|The Historic West End is full of outdoor canvases. Social justice creative Janelle Dunlap has been working to assemble a team of Afrofuturism influenced visual artists and community organizers to help transform the empty walls and open lots into active community spaces. Through two community-focused mural projects titled “Manifesting Our Future” and “Proud History. Strong Future.” the 1600 block of W. Trade Street will become a mural art gallery created in collaboration with the community through a series of paint parties. The first Community Paint Party will take place on Friday, June 1st in conjunction with the Mosaic Live presents Black Music Month Celebration.
When it comes to creating these murals, Dunlap understands that it will take many hands to make them a reality. Visual artists Brittany Georgie, Sloane Siobhan, Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry will lead the visual implementation of the mural creation process. Dunlap explains, “We will be working to create a community engaged mural so it is not just something that pops up and looks pretty for people to just admire.” She continues, “It needs to be something that people really do cherish, so they take value in the space because they took part in creating it.”
THE COMMUNITY MURAL
In addition to bringing impactful visuals to the walls, the hope is that these public art pieces become an accepted part of the Historic West End identity. ”Historic black neighborhoods kind of have a presence through the arts. The art says, ‘Hey, this is a space where black people live. This is a place where black people have a legacy. It is a place where we have existed and plan to continue to exist,’” Dunlap explains. In order to help the murals become a part of the community identity, event programming connected to them that invite residents to be a part of the mural creation process will be key.
Dunlap has pulled in community organizer Tiffany Fant to handle the execution of the community engagement concepts connected to the project. “We are collaborating with Tiffany Fant on the Mosaic Live presents First Fridays series,” explains Dunlap. “We will be using her community engagement model (e.i. synergy through celebration). We will host Pop-up Paint Parties so residents can paint specific areas of the mural.” She continues, “The second phase will be creating an outdoor living room to bring welcoming spaces into vacant spaces such as the parking lot where the mural will be taking place.” The final phase of the community engagement will be outdoor painting classes led by Georgie and Siobhan. Dunlap explains, “This will allow people from the community to actually take a piece of the mural home. This will allow people to have public art that goes home to remind them that they are a part of a community.”
With this team of talented individuals handling the daily execution of the mural and the programming connected to it, Dunlap has become comfortable stepping into the role of the art administrator. With a decade of experience in the world of philanthropy and several social justice art fellowships under her belt, Dunlap now sees how her skill set can help widen the impact of the social justice work that needs to be done. She reflects on why she transitioned into the world of social justice art. “I needed to get out of the 9 to 5, nonprofit bubble. I was not making an impact in that space…There were very real and prevalent social issues that I was not able to address even though I was working in philanthropy.” The work of Marcus Kiser became a point of reference for Dunlap. She saw how his art helped to open the eyes of those in the world of philanthropy who are disconnected from the people and the communities receiving their donations.
Dunlap is now handling pre-production logistics, pulling in community collaborators, and coordinating various aspects of the mural project so she can empower other emerging artists and other artists of color who are seeking to address social issues through their art. ”With this mural project, and the work that I have been doing, it is really a way to help bring awareness that these communities are valuable and are valid as they are.” Dunlap continues, “They may have experienced these unfortunate events that come with urban decay, but it does not take away the value of their space.”
LET THE PAINT PARTY BEGIN
With the “Manifesting Our Future” and “Proud History. Strong Future.” mural projects, the visual artists are designing pieces with the West End residents in mind. Community organizer Fant will continue to regularly invite residents to be a part the mural painting process through Mosaic Live events. And, as the designs emerge on the walls, outdoor living room spaces will be created for residents to encourage casual discussions surrounding the social justice issues impacting the Historic West End that are highlighted in the murals.
Residents are invited to come out and meet the visual artists and community event programmers to discuss the upcoming mural projects. The first Community Mural Paint Party will be on Friday, June 1st during the Mosaic Live presents Black Music Month Event. Paint and a live DJ will be provided! At this Paint Party primer paint for the murals will go up on the retaining wall at the old A&P Grocery Store site (1600 W. Trade Street). With help from West End residents, the wall will be prepped for the mural in no time.