The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 was a watershed moment. In cities all over the world, people reacted by taking to the streets and demanding immediate and comprehensive change to address systemic racism and associated social inequities affecting Black America.
As demonstrations grew in number and volume throughout the country and in Los Angeles, many Long Beach businesses took precautions the following weekend, boarding up their doors and windows in anticipation of civil unrest. Nevertheless, the forces accompanying the May 31 protest in Downtown were unexpected, especially on the heels of a global pandemic. However, immediately following the emotion and chaos of that night, a new kind of energy was unleashed: artistic expression, manifesting itself on boarded-up buildings throughout the City.
Across Long Beach – and particularly Downtown – scores of artists put their talent on display in an effort to convey messages of solidarity, hope, and progress. Some artists worked as part of a collective; others worked independently. Some of their murals portrayed powerful political messages and social commentary, and some were gentle reminders to embrace peace and love one another. Many addressed the issue of racial injustice in this country directly and incorporated the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA), in partnership with the Arts Council for Long Beach, collected as many of these murals as possible to preserve them for a future public exhibition.
Most of the murals were painted in the first two weeks of June. Soon after, with businesses eager to re-open, many of them began removing the mural panels that served to decoratively board up their storefronts. DLBA recognized the opportunity to preserve a significant moment in Long Beach history. “We jumped into collection mode, putting out calls to all [City] Council Districts, the Mayor’s office, and stakeholders on our social media outlets requesting that people save the murals,” said DLBA Placemaking Manager Mariah Hoffman. ” DLBA picked up Downtown mural panels and accepted deliveries from other areas of Long Beach through June 30.” In total, 20 murals were collected.
To store the growing number of mural contributions, DLBA secured use of a vacant establishment in The Streets shopping center with help from the center’s owner, Shooshani Developers, LLC. The murals will remain there until DLBA and the Arts Council for Long Beach figure out the best ways to present these creations, which are so emblematic of this remarkable time in history.
Long Beach artist Andrea James was moved to action after seeing many Downtown businesses impacted by vandalism on the news. “Originally, my idea was to go out myself onto the streets throughout Long Beach to paint peace signs and images of peace on as many walls as I could find,” said James. “I went out first thing Tuesday morning, June 2, and after three or four peace signs, I knew I needed help.
James continued, “I put a call out on social media, and within a day or two I had plenty of artists willing to help. Local artists such as Hugo Lomeli and Jack Kelly told their artist friends to come out and help, and before you knew it, we had a team painting Long Beach. . . . It turned into a movement of artists’ voices, which I named #lbpeaceproject. Many muralists ended up using this hashtag, which is the whole purpose: The more, the merrier.”
There will be a time in the near future when these vivid murals will be on display, prompting further reflection on the issues expressed so potently by the Long Beach artist community. The artwork affirms that the calls for social justice heard in the streets of Downtown Long Beach on May 31 will be remembered long after the discord is forgotten.