Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s violent and public murder by a Minneapolis police officer (and the pent-up anger from many, many similar events over the years) Black Lives Matter became a continent-wide movement.
Here in Halifax, after rallies held on Spring Garden Road, in front of the police station and elsewhere, city hall reacted in its own way by throwing down a pair of large, yellow-lettered murals on the pavement, stating the obvious: Black Lives Matter.
When they were painted last September, the murals—one on Brunswick Street and one on Alderney Drive in Dartmouth—were criticized because the city took the idea from local BIPOC artist Aaliyah Paris and ran with it, leaving her out of the process. Instead the lettering was painted by Lower Sackville construction company Gramac Limited.
Now, after almost a year of being driven over, the words are fading and the city says it will be repainting what it calls an “art installation” on each side of the harbour. The initial project cost almost $10,000, and the price is expected to be similar this year. A Request for Quote will be released on the city’s public website in the coming weeks, and HRM says the decision to repaint was apparently made in February 2021 by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion/African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office.
But similar to last year, HRM has once again failed to consult the community whose ideas it is using. A municipal communications rep says “conversations with community members who requested similar initiatives have taken place and engagement with the municipality’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion/African Nova Scotian Affairs Integration Office is ongoing. However, community engagement specific to these art installations was not undertaken.”
Paris’s original vision was for an art project created by a group of BIPOC Haligonians. “I wanted the mural to be a community-based thing with BIPOC community members helping out, not city workers doing a street installation,” she said at the time.
Local artist Bria Miller recalls how the city treated Paris last fall. “Even though she raised the funds, the city wouldn't allow the youth to work with local artists as planned to create something more meaningful,” says Miller in an email to The Coast. “They brought up permits and gatekeeped away from executing the awesome idea.” Paris was even warned she could face charges for painting an unauthorized street mural.
So while it’s good for the streets to say Black Lives Matter—Miller agrees the murals are encouraging for BIPOC youth who will see them—the way the city’s going about it makes a different kind of statement. As Miller puts it, “the action of painting the street feels performative and disconnected from the statement itself. It is tone deaf and doesn't feel genuine.”