Mural in solidarity with BLM movement draws support from residents

Councilmembers expressed desire for mural alongside concerns about placement, precedent for other requests



Local activists spoke about painting a mural downtown at the city council meeting Tuesday night.

LUKE HUDSON, Evergreen reporter

A proposal from the Palouse in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter for a mural in downtown Pullman received support from several city officials though no vote was made on the topic.

Jason Kennedy, Pullman resident and activist, said the mural is intended to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement and vision, not any particular organization or business.

“There are many members of your own community who are scared to march,” he said.

Black Lives Matter is not saying all lives do not matter, Kennedy said. The movement is meant to express how Black lives deserve extra attention because of unequal treatment and systemic racism.

“We’re not asking for elevation or anything in that sort of form,” he said, “we’re asking for once to be equal.” 

Just putting up a billboard on a downtown business does not send the same message as the city taking a stance to support BLM, Kennedy said.

The proposal for this mural emerged alongside a surge of public outcry and discussion related to systemic racism and police brutality since the killing of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, by a White police officer.

Joe Hedges, WSU assistant professor of painting and intermedia, said the mural is a way for Pullman to create a sense of community pride, particularly for Black residents. 

“Public art is always a way to get people together in a room to talk about what the core values are of a community,” he said.

Hedges said all public art is contentious, but any art worth doing often creates conflict about how it should be done.

Hedges presented several designs done by other artists and groups across the U.S.A. as of now, the design of the mural in Pullman has yet to be decided, but it could be letters that read “Black Lives Matter” painted on a street.

He said research supports the idea that public art is good for cities in an economic sense because it encourages people to visit public spaces and put money back into the local economy.

Kennedy said people warned him about eastern Washington and western Idaho before moving from the west side of Washington. Since arriving seven years ago, he said he heard about several incidents of racism directed toward Black people.

“We’ve fought, we’ve argued, we’ve done all that and now we’re at the point where we have to start educating people,” he said.

Trymaine Gaither, WSU Honors College recruitment and career coordinator, said an online petition in support of the mural has received more than 700 signatures since it was published two days ago.

Gaither said the community wants this mural not because of the BLM organization but because its message of equality.

“I just wanted Pullman to be a place where [my sons] feel like they’re safe and belong, so that’s why I’m here,” Gaither said.

Pullman City Councilmember Brandon Chapman said he has worked closely with a number of people who presented and he stands with them. 

“I am darn proud of this group and others like it that are not here tonight that are willing to work with the city and work with the police,” he said.

He said the city put up the Wayside Welcome sign but should also consider doing something such as the mural as a way of saying “People are welcome downtown.”

Councilmember Dan Records said he echoes the support Chapman expressed and he is in favor of a public art installation. 

He said he is concerned about whether the mural would fit on the major downtown streets because they are both state highways. Painting on them could require approval from the Washington State Department of Transportation. 

Councilmember Al Sorensen said he was concerned approving a mural such as this would open the door for other groups to request similar public art pieces.

“I don’t see this as a permanent piece of art,” he said.

Sorensen said he wanted it to be clear he has no problem with the presentation but he wanted to bring up the precedent it may set.

The council did not vote on the mural proposal during the meeting.

Councilmembers did approve several resolutions after the presentation. The first authorized a reimbursement plan for past-due utility payments during COVID-19. This resolution also banned disconnections through Sept. 30. 

A second resolution permitted O-Ramen, a downtown restaurant, to arrange outdoor sidewalk seating as a way of serving more customers while maintaining social distancing.  

Orin Ford, owner of O-Ramen, said a maximum of six people would be able to sit outside at one table for two and one table for four.