'This Is History': Protest Precautions Give Charlotte Artists New Canvas

Jun 11, 2020

As the temperature crawled into the upper 80s Thursday afternoon in Charlotte, Kalli Moore had already been standing on South Tryon Street for about an hour, paintbrush in hand.

She wasn't about to let the heat get in the way as she started shading a black-and-white portrait of George Floyd on plywood in front of a boarded-up real estate office. That's because art, she said, has "a major role" in social movements like the one began after Floyd was killed May 25 by Minneapolis police.

Kalli Moore paints a portrait of George Floyd on a board that had been put in front of a business on South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte on Thursday.
Credit Dashiell Coleman / WFAE

"A lot of different people are drawn to it no matter what it is, if it's good, if it's bad – art is art," Moore said. "So, it's a way of expressing yourself without having to use words. Having people look at it and admire it, or they can hate it – it doesn't matter."

Moore was contributing to – and surrounded by – art that spoke to the moment. On Tuesday, several organizations teamed up with artists to paint the words "Black Lives Matter" on the pavement in the 200 block of South Tryon – right in the heart of uptown Charlotte. But the artwork didn't stop there. Many businesses on the block put boards in front of their windows after local protests began May 29, and by Thursday afternoon, those boards had turned into canvases popping with color.

One board had a black fist and the words "united we stand." Another had Floyd's name along with that of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March and Keith Scott, whose death at the hands of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in 2016 prompted widespread protesting in the city. Another still had an American flag combined with depictions of Africa, a rainbow and a heart encasing fists.

The list goes on. And all that art has been getting attention. The 200 block of South Tryon was something of a photo destination on Thursday, with people stopping by to take shots of the letters on the street and the murals on the boards. Even some recent graduates were posing in front of the boards in their caps and gowns.

Boards used to block the windows of businesses in the 200 block of South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte have become canvases for art.
Credit Dashiell Coleman / WFAE

That was OK by Jamil Dyair Steele, a local artist and teacher whose mural in front of a boarded-up restaurant was attracting quite a few onlookers.

Steele learned about the Black Lives Matter street mural on Tuesday and decided to come down and add his touch. He was able add a lend a hand on the letter M. But Steele didn't stop there.

He was back out on Tryon on the next day with a few buckets of paint and an idea on how to add his "style to the equation."

Steele got to work painting plywood. By Thursday afternoon, he'd made a lot of progress on a mural that showed three black protesters wearing COVID-19 face masks with their fists held high and a large Black Lives Matter banner streaming behind them.

"I wanted to show something that was strong and bold and represented the moment, because this is history in Charlotte," Steele said. "I'm proud to be a part of it."

Boards in front of businesses have been turned into canvases for artists in the 200 block of South Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte.
Credit Dashiell Coleman / WFAE

The Black Lives Matter mural on the pavement might be a lasting fixture in uptown, but the boards in front of businesses will come down before long. That's not lost on Steele.

"As an artist, you learn things are temporary," Steele said. "... You enjoy the moment. You appreciate it while it's here and you evolve, you keep going. I think that captures the essence of this moment because we're going to use this as a platform to make change, and we're going to bring about change.

"It's going to get better in this country."

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