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“Black Lives Matter” Mural: From community effort to Seattle partnership

On October 3rd, 2020 local artists completed a full-scale revamp of Capitol Hill’s historic “Black Lives Matter” mural, which originally came to be on June 11th, 2020.  Its original conception organically arose as a community-led effort at the onset of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), where 16 artists painted their respective styles and collective sentiments to each letter as tensions surrounding police brutality and systematic reform grew.  Due to tarnishing and an unauthorized sealing of the letters in the months that followed, the artists were asked to return to restore and upgrade the mural, as well as establish its permanency – this time with the partnership of the City of Seattle. 

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian The 16 original artists who completed the mural were asked to return for the renovation project in partnership with the City of Seattle.
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist Amaris O. Hamer paints the original “V” of the Black Lives Matter mural on June 11th, 2020. 

Amaris O. Hamer, one of the contributing local artists, was tasked to repaint the “V” of the mural, an opportunity that she intended to see through despite the discernible energetic shift to a city-run ownership of the project.  “This time around it was city-sanctioned, where we were compensated by the city, and part of the process was for us to submit proposals showing sketch images of what our letters would look like if we decided to change anything.”  Unlike that of the initial conception of the mural, artists now had to seek and await approval from the city before proceeding with their contributions.

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist Aramis O. Hamer returned to restore and re-paint her originally assigned letter “V.”
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian City of Seattle donated all of the supplies for the mural revamp, which was completed on October 3rd, 2020.

“Personally, for me, this has been a bittersweet journey.  Frustrations with the city, frustrations with the people who oppose this message being created.”  Hamer emphasized the divided nature of this project, how much polarization has erupted among the residents who decry the Black Lives Matter movement.  This, in turn, resulted in a relationship with the City of Seattle that felt inauthentic to the underlying cause of the artists’ intentions and, more broadly, of the movement nationwide.

Jordan Somers A portion of the near-completed letter “A” of the Black Lives Matter mural.

“Just because it’s a radical statement, doesn’t mean that we don’t have a right to make this statement.”  Hamer noted the once radical notion of Black people having rights, which has translated into a both implicit and outspoken present-day misunderstanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.  “There’s still a large part of this city that isn’t happy with this message getting created, about it being a Seattle landmark.  And for me, personally, that’s more of a reason to know we had to follow through with this project.” 

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artists and City of Seattle went to great lengths to ensure the mural was etched into the street, ensuring the paint was properly bonded and imprinted.

The newfound partnership with the City of Seattle served as a mixed bag of valued support and cultural disconnect.  “For us it’s frustrating, because we came out guerilla style on June 11th with no permission, and said we are going to do this.  And [this time] the city reached out to us, and said they want to make it a permanent landmark.”  Hamer continues, “And of course, I’m honored.  We all felt honored.  At the same time, I feel torn as every creative would feel torn, because in the end it feels very commercial. To know that people are going to take selfies in front of a Black Lives Matter mural,” Hamer says, “where Black lives were lost, where CHOP was created, where police brutality actually happened, is actually a bittersweet process.” 

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian City of Seattle finalized the permanency of this mural using a high heat source to bond the paint to the pavement.

City of Seattle fully funded this project, which, Hamer mentions, meant a great deal to her and the other contributing artists.  “[The city] paid us an artist fee on top of all the materials – all the paints, all the brushes. They blocked off the road, they had a crew out there.  They literally fully funded the project.”  However, Hamer also notes, “the first go-around we still didn’t have to pay for anything because the community donated everything.  The paint, the brushes, the support.  Everything.”  “When I just think about how every time people in the community were advocating for this, that’s what really warms my heart.”

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist Amaris O. Hamer carefully touches up her assigned letter “V.”
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian A portion of the second “A” of the Black Lives Matter mural.

“It’s truly amazing for the city to say they want to keep this, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that this piece was created because George Floyd was murdered.”  Hamer named countless other individuals whose lives were taken, including Treyvon Martin and Breonna Taylor, implying an ongoing theme that has transpired for centuries.  A heightened pressure was also felt due to an October 3rd contractual deadline with the city that had to be met.  “I don’t like being rushed in a way when we’re all trying to emotionally process so much,” added Hamer.   

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist @artbreakerbt makes headway on his assigned “A” letter days before the mural’s Saturday completion.
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist @artbreakerbt takes a moment to pose for the camera while painting his assigned letter.

The media coverage also played a role in the atmospheric shift of the project.  Hamer and other artists felt an incessant tension and imposition from reporters.  “The media has been coming to us in such an incorrect, aggressive, hurry-hasty manner, and that’s not what this is about.”

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artists painted a variety of styles, symbols and sentiments, utilizing a vast supply of vibrant paint colors supplied by the City of Seattle.

Hamer and contributing artists completed the mural at the intended time, and the block-wide piece has now become a permanent fixture in Seattle’s Capitol Hill.  Despite the city’s volatile response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamer intends to keep busy with her activism and artistic contributions as unprecedented times continue to unfold.

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Some of the artists take a break to converse and collaborate as the painting deadline looms on Saturday, October 3rd.
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian Artist @thesoufender poses atop his near-completed letter “K.”

“Change is going to be inconvenient.  Us having 12 meetings with the city was inconvenient.  Us submitting contracts, submitting a budget. drafting up a proposal.  It was an inconvenient process.  But at the end of the day we wanted the message to stay for years to come, for people to know that we are putting our stake in the ground.  And we are claiming unapologetically that we are worthy.”

Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian The beginning of the Black Lives Matter mural, which spans from 10th to 11th Avenue East and Pine Street.
Jordan Somers | The Seattle Collegian All contributing artists pose for a picture at the near completion of the mural revamp on Saturday, October 3rd.
Jordan Somers

Jordan Somers is currently in his second year of Visual Media at Seattle Central College. He specializes in photojournalism and documentary work, with a particular emphasis on social movements happening throughout the city. His 2020 documentary, Hope is Not Cancelled, was an official selection at the Local Sightings Film Festival, and won an award for best editing at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival. Jordan is an avid traveler when granted the opportunity, and has a keen interest in psychology and existential philosophy.

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