an art exhibition, food trucks, a kids’ area and two music stages with a lineup of five artists. The mainstage headliner is the Dirty Muggs, with Bottom Up Blues Gang headlining the blues stage.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.