The Bloomington City Council voted 8-0-1 Wednesday to endorse the installation of two street murals in October that will say “Black lives matter.”
Following dozens of cities across the country, the Banneker Community Center Advisory Council will spearhead Bloomington’s own “Black lives matter” street murals on Elm Street and a downtown location that has yet to be determined.
The advisory council is seeking out three artists of color, who will each paint one word in each of the murals. The artists will be paid using the city’s funds that were allocated for this year’s Black y Brown Arts Festival, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City council member Jim Sims said the proposal for the murals has support from the mayor’s office, Community and Family Resources Department, Economic and Sustainable Development Department and the Public Works Department. The Board of Public Works will hear the proposal next Tuesday.
Nichelle Whitney, member of the Banneker Community Center Advisory Council, said the proposal is about more than just painting murals. She said it’s a way to keep the city accountable for officials’ vows to support people of color, especially Black and Indigenous community members.
Advisory council member Autumn Brunelle said it’s important the city take an explicitly antiracist stance. She said many community members share her viewpoint.
City council member Dave Rollo was the only member who didn’t vote to endorse the project, instead choosing to abstain. He said he does “overwhelmingly support” the sentiment that Black lives matter, but he was apprehensive about the proposed murals.
“There are injustices that need to be addressed and corrected in our society,” Rollo said. “That said, there is sentiment, and then there is a political organization called Black Lives Matter. And they're often conflated.”
Rollo said he doesn’t want the public to think government money is being used to promote a political organization.
Other council members expressed an outpouring of support for the murals. Council member Susan Sandberg said she thinks art is an effective way to engage the community in complex issues.
“In this time of tremendous turmoil in our nation, in our community, all across the country — these voices need to be heard, these artworks need to be seen,” Sandberg said.
Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith mentioned the mural in People’s Park that was painted over with the phrase “Black lives matter” this summer.
“Whoever cleverly snuck in there and did it, I thought it was a good addition,” she said. “We can't say it often enough that Black lives matter.”
Sims said it’s the city’s turn to take a stand against systemic racism. Sims said the IU community has already started, using the Indiana Daily Student’s newly launched Black Voices section as an example. He said he believes the murals would help chip away at systemic inequalities in the city and beyond.
“What it will do is create dialogue, I hope, and that's what I foresee,” Sims said. “And what that will serve to do is educate a broader local community on our racial equity issues.”
Sean Starowitz, Bloomington assistant director for the arts, presented part of the proposal wearing a shirt that said “say her name” across the chest. The phrase has widely been used in reference to Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black Louisville woman who was killed by police in March.
Starowitz said Wednesday was a historic day, in part because Sept. 23 is the date Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted in 1955.
“And as we've seen in Louisville today, the justice system failed Breonna Taylor and her family as well,” he said, referencing how one of three police officers who killed Taylor was indicted Wednesday for putting Taylor’s neighbors in danger.
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