In the midst of racial justice protests last summer in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police, many businesses in Minneapolis boarded up their windows with plywood. Now, nearly a year later, the plywood that once boarded up the city has found new life as artwork honoring the fight for racial justice.
Located in an industrial building in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, the boards immortalize the narrative of what happened to Floyd and the fight against institutionalized racism. Some feature paintings of Floyd’s face, others depict raised fists or calls for justice in a multitude of different languages. Decorating these boards was an outlet for many to creatively express the sadness, anger, and frustration they felt and continue to feel about the situation.
After noticing the beauty and depth of the artwork splashed across storefronts around the city, local resident Kenda Zellner-Smith collected the boards and founded the plywood art initiative, called Save the Boards. Simultaneously Leesa Kelly founded Memorialize the Movement to document what happened in the city and ensure it is contextualized in history. The two later joined forces to combine their projects.
Although the artists who created most of the pieces are unknown, there is a certain magic in the fact that the boards are not the product of one single artist or even a group, but rather a collection of community expression.
Organizers are looking for a permanent space to share the boards with the public, but until then, the project is being photographed and documented by researchers from the University of St. Thomas so they can share the collection online. Zellner-Smith and Kelly have also partnered with the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery to display 200 of the boards in Phelps Field Park this spring, less than a mile from where Floyd was killed.
Image source: NPR