Shortly after the civil unrest that shook downtown Grand Rapids late in May, a team of artists and community members joined forces to activate boarded windows with messages of solidarity. They called the project #WindowsGR. Jasmine Bruce was one of the organizers.
“We developed it in about two days,” Bruce said. “It was really just a collective effort, and we moved really fast because we knew that it was something that needed to be done with quick intention so that we could emphasize the stories and voices that needed to be heard.”
There was an outpouring of support for the project. Even passersby could get involved.
“We started with an open call to whoever wanted to paint boards downtown, and we had over 200 people sign up,” Bruce said. “When we were down there on the first weekend, if you walked up and you wanted to paint and you had a sketch, we could find you a spot. As the weekend went on, and the week went on, we realized that the narrative started to shift from Black voices, and we really wanted to bring that back.”
So, to refocus the project, the team recruited more Black artists to participate and share their stories. But as one challenge was overcome, another sprung up in its place.
“We had some random bystanders that were throwing racial slurs at our painters,” Bruce said. “People are going to say stuff, and people are going to harass you, but you have to keep true to your intention and why we need to speak up in the first place as Black people in the community. I’m really proud of how we’ve all come together and just pushed through it all.”
Though the boarded windows of many downtown businesses were painted with proclamations of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Bruce wants to make one thing clear.
“‘Windows’ was created to emphasize Black voices and stories, and it wasn’t, and never was, a beautification project,” she said. “It was intentionally created by people of color for people of color. It’s a vehicle for change. So, let’s use that and take that anger and bad energy that people are feeling right now and really using art to transform that into something that is healing internally and also externally in our community and the world.”
When she’s not leading art activation projects like #WindowsGR, Bruce is working on paintings of her own.
“My painting style, if you had to label it, would definitely be surrealist,” she said. “I like combining super abstract elements with super realistic elements and storytelling at the same time. I’m still learning as I’m creating, but I really like that balance between these completely two opposite extremes and using that to be able to tell a story.”
For Bruce, painting is a holistic experience of expression and healing.
“I’m a pretty open-minded person, so I take a lot from different religions and find ways that I can combine them to make an understanding of them altogether,” she said. “I use my art as a healing mechanism, too, so being able to, as I’m creating my work, let whatever I’m going through out on the canvas is super therapeutic to me, and it’s something I’ve been learning in the process.”