“Our whole city was hurting, and the whole world was looking at us. And sometimes, when you don’t know what else to do, creating something beautiful in the face of so much ugliness is the only thing you can do.” —Andy Cross
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. This set off a chain of events which led to protests and property destruction as well as multiple discussions, forums, lawsuits and investigations, putting a spotlight on our city and our country’s continued struggle with racial inequality.
This exhibition consisted of a unique and energetic collection of painted panels selected from more than 100 Ferguson and St. Louis businesses impacted by the vandalism that accompanied some of the protests. The works of art represented both the collaborative and singular work of artists and community members responding to the pain, frustration, shock and anger felt by many.
When viewing the works, one could observe the multiple media used, from acrylic to markers and spray paint. It is significant that many of the works were spontaneous group collaborations that are aesthetically beautiful while presenting a specific but universal message of hope, peace, and unity.
The paintings fell into two loose categories, symbolic and text-driven. Swirls of bright color, flowers, hearts, children’s hand and foot prints, trees and birds—primarily the dove, the eagle and the phoenix—symbolized hope and strength. The text-driven panels featured familiar encouraging quotes from the Bible, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mother Theresa, and Lao Tzu. There were a few with specific messages such as “One Love,” “Come Together” and “We Are Them.”
The exhibition, Outside In: Paint for Peace, chronicled a community response through art at a unique and powerful moment in the history of Ferguson, St. Louis, the region, and the nation.
Outside In: Paint for Peace was presented by Regions Bank. The Millstone Gallery at COCA is presented by the Arthur and Helen Baer Charitable Foundation with additional support from the Millstone Foundation and the Missouri Arts Council.
The exhibition was curated by Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris, Associate Professor and Director of the Connecting Human Origin and Cultural Diversity Program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Special thanks to Carol Swartout Klein, contributing artists and businesses, and to Jacob Farmer, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Michelle Roberts, Ferguson Youth Initiative, Terry Suhre, Katie Van Allen and Freida Wheaton for their help with the exhibition.