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Black artists transform downtown Durham

By Henry Haggart

As protests continued around the country over George Floyd dying while in police custody on a Minneapolis street, a portion of downtown Durham was transformed.

Vibrant murals now coat boards installed over storefront windows on and near West Main Street to protect businesses in case violence broke out here.

Workers board up windows of a downtown business on June 1.

After a series of peaceful protests in Durham, community organizers from Art Ain’t Innocent, an arts advocacy group, and other volunteers linked business owners to local black artists. Since then, 23 artists have completed 24 murals in downtown storefronts. 

Mural on the door by Megan Bowser

Businesses and the Durham Artist Relief Fund compensated artists for the works, whose content creators controlled.  The NorthStar Church of the Arts continues to collect donations to support Durham artists affected by the pandemic, especially “BIPOC artists, transgender & nonbinary artists, and disabled artists,” according to the relief fund’s website.

Mural by Son of Simba

As some businesses prepare to reopen, these new works are not being discarded. Volunteers this week were moving murals from storefronts to a wall surrounding the 9th Street Bakery parking lot for a temporary installation.

Volunteers help artist Jaguar Perry before heading to a protest in downtown Durham this week.

While there is not yet a plan for longterm preservation of the protest-born artwork, community organizers and artists are working on a way to store the pieces.

Volunteer Luke Norton installs a relocated mural on a wall bordering the Ninth Street Bakery parking lot downtown. Kamara Thomas created the piece.

At top: Jaguar Perry works on a piece title “Sambo in Wonderland” at 307 West Main St. All photos by Henry Haggart