Delaware artists remodel boarded home windows into paintings
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The morning after riots broke out in Wilmington following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, friends and business partners Jonathan Whitney and Eliza Jarvis came up with an idea as city business owners began the process of cleaning up.
They wanted to connect young artists with businesses boarding up their windows.
“How can we respond? How can we empower young artists in this moment, not so much as to heal, but to continue this energy into ways that change begins to happen?,” Whitney says.
If we can get a few donors and some store owners willing to turn their storefront into a work of art, the duo thought, we can transform those blank wooden monuments from painful reminders into powerful messages of justice, love and inclusion.
That morning, they were on the ground on Market Street with fellow project co-founder Arden photographer Joe del Tufo asking business owners what they thought, even though the dazed owners had only started to absorb what had just happened.
WINDOWS ON OUR WORLD
So far, a total of four artists of color have been commissioned for the project.
Spaceboy Clothing on Market Street was the first to give the OK, just a week after clean-up began. The piece was completed not too long after on June 14 by Wilmington artist James Wyatt.
Next came Blitzen, the Christmas pop-up bar, which had two murals, recently removed for their opening. Those works were by Wilmington artists Erica Jones and JaQuanne LeRoy.
The most recent piece, an eye-catching mixed-media work, was completed recently at the jazz club Nomad Bar on Orange Street by 24-year-old artist Jannah Williams, who goes by J the Artist.
MIXED MEDIA REPLACES JAZZ AT NOMAD BARS
At Nomad, Williams worked for several days, creating a stunning mixed-media piece that uses newspaper clips and old racist fliers as a base; on top are paintings of the faces of people who matter in this moment.
They include civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Shirley Chisholm; and former President Barack Obama. Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death while jogging in Georgia earlier this year, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Kentucky in her home, also are included.
Taylor, wearing a wide smile, is in the center of the biggest project of William’s young career. Taylor was two years older than Williams when she was shot six times in a botched police raid earlier this year.
The piece’s title is scrawled across the top in black letters dripping with red: “All We Want Is A Better World Than This.” A message of “Black Lives Matter” and “You Matter” also are included.
“I wanted to show the history of what we’re fighting for today goes back years and years and years,” says Williams, who studied art at Delaware State University. “And we’re still fighting for it in different ways, but history is repeating itself as well.”
It took about 40 hours to complete, stretched across two weeks and was completed last week.
Just like at the other sites, passersby would stop and watch the artists work, getting a rare look at the process over several days. Some even asked artists about their work and what it means.
“Those are important conversations,” says Whitney, who co-founded Flux Creative Consulting with Jarvis earlier this year. “When I was at Blitzen and saw little girls walking by that bigger-than-life painting, (it) is powerful.
“Yes, the panels are a blight. Yes, we wish they weren’t there. But let’s use them to push a message that we should keep moving forward because there are some great things happening.”
LOOKING FOR DONATIONS
The project is so scrappy and homegrown that it doesn’t even have a name, getting off the ground with help of initial donors: Whitney’s brother Benjamin and his mentor at DuPont, F. Renarde Hill.
“The focus has been on finding ways to make it happen, not a name,” says Whitney, also artist-in-residence at downtown’s Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew.
The artists behind the first three works at Spaceboy and Blitzen each received $500. Williams got $650 when more donors stepped up, including Wilmington non-profit Cityfest, which solicits sponsorship and grants to help, in part, fund arts programming.
Whitney is still searching for donors to keep the project going. Donations can be made at hcityfestwilm.com. Make note that it is for the storefront mural project.
“We wanted top amplify the voices of these artists. A lot of times, finding the canvass and the funds are what keeps them from that and we wanted to take away that barrier,” Whitney says. “We wanted to say, ‘Go, speak!’ ”
When the project is complete, organizers hope it will find a home in a museum or another artistic space in or around the city.
But before that, Buccini/Pollin Group will partner with organizers to create a sidewalk art gallery.
It will be located at The Residences at Midtown Park retail storefronts on Ninth Street between Shipley and Orange streets, Buccini/Pollin Vice President of Design and Marketing Sarah Lamb revealed to Delawareonline/The News Journal.
The murals will be lit and displayed inside so the public can visit the gallery safely from the outside. A completion date has not yet been announced.
“We recognize that June of 2020 will go down in history as an important time of civil discourse in our city, and the nation as a whole,” she says. “The artwork that emerged after the nationwide protests plays an important role in this narrative, and we at BPG want to ensure that the murals, as well as the celebration of the artists themselves, can continue to engage our community.”
ART LIVES ON
For Whitney, the Nomad Bar exhibit is especially meaningful.
As a jazz drummer, he has spent many nights with his back against the other side of that boarded up window, playing with his band, The Whitney Project.
He releases his debut album, “Life’s Dimensions,” on Monday with an in-person album release concert at Wilmington’s Christina Cultural Arts Center on Friday at 7 p.m. It will also be livestreamed as part of the city’s Clifford Brown Year-Round series.
He couldn’t help but think of the old days as Williams painted.
“That’s the gathering spot for jazz musicians. And that special place is part of this conversation,” he says. “And if Nomad was open, I’d be playing there and doing what she does, just in a different medium.”