Artists respond to social injustice through projects downtown

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Amid the protests, cries for social justice and a need for education, businesses and artists have shown their support for Black Lives Matter through murals and paintings in downtown Grand Rapids.

Hannah Berry, owner of the educational space Lions & Rabbits, is one of the organizers for these projects and spends her time collaborating with local artists, volunteering on community boards and planning large creative placemaking projects.

She said the idea originally stemmed from Guillermo Soleto with whom she had been working on a legal graffiti wall. After speaking with him about the projects, a larger company in the downtown area asked for its windows to be painted.

“It was then that I knew I had the weight of the businesses behind the windows to push it forward if we were going to receive flak,” Berry said. “Within two days, I asked some of my fellow colleagues that are artists of color to chat. This initial conversation was (to) ensure that the proper messaging is communicated with respect and equitable artistic opportunities for our community in Grand Rapids — with the right leadership.”

This project showcased several artists already working with Lions & Rabbits who have used their talents to promote the BLM message.

Berry said while there were a few people who strongly disliked this project, most of Grand Rapids demonstrated their support of the artists and many were “overwhelmed with happiness.”

“Initially, this was inspired by my desire to paint just for painting’s sake,” said Guillermo, one of the lead artists. “After Hannah assembled this amazing team, we were able to take a step back and see this as something way bigger than ourselves. We all agreed that we needed to seize this opportunity to allow our black and brown community to use this platform to be seen and heard.

“We really want our community, both locally and nationally, to hear the words and stories of Black people, specifically those of Black artists. Our city has a history of quietly subverting the Black artist when it comes to opportunities like murals, gallery showings, hiding their art in low-traffic areas during ArtPrize. The project has afforded us this ‘front and center’ venue for us to display the voices and messages of a community that is still angry, still healing and still needs to be heard.”

To see more murals, visit Instagram.

Gallery photos courtesy Hannah Berry

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