“Black Lives Matter” street mural gets OK from board of public works, to be painted Saturday

At its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s board of public works cleared the way for the painting of a second “Black Lives Matter” street mural on Saturday.

The board approved the use of the public right-of-way on the block of 6th Street between Walnut Street and College Avenue, the north leg of the courthouse square.

The street will be blocked off to vehicle traffic for 14 hours on Saturday (April 17), from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

It will be the second such mural to be painted on a Bloomington street. The first was painted last year on the north-south segment of Elm Street next to the Banneker Community Center. That painting work, done by 83 community volunteers, was led by artists Christina Elem and Raheem Elmore, according to a city of Bloomington news release.

The murals were part of the city’s response to police violence against Black people in various places across the country last year, which resulted in local demonstrations. The killing in May 2020 by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, sparked many of the protests. Derek Chauvin, the officer who used his knee to pin down Floyd’s neck, is now on trial for Floyd’s murder.

The rain date for mural painting is May 1. The current forecast for Saturday calls for clouds but no rain.

One difference between the two murals is in the letter styling. The 6th Street mural will use plain block letters, according to a letter sent to surrounding businesses by Erik Pearson, the city’s program and facility coordinator at the Banneker Community Center.

Pearsons’s letter says that volunteers will work in 45-minute shifts. The volunteers have to wear masks the day and will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before starting, according to Pearson’s letter.

On March 31, the county health department granted a waiver to the mural painting organizers to exceed the gathering size specified in the current COVID-19 health regulations. The waiver allows for a maximum of 70 people.

The city council gave its approval for the use of public right-of-way for BLM street mural painting in late September last year. At that time the Elm Street location was known, with the second location to be determined. In late 2020, the choice of the 6th Street location was announced.

The city council’s September 2020 resolution did not have unanimous support.

Councilmember Dave Rollo said at the time, “I’d like to say that I overwhelmingly support Black Lives Matter, the sentiment.” He added, “That said, there is the sentiment and then there is a political organization called Black Lives Matter. And they’re often conflated. And this gives me some apprehension.”

Rollo said, “I am not in favor of using government funds to promote a political organization. I would be in favor of promoting the sentiment.” Rollo said because the sentiment and the political organization are often conflated and confused, it would be left for the public to interpret, which one is being promoted by the city of Bloomington.

Rollo described how there are court cases challenging cities that have adopted resolutions like the one the city council was being asked to support.

Rollo wrapped up his remarks by saying he’d abstain when the vote was taken, because of the potential for court challenges: “It’s far from clear exactly how that’s going to work out. I expect that we’ll probably have petitions from perhaps other political organizations. So, because of that apprehension, I will be passing this evening.”

The funding to pay artists to complete the Bloomington street murals was drawn from the Black Y Brown Arts Festival, which was canceled due to the COVID pandemic.

On Tuesday, the board of public works did not deliberate on the BLM street mural item. It was a part of the consent agenda, which includes items considered non-controversial and they are voted together, all in one step.

Monday’s consent agenda also included two approvals of mobile vendor renewals (push-carts) in the public right-of-way: Rasta Pops and Chocolate Moose.