For residents of both Ferguson and St. Louis as a whole, November 2014 will always be remembered as a dark time. After a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown that past August, frustration manifested itself in protests that sometimes turned ugly.
No matter what side of the issue St. Louisans fell on, the boarded-up windows of damaged or destroyed businesses were a disheartening sight. But despite the bleak reality, Ferguson residents began seeing something beautiful happen. Artists and volunteers alike rolled in to paint over the boarded up windows of each damaged business.
Drab wooden boards became covered with various images of hope. Vibrant pictures of birds, peace signs and other images of progress appeared all over Ferguson, messages encouraging peace and love.
Photo by Kelly Ray.
Two years later, these murals will be honored in an exhibition called Outside In: Paint for Peace, presented by COCA at its Millstone Gallery(524 Trinity Avenue).
This exhibition is set to start COCA’s 30th year on a memorable note. Patrons will be able to view the original paintings of the volunteers, some done by professionals and others who were simply self-taught.
“I really appreciate the energy that these artists had with these pieces,” says guest curator Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris. “I’ve worked with many self-taught artists like these before, and the spontaneity that people bring to their craft is something you wouldn’t have with formal training.” After volunteering with the Peace Corps and working for the United Nations Development Program in places all over the world, she is no stranger to the power of art within communities of all kinds.
Another unique aspect of this exhibition is the idea of displaying street art in a gallery setting. “That’s why we call it Outside In,” says Lewis-Harris. “People wanted to change the conversation in the media by displaying something positive in the street. Now it’s become fine art!”
Although these pieces now hang in galleries, they were once simply meant to bring hope to a shocked, grieving community. Instead of wallowing in frustration, these murals allowed people to process their grief and begin looking for a way to move on and progress. The keys to that could be found painted in bright, bold letters all over the city – to heal they would need hope, understanding, patience and love.
“The overarching message behind this exhibition is hope,” said Lewis-Harris. “Despite everything, we will rise above.”
Photo by Ryan Archer.
Outside In: Paint for Peace will be a free exhibition displayed at COCA and various other locations throughout the city from August 27-November 19. For more information, see the exhibition website.