WILMINGTON — After city council voted earlier in the fall for the 130-foot, 19-sign creation to come down from Jervay Memorial Park, “Black Lives Do Matter: End Racism Now” has found a new home.
Well, at least all 18 letters have. The end-note sign will not be moving to Cameron Art Museum, where BLDM will be on display on the museum grounds for six months starting mid-January.
“They just wanted the art pieces — not really the ‘end racism now’ part,” Janna Robertson told Port City Daily. “That wasn’t art; it just was a sign.”
It’s one of the contingencies put on the installation back in 2020, at the height of civil rights protests nationwide in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Robertson and Greyson Davis approached city council to install “Black Lives Matter,” first pitched to be painted on Third Street in front of city hall.
After much debate — with one council member calling the message outright “racist” — council adopted city speech for the installation. Staff suggested it read “Black Lives Do Matter: End Racism Now” to stand apart from the national organization Black Lives Matter and erected as an installation in Jervay Memorial Park rather than being painted on a downtown roadway.
Robertson and Davis launched Eighteen Forward, an arts collective created to bring together the community, primarily Black artists, to create the work. Each of the 18 letters showcase various cultural and historical references to Wilmington’s community.
Designs depict mandala-like drawings in homage to the area’s premier Black artist Minnie Evans and illustrations of the 1898 Memorial reflecting resiliency. There are portraits of Maya Angelou and James Baldwin and messages of acceptance, such as “Love Somebody.”
“I’m really grateful it is going to get a new audience,” Robertson said. “And CAM supports the message and it legitimizes the whole thing as art.”
Robertson will take down the work starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19, numbering every bolt and associated cross pieces that go with every letter before putting it in storage. The city will help haul the 8-foot letters to CAM next month, Robertson said.
The exhibit will open the same weekend as CAM’s annual Peace Flag display. Community members decorate flags with sentiments of hope, love and peace in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The flags hang around the pond, which is also where the BLDM installation will be erected, visible when traveling 17th Street.
“We’re super hyped that CAM stands with us in continuing to move this message forward,” Davis said in a press release. “From start to finish, this was a labor of love for all of us and we can’t wait for people to see it in the context of what it is — a momentously dope piece of art!”
CAM’s education team is working with Davis — who is an art teacher at GLOW Academy and volunteers at the museum — on events and activities that give more context to the artwork.
“Community and education lie at the core of CAM’s mission, and we look forward to creating programming around this installation that not only celebrates the artists of Eighteen Forward, but also celebrates the subjects of the work captured in each letter,” executive director Anne Brennan said in the release.
After its six-month display, the installation will find a permanent home, according to Robertson. She is in talks with four different agencies.
“I thought about having it as a traveling exhibition to multiple museums,” she said, “but, really, it belongs here, in one place in Wilmington.”
Black Lives Do Matter will open Saturday, Jan. 14, and remain up through Sunday, May 28. It joins other outdoor works celebrating Black artists and Wilmington history on CAM’s grounds, including “Boundless” by Stephen Hayes located in the USCT Park.
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