When the Poe Museum boarded up its windows and doors last month, they used it as an opportunity to collaborate with Mending Walls RVA and create messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When riots and protests started crowding the streets and attracting national attention about a month ago here in Richmond, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, located in Shockoe Bottom, were concerned about potential damage during riots, and decided to board up their windows and doors.
However, after some reflecting on how to support the Black Lives Matter movement, Aaron-Paula Thompson, executive director at the Poe Museum, and Hamilton Glass, the creator of Mending Walls RVA — a new local public art project that brings artists of varying backgrounds together to address current situations in society — decided that having Glass’ artists paint meaningful messages on the boards that would express the Black Lives Matter movement was a much better idea than simply leaving bare boards over their windows.
“We thought that this was a great opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons,” Thompson said. “[We wanted to] use this as the palette to share that we’re part of the Black Lives Matter movement, that we care about what goes on in our community, and that we’re engaged, and we’re aware.”
The theme of the artwork was “We need to talk,” a slogan conveying how tough conversations on topics like race relations and social injustices need to be brought to light in society.
“A lot of people are opening their eyes and seeing things for the first time, or seeing things in a different way for the first time,” Glass said. “And we need to like start embarking on those hard conversations that lead that to situations like [the] George Floyd [protests] and Black Lives Matter movement.”
Thompson said that, while Poe lived in many towns and many towns “claim” him, Richmond is the place he actually claimed and called home. Given this, it’s extremely important, Thompson said, that the Poe Museum step up and represent what artists like Poe would’ve thought or said in today’s day in age about social issues.
From idea to fruition, the project took less than a week. Thompson contacted Glass on Friday June 12th. Artists were working on the project the next Tuesday, and were finished with it on Wednesday the 17th.
Thompson described connecting with Glass and his artists as a moment of “synchronicity.” “There was an incredible amount of momentum with this project,” she said. “It was really positive; artists were painting in the rain. That’s how excited people were to be a part of this.”
Jowarnise Caston, an artist who worked on the boards, said painting the boards was an amazing experience, even with the rain.
“I knew that I wanted to be part of something that uses art for healing, especially where we are today,” Caston said. “It was an amazing time to be able to come together and collaborate, meaning we were forced to have the conversation that we’re pushing others to have.”
Caston also said that pairing artists of different races and backgrounds together despite the differencdes they may have, especially when working on something unifying like this, makes her proud to lead by example.
Bringing people from different backgrounds together is something Glass also prides himself on. In fact, in an upcoming project he’s starting in July, Glass will be commissioning 16 murals about connection and empathy by 16 different pairs of artists.
“The purpose of it is for those collaborations to inspire connection and continue the conversation that we’re starting to have,” Glass said.
After the plywood boards are taken down from the Poe Museum, Glass and Thompson said they’ll be auctioned off to benefit a nonprofit organization, though they don’t know which one yet.
Thompson said Glass and his team of artists should get all the credit for the work on the museum. She’s just pleased the Poe Museum gets to showcase the work in some way.
“Hamilton and his group of artists should get a tremendous amount of credit for this work,” Thompson said. “We’re just like the gallery that gets to show it, and we’re very excited.”
Photos via Poe Museum/Facebook