Street Art with a Message

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Photos by Kenny Johnson

Bringing the Kansas City community together one paintbrush at a time.

There is a disparity in how Black people experience America. That was the core concept for Crissy Dastrup, the legislative aide to the 4th District and co-visionary with Damian Lair for Kansas City’s Art on the Block Black Lives Matter street murals. [Editor’s Note: Lair is a regular columnist of this magazine; read his take on the project in his Our Man IN KC column] “Painting on the streets is powerful and cements that this is important to us,” Dastrup says. “It’s on the street all day, every day. You don’t have to wait to hear about it in an interview or see a protest come through. It’s there every single day for you to see and reminds you that this is our priority.”

The pair enlisted Justice Horn and Marissa Iden, along with partners Black Space Black Art, the Urban League, and NAACP, and set in motion a plan to orchestrate a monumental operation that included thousands of texts, hundreds of documents, dozens of volunteers, and a new city resolution.

Inspired by Black artists and leaders around the nation, they set up to protect two sacred communal concepts: the power of art and everyone’s duty to acknowledge the significance of Black lives.

Six artists—Vivian Wilson Bluett, Adrianne Clayton, Warren Harvey, Avrion Jackson, Harold Smith, and Michael Toombs—were commissioned to turn this premise into murals that would embody the mood of the BLM movement and each of the six communities where they were located. From Briarcliff to Brookside, thick lines, vibrant colors, cultural symbols, and names of the deceased defined this promise for Kansas City.

On September 5, it all came together.

With smooth rhythm and blues filling the air at 18th & Vine, art teacher Adrianne Clayton managed the painting of her history-inspired design. “Just being able to incorporate the jazz, the Negro League centennial, and Black excellence of the past into the design is amazing,” Clayton say of her contribution. For her, much of her vision is about preserving the integrity of the BLM movement while celebrating the contributions of Black people throughout history.

Vivian Wilson Bluett, the artist of the Brookside mural, was aware that her design is located right in front of a school. Names of victims of police brutality fill the letters of her mural, but she also mindfully paints children into the design. This message is to be inherited by the next generation. Wilson says, “I want to add images of children so they can see themselves reflected in the conversations that need to be had in our households and our schools about police brutality and that Black lives matter.”